Friday, March 9, 2012

Foot in Mouth

I spent a month with this guy one evening.

"You should go back to your country because you do not speak Japanese and you will not like it here." Those were the first words out of his mouth after taking the seat across from mine at a tiny table tucked away in the far corner of this little out-of-the-way Italian restaurant overlooking the railroad tracks. I had never seen nor spoken to him before in my life but I knew what the problem was right away. There's a rash of it going around. Kawamura has it, Ishihara has a terminal case of it, and it reached pandemic proportions earlier this week as Rush Limbaugh came down with a recurring case. It was clearly foot-in-mouth disease.

Lucky for this descendant of some southern warrior clan I'm a doctor, a doctor of linguistics. I'm more of witch doctor of linguistics really since I don't hold an advanced degree from any recognized institution of higher learning but I prefer the term armchair linguist. Not only that, I've been bitten by the bug myself, more than once.

The real question for me as a doctor was whether this case was benign or malignant. After all English was not at all his mother tongue and what seemed a little antagonistic might have simply been the awkward first steps of an innocent second language learner. "You should go back to your country...," might have been his way of phrasing, "It must be difficult to adjust to life in a different country..." or something like that. Then again he could have just been telling me to get out. The truth is I gave up trying to figure him out shortly after the antipasto came out. I was just too busy concentrating on filling my plate. The important thing is we both survived to eat desert and while survival is one of the basic ingredients of any good meal, I have a feeling this one will repeat on me.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. JT, I posted 2 silly anecdotes I removed, basically about how people projecting onto other people, with certain assumptions and expectations, not seeing the real person, for whatever reason. While touring in Nara prefecture, a bunch of children came up to me and asked for directions, expecting a reply in standard Japanese. When I replied in Japanese, with an American accent, they ran away, looking very frightened. I couldn't stop laughing all day.

    1. I like to pretend this is an online newspaper but I know it's really just my silly little blog - so silly anecdotes, etc. are never out of place here. I didn't realize you could remove comments that you post to other people's blogs. If only I could do that with things I say in real life that would be the perfect cure to my (maybe more than) occasional relapses of "foot-in-mouth." Anyway, this is a great discovery for me and I think I'm going to be very busy wiping my Internet slate clean for a while. Thanks!

      March 10, 2012 8:08 PM

  3. Your blog is a work of art on multiple levels and your style is light, profound at the same time: perfect pitch, tone. Clear, resonant.

    My style tends to be much heavier than your's, so my attempts at humor and anecdotes can fall flat. make people roll their eyes or groan. The heavy, v. dry humor in my St. Patrick's piece a few years ago shocked people, but did result in laughs.

    You responded to that strange situation with dignity, grace, and generosity. I love your drawings.

    Yes, I just discovered that feature. but the record of deletion looks a little strange.