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Saturday, July 5, 2003

JAPAN LITE

'Uchiawase' meeting reveals mooing OL


"Japanese is a vague language." I often hear Japanese people say this, but I've never heard a foreigner say it. To me, what the Japanese mean by their language being "vague" is that the reality is often very different from what you are told. On my planet, the United States, we call this lying. But in good old Japan, it's disguised as flattery, vagueness or just plain saving face. As a result, you are often told what sounds good, rather than what the truth is.

Take, for instance, what I was told the other day when I received an e-mail from the local International Center: "Dear Amy, I know you are very busy but would you please find time to talk to Mr. A who owns a local stone factory? He is looking for an English teacher for a student friend who needs help with the English in her law courses."

I called Mr. A even though I knew I didn't have time to teach English. But maybe I could recommend someone else. We decided to have an "uchiawase" meeting at a hotel coffee shop. There I met the "law student," who is actually a full time OL ("office lady") taking a law course by correspondence. She doesn't need English for this, she says. As a matter of fact, she doesn't want to study English at all. She wants to pick up English conversation through osmosis -- by having foreign friends!

As her new foreign friend, I assured her that she would learn English by just being around me and catching the phrases in a butterfly net. With this established, I was relieved that I could now go home and separate my garbage for "bunbetsu no hi" ("separated garbage day") the next morning.

But then the small table in front of us began to spin with the force of the uchiawase vortex. No, this would not be the end. As a matter of fact, this would be the beginning of a very long evening.

At the suggestion of Mr. A, our uchiawase became mobile and we moved upstairs to a "teppanyaki" restaurant on the 11th floor for dinner. While admiring the night view over dinner, I threw out a couple of English phrases, which the OL missed completely with her butterfly net.

We drank the standard: beer, sake and wine, all in unique intervals.

Mr. A told me he has a trading company in China. This was good news because I have a business importing cows into Japan. Not real cows, but cow merchandise such as udder key chains, cow head cushions and black-and-white cow-print bedcovers. I always need cows.

By now, the alcohol was taking effect and I started mooing. The OL caught this phrase and started mooing too!

Mr. A got on his cell phone and started speaking Chinese. When he finished, he turned to me and said, "We can get you T-shirts with cows on them!" We all mooed.

Our table was now lowing, and people were beginning to notice. The waiter asked if we needed anything. We did: More drinks!

We went on to talk about many other things that evening besides cows, although we still mooed between drinks. Finally, Mr. A paid the tab, which amounted to quite a bit of moolah, and we made a date for the next uchiawase. The mooing OL wanted to help sell cow merchandise, and Mr. A promised to send me a sample of the cow T-shirt within the next few days.

We let out a final group moo and parted: the "law student," the "local factory owner" and the "English teacher," our identities hidden behind titles designed to make us sound better.

Indeed, Japanese is a vague language. Moooo.

E-mail: amychavez2000@yahoo.com Web site: www.amychavez.com


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