While discussing politics in my reading class, my students brought up the topic of bribes, how they are a problem with politicians all over the world, and Japan is no exception. In fact, the history of bribery is in part preserved in its name: sodenoshita, literally “under the sleeve,” hearkening back to the days when people would slip money into the large kimono sleeves of the influential in exchange for favor. Today a more modern term is used: wairo, which means bribe.
One of my students told us about when she visited a friend of hers in America whose child was in the process of being potty trained. She randomly asked, “Pee, and what’s the second one… excrement?” “Ah,” I said sagely, “Poo.” Another student chimed in: “Yoo-reen. Urine is pee.” Another chirps, as though reading from a dictionary, “Stool, excrement, feces.” I change the subject.
The woman mentions that English goes up and down, while Japanese is “flat.” I say that Italian has even more musicality. One of the men says German is also flat. The other man starts spouting German phrases: “Das ist. Ich bin,” and then, “Heil Hitler!” several times with his arm thrown out in a Nazi salute, chuckling softly to himself while I attempt to give examples of how German can sound harsh or gentle depending on how it’s spoken.
In the evening, I teach a private lesson with a high school girl named Mayu. We chat freely; her parents just want her to talk with and hear a native English speaker, and she enjoys chatting about random topics, so there is no preparation necessary. Today she told me about her family.
“My mother is so scary!”
“Mmm… She is 46.”
“Yes… 46. So…” She thinks for a moment, then types something into the translation app on her phone. She holds it up for me to see: menopause. I laugh loudly. She calmly concludes, “Maybe that’s why always angry.”
“Does your father get mad about your grades?”
“No, he is very smart. He got good grades. He things we are…” She consults her phone again, and comes back with: idiot.
There’s a medical student in my advanced Monday evening class who asks excellent questions about the finer points of English, and who, if he had more exposure or lived in an English speaking country, would be capable of communicating at close to a native English speaking level. Having said all that, his grasp of American cuisine is shockingly stunted, which I learned when I explained what PBJ was. I said, “It’s a sandwich with peanut butter and jelly.”
“So, it’s one sandwich… with both?”
“Yes, jelly goes on one piece of bread. Peanut butter goes on the other piece of bread. Then you put them together.”
“The peanut butter and… jelly are… in the same space?”
“Yes, they touch.” He is visibly disgusted.
Since he comes straight from the medical school to join our class, he typically spends time in hospitals with patients, or, like today, observing routine (aka. bloody and graphic) surgeries, presumably without making any of the faces he made during this discussion about a lunchtime staple I’ve literally eaten thousands of. Here’s hoping his amusing frankness and total lack of a poker face doesn’t leak into his bedside manner