Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sermon: Christmas Day

Most of the travel guide books I’ve read before coming to Japan say that most people under the age of 40 will understand and speak at least a little bit of English. Especially in Tokyo, they say. So, an English speaker shouldn’t have any trouble getting his or her point across.

Having been here for almost two months I can now say without equivocation that this is absolutely NOT true!

I may have told you this story before, but bear with me. About a month ago I was at a Tully’s Coffee shop and I tried to order a large decaf coffee. The young university-aged barista looked at me puzzled and pointed to the small cup. I shook my head “No” and pointed to the large cup. She looked at me with the same puzzled gaze and help up the small cup. I again, shook my head “No” and tapped the large cup. She shrugged her shoulders and made my coffee.

She said something to the other barista who then looked in my direction with the same puzzled look her co-worker had, but with a glint of amusement in her eye. The barista smiled as she handed me my coffee. I peeled off the lid to smell the coffee like I usually do (the aroma is half the coffee experience).

And I noticed a little foam floating on the dark liquid. I smelled it, tasted it, and realized that she TOTALLY misunderstood what I was looking for. Instead of a large decaf, she made me a triple espresso! Pretty much the OPPOSITE of what I was looking for!

I had to laugh because I realized that I hadn’t communicated my order well enough. It wasn’t the barista’s fault that I couldn’t order in Japanese in a Japanese coffee shop. The language created a gulf that no amount of hand signals or slow english nouns could bridge.

And when I talk with some Japanese people they often say “Sorry” for their limited English. And what I always want to say back is “No, you’re not the one who should apologize for your limited English. I should apologize to YOU for my infinitesimally small amount of Japanese. After all, I’m in YOUR country! I should be adjusting to YOU. You shouldn’t have to accommodate ME!”

Which is why, in the...(whole thing here)

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