Wanna’ Brush Up on Your Spanish?

By all means, go to JAPAN!

While I was in Japan, I had the opportunity to do a “home stay”, in which I spent the night at a Japanese family’s house so I could get to know them and how they go about their daily lives. It was really a terrific experience because even though I lived in Japan for 2 years, I never really got to be good enough friends with anyone to spend the night at their house. Most of my Japanese friends were half Japanese or lived had lived in the U.S. at some point. I lived near the navy base, so it was just the nature of the area. Well, this time I was able to stay with an older woman and her 37 year old daughter. The mother owned a fish market that was quite literally right outside her back door. I mean, you opened a door off their kitchen and you were in her corner market. Needless to say, her sushi was to die for..

Anyway, the mother didn’t speak one word of English, not even the compulsory “Hello. My name is ______” that  everyone in Japan knows and wants to try out on you.  I guess she was really nervous, like over the top nervous, about having me in her home. The daughter told me they re-wallpapered their house for me. No pressure there… Well, I guess they were anxious enough that the pastor of the church sent his daughter to stay with me. She was a lovely 20 year old girl and we had spent some time together earlier in the week. She knew both the mother and the daughter of my home stay. So, off we went for the evening to stay with these ladies. I think the pastor’s daughter was supposed to be some sort of translator for me, but in order to be a translator I think you have to be able to speak both languages of the parties involved. The pastor’s daughter did not speak much English at all. I spoke some Japanese, but I had trouble understanding the mother for some reason. I don’t know why this is, but I understood some folks almost perfectly and others..uh, yeah, not at all. Well, the mother was one of these people. The 37 year old daughter spoke some English, but not really enough to carry on a conversation. We realized all of this as we were looking at old family photographs in the living room/bedroom. You know, I expected there to be a language barrier and I was fine with playing charades and just smiling and enjoying the photos for as much as I could understand. The mother, however, was not satisfied with this. The two other girls would try to speak English and tell me what they could, but even their English was hard for me to follow.

So here’s where it gets interesting. The pastor’s daughter spent a year in Argentina, so she speaks Spanish pretty well. At some point during the evening, she switched to speaking to me in Spanish. From then on, she and I communicated in Spanish and she then would translate into Japanese for the mother and daughter. I haven’t had such Spanish immersion since Spanish camp in 10th grade! For the record, listening to Spanish with a Japanese accent was a new one for me. It actually ended up just fine and we all got a kick out of the situation.

For bed time, we put away the coffee table and rolled out four futons. Now this is the Japanese futon, which is the mattress only, not the Americanized thing with a frame. So the living room now was a bedroom with four little futons in a row. It went the mother, her daughter, the pastor’s daughter and then me near the doorway. It was very reminiscent of my slumber party days, except I was speaking Spanish with a Japanese girl..

Anyway, they have a guy who lives in an apartment above the fish market. He is the fish monger and has been working for them for like 40 years. The walls are paper thin and I guess they didn’t want me to be afraid if I heard something in the night, so the mother wanted me to know about the guy living very close. Well, the pastor’s daughter turned to me and said, ” Un hombre esta aqui.” Literally, translated- A man is here. Needless to say, I burst out laughing because I knew either something was lost in translation or someone was dressed in drag inside their little futon. So in Spanish I asked her what in the world she was talking about and if she cared to clarify. Everyone got a laugh out of that situation, and when I saw the pastor’s daughter later I’d use my spooky voice to say “Un hombre esta aqui”….

Not only did I get to brush up on my Japanese (and by the end of the week I was speaking like a champ, but that’s another story) I got to pull my Spanish out of the archives half way around the world and nowhere near Spain or Latin America. Japan- It’ll always keep you guessin’..


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. leanne
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 12:29:22

    great story!! 🙂


  2. sarah
    Jun 16, 2009 @ 17:32:02

    that is really cute. I would have been dead in the water as I know Latin as my foreign langauge – and even that is questionable.


  3. kimiyo
    Jun 18, 2009 @ 03:01:22

    How have you been?
    we spend a wonderful time.
    thank you.


  4. Trackback: Close to My Heart « Metaphase
  5. Lauren Cristina Vitrano-Wilson
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 15:58:54

    Oh this made me laugh out loud. Kind of reminds me of speaking in Italian here in Thailand one day, but your story is funny.

    I love your sense of adventure, fun, flexibility and respect for cultures, Char. God bless you and your ambasadorial heart to Japanese people and many others!


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