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Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003

JAPAN LITE

Would you send a poor fly to the U.S.?


I walked into the dentist office, and sitting at the table was "Dude." Dude is a 22-year-old dental technician who wears black concert T-shirts under his lab coat. He also wears an earring and a black leather bracelet with silver studs. I know Dude because he dropped out of my "Dental English" class after the third session. Dude sat staring at the floor, looking very depressed.

"What's wrong?" I asked the dentist.

"He's going to America."

I looked back at Dude, who had sunk down in his chair and was hiding behind his bangs, looking very much like a 14-year-old.

"I want him to observe American dental offices," said the dentist with much enthusiasm. "Please give him some advice on America."

I looked at Dude, doubtfully. "Has he ever been abroad before?"

"No," said the dentist.

"Has he ever been in an airplane?"

"No."

"Does he have a pulse?"

"What?"

"Never mind. He's not going alone, is he?"

"Yes."

"Well, he's going to have to be a little more assertive," I suggested.

"Yes," the dentist agreed, looking over at Dude, who was still staring at the floor.

"Where are you going in America?" I asked Dude in my slowest form of English. No response. "Where? America," I said. No response. "America, where?" I said to account for any form of listening dyslexia.

"Well," I said, "Maybe he'll be OK if he's going to some small town in Idaho."

"He's going to Los Angeles," said the dentist.

"Los Angeles!"

I looked again at Dude, who was still staring at the floor and, in fact, was now listing to one side. "Are you sure he has a pulse?" I asked, trying to recall the procedures for CPR.

"What?" said the dentist.

"I hope you've made a reservation at a hotel with a pickup service at the airport so he can easily get to the hotel."

"No, no," the dentist said. "No reservations. The first time I went to the U.S., I had to do it all myself. I want him to have to do it too."

I felt like saying, "But Dude is as helpless as a fly. Would you send a fly to the U.S.?" But of course, I didn't. Instead, I had visions of Dude getting jumped by a gang during his first 30 seconds in L.A.

"Maybe he should take out a life insurance policy," I suggested.

"Tell him how to change planes in San Francisco," said the dentist.

I briefly tried to explain about the monitors being up on the walls, emphasizing he would have to look up to see them. "If you have any problems, just ask," I said. Whoops. That was a stupid thing to say. Maybe I should be teaching him gestures instead.

"Tell him how the Americans aren't like the Japanese. They don't say 'Irrashaimase' and wait patiently for you to order at McDonald's. They heave huge sighs and get impatient!"

"Yes, the Americans don't like to be kept waiting," I said. "You'll need to be more, um, assertive."

"Tell him about the public telephones and how you need a pocket full of quarters to make an international call!"

"Don't talk to strangers," I told Dude instead, trying to get back to the important things.

"Are you sure this is such a good idea?" I asked the dentist. Maybe I could convince him to send a cardboard cutout of Dude instead.

"I have appointments for him to tour some dentist offices. If he takes a taxi, he should be OK. I know he doesn't understand any English now, but I think once he goes, he'll realize how important English is and he'll come back a different person."

"I see," I said. Maybe he was right -- what Dude really needed was to be thrown out into the cold cruel world where he would have to survive by himself. I gave this some deep thought.

"Well," I said, "Does he have any dependents?"

"No."

"Then send him."

Check out Amy Chavez's new column, "Parents Do the Strangest Things," at www.amychavez.com.


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