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Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2009
BILINGUAL: KEYES' POINT
Offensive compliments: A drinker's sober lesson
Of all the stupid, idiotic . . . sumimasen. Stuart Keyes is my name. I'm not in the best of moods, though you mustn't judge me by that. I'm good-humored enough most of the time, but . . .
It's these damned shitsugen of mine (失言, slips of the tongue). Everything I say lately comes out wrong. It's been like this ever since my forced sōki taishoku(早期退職, early retirement). That happened a year and a half ago. Since then, I've spent most of my time at home. That's the trouble, maybe. I don't know how to talk to people any more.
For 18 years I taught at a junior college (短大 tandai). My field is Nihon-shi (日本史, Japanese history). But no one's interested in history anymore. Who needs history when there's IT? History's the past; the past is dead. Enrollment in my course was dropping, the economy was shrinking and, finally, to make a long story short (短く言えば mijikaku ieba), the axe fell (首切り kubikiri).
Well, the retirement package was generous, and my wife works, so we're surviving. Still, I'd prefer to have a job, I'm not the idle type . . . Actually, I'm just back from a sort of mensetsu (面接, job interview), which merged into a sort of party — at which, I blush to say, I — ahem! — made rather a fool of myself (baka na koto wo shita ばかなことをした.)
The job in question is not exactly scholarly. It's at a men's clothing store owned by one Sato-san, a cousin or something of Professor Yamabe, a former colleague. Yamabe's subject is keizaigaku (経済学, economics) — no chance of his courses being under-enrolled. Anyway, Yamabe set things up, acting as a chūkainin (仲介人, go-between). I think he feels sorry for me.
Sato-san warmed to the idea at once. A Japanese-speaking gaijin on the shop floor — that would draw in customers! The mensetsu itself went smooth as silk. He stopped short of offering me the job, and I'm not all sure I'll take it if he does, but anyway: "Nomi ni ikimashō ka, Keyes-san! (飲みに行きましょうか, Suppose we go for a drink?)." Next thing I know, seven of us are gathered round a table at an izakaya (居酒屋, pub), toasting this, toasting that . . . "Kampai! (乾 杯！ Cheers!)" Beer, wine, shōchū (焼酎, Japanese distilled liquor), nihonshu (日本酒, sake) — what didn't we drink?
That was my undoing. Put a few drinks into me and I become the friendliest little pup! Say anything that comes into my head. For example, overhearing the woman on my right saying to the woman on her right something about being 35 years old, I blurted out,"San-jū-go sai! Zenzen ari desu yo! (三十五歳！ぜんぜんありですよ！Thirty-five! You've still got it, baby!)" At which point she turned to me and snapped," Anata ni arinashi ka nante kankei nai! (あなたに有り無しかなんて関係ない！Whether I've got it or not is none of your business!)"
True, I suppose. Still, why take offense?"Yūmoa ga nai ne! (ユーモアがないね! Where's your sense of humor?)" I muttered under my breath.
"Keyes-san!" Sato-san, sitting directly opposite me and looking very flushed, held out a tokkuri (とっくり, sake flask). He filled my o-choko (おちょこ, sake cup) and began talking about how okorippoi (怒りっぽい, prickly) customers are and how careful one has to be not to offend them (怒らせる, okoraseru). He's a good talker. One anecdote followed another. My spirits rallied. I wish they hadn't.
The woman on my left, who I hadn't really noticed before, happened to touch my arm with her elbow as she raised her chopsticks to her mouth. "Sumimasen," she murmured. She was a young woman, pleasingly plump, and having heard my wife use the expression that very day, I said with a smile, "Ii imi de, pocchari da yo ne! (良い意味でぽっちゃりだよね！You are plump in a nice way)" Perhaps I spoke louder than I intended. A very young man sitting next to Sato-san, evidently the company wag, laughed out loud and said, "Debu tteiu imi desho! (デブっていう意味でしょ！He means you're fat!)" The woman emitted a little scream and bolted from the table.
There was scattered laughter. The wag was positively convulsed with mirth. "Tongue out of cheek!" he spluttered in English, pointing a finger at me and winking. "Tongue out of cheek!"
Tongue out of cheek?
I don't remember much after that. I got home somehow, and . . . Hm. I don't think I'll take that job. Don't think I'm cut out for it, somehow.
Future installments of "Keyes' Point" will appear on the first Bilingual page of each month.