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Saturday, Feb. 21, 2004

JAPAN LITE

'Gaijin' skier wipes out on group 'wa'


Even after mastering the Japanese language, it's still sometimes hard to understand it. It's like, I hear the words coming out of your mouth, I can even see the "kanji," but I have no idea what you're saying. Indeed, understanding the meaning behind the words is just as important as the words themselves.

I recently took a chartered bus trip skiing with 30 locals. Some of them were friends, some acquaintances, and others I had never met before.

"Amy is a very good skier!" said one of my friends to another girl on the bus who had never skied before.

"Yokatta -- lucky, desu ne!" she responded. I wondered why my skiing ability would make anyone lucky, and chalked it up to "o-seiji," or Japanese social flattery. And this is where I made a grave error.

"Can you snowboard?" asked another member. "A little. I've only done it a few times. But today I thought I'd snowboard in the morning and ski in the afternoon."

"Lucky, desu ne!" squealed the girl, looking at her friend as if they had both just won the lottery. "No, no, I'm no good at all," I clarified. This didn't bother them at all, however. "Sugoi, desu ne!" they kept repeating.

Just before we arrived at the ski area, the bus stopped at a ski and snowboard rental shop, and people went in to rent snowboards or skis. I went in to look around the shop. One of the girls from our group that I had not met yet said: "Wow, you ski and snowboard! Sugoi, desu ne!" I gasped for help under my breath and returned to the bus for refuge. Why was I the o-seiji target today?

When we arrived at the ski area, I took my snowboard and headed to the slopes with my friends. Suddenly, the two snowboarder wannabes came up me. "Yoroshiku o-negaishimasu!" they chimed together and bowed deeply.

"I've snowboarded a few times, but I really don't think I can teach it," I said, motioning over to the ski and snowboard school. The two girls clutched their snowboards awkwardly and headed over to the snowboard school. They were clearly disappointed.

"Ja, itterasshai!" I said, and wished them luck.

I went off by myself and snowboarded in the morning, where I spent most of the time stuck in the snow in various unfathomable positions. My battered body was very glad to know I'd be skiing in the afternoon. I met up with my skiing friends at lunch, and when we headed out onto the slopes, we ran into another bus member: "Amy, I heard you were a very good skier, so I thought you might want to ski with us." I looked doubtfully at her in her '80s-style ski pants and her 6-year-old daughter clinging to her side. They both had a very hopeful look in their eyes. The mother must have noticed the confused expression on my face, because she repeated again, thinking I hadn't understood her Japanese. Indeed, I hadn't. And still didn't, wouldn't and couldn't, no matter how many times she said it.

"OK, why don't you join us?" I said. So the six of us, all of completely different levels of skiing ability, nonetheless spent a lovely afternoon skiing together. The o-seiji had come to a complete stop, and I just enjoyed a stress-free day of sunshine, mountains and no responsibility. There was quite a bit of waiting around for the less skilled, but even this I found quite relaxing. It couldn't have been a better day!

Or so I thought. As we were headed home, enjoying an apres-ski party with wine and cheese in the back of the bus, one of the skiers from my group said: "Amy, you are a great skier. But we were a little disappointed that you didn't give us any pointers."

Well, why didn't they just say so? That's when I realized -- they did.

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


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