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Saturday, March 13, 2004


The color of funny? Gotta be red

Here's the story . . .

It was the girl's very first day of her first part-time job ever -- working as a summer waitress in a typical family-style restaurant. More than anything, she just wanted to do her best and get through the day without any trouble. So she hid her nervousness behind a jittery smile and thought: "Do not make a mistake. Do not make a mistake. Do not make a mistake."

First customer, first order: a chocolate shake to beat the heat of the noonday sun. She took the order to the kitchen and soon received the drink, which she placed on a tray. She then returned to the customer, holding one hand on the glass to keep it steady.

So when she tripped, she appeared to reach out with glass in hand . . . to have the entire contents of the shake splash into the customer's face.

There was an awkward silence before the girl exploded with apology. Yet she now confesses she had an evil urge to say, "So . . . will that be all?"

"I don't suppose," she went on as her classmates giggled, "that you've ever had such an embarrassing experience, have you, Mr. Dillon?"

Heh, heh, heh. . . . Little did she realize that being a foreigner and being embarrassed go together like tar and feathers. Even excluding Japanese word gaffes, like . . .

"So," says the "gaijin" guy, "I had just asked out this Japanese girl who had never visited Yokohama. I told her all the sights we'd see and ended by raising my brows and saying, 'And last I'll show you the foreigners' cemetery.' Except instead of the word for cemetery, 'bochi,' I said the word 'bokki' -- meaning 'erection.' "

Or endless train moments, like . . .

"I squeezed onto the Chuo Line," says the American woman, "but the doors closed right on my bottom. So two JR men came and tried to push my backside on board. But it would not fit. I could feel four hands and heard the men grunting. Finally one of them had to use his shoulder."

The list of foreigner mortification in Japan is probably as long as the entire list of foreigners. But following are the four best stories I know, only one of which is mine (guess).

Two visiting college girls had just lost enough of their jet lag to turn adventuresome. So they popped their heads into what looked like a lively neighborhood bar.

Which it was. And having two pretty girls who spoke not a word of Japanese delighted the other guests to no end. Beer flowed. Song erupted. The girls had a great time. But after a while one needed to use the toilet.

Inside, she found nothing but a urinal. She had heard Japanese fixtures were unusual, so -- a bit drunk -- she decided that when in Rome . . .

She was all zipped down when in stepped a Japanese woman. They exchanged looks and the blushing girl was thinking, "Gosh, this is embarrassing," when she learned what true embarrassment really was. For the woman tapped open a small door . . . to reveal the toilet.

Story two: Wouldn't you know it? Right on the night he and his foreign bride had invited a gaggle of guests, "Taro" had to stay late at work. But he rushed home to find his wife in charge and everyone busily gnawing on "yakitori" appetizers.

However, he sensed something was "askewer."

"It's alright," his wife breathed. "Everything's prepared." She handed him some yakitori, but he stopped in midbite.

"The only problem I had," she added, "was finding yakitori sticks. I had to buy these big ones."

Big ones with tiny hooks on the end. Taro eyed the guests who eyed him back. Yes, they were all eating yakitori off . . . wooden ear cleaners.

Next, "Joe" and "Jack" joined a Japanese racquetball club, which -- outside of the receptionist and an elderly janitor -- was typically empty in the morning. One day Joe arrived first and proceeded to the locker room to change. He had completely disrobed when he heard Jack greet the receptionist out in the lobby.

Then an impish urge grabbed him and he hid behind the door. From the lobby to the locker room took but five strides. Sure enough, the door soon swung open. So Joe leaped out -- nude -- and yelled "Boo!" to startle his friend.

To have the old janitor screech in horror.

And last . . .

"Jeff" and "Cathy" were close friends with their neighbor, so when the woman's mother died, they felt obligated to attend the funeral. They received directions -- to a temple near a distant station -- and off they dashed.

Outside the station, they indeed found a large temple, one packed with mourners. They offered a bereavement gift, signed the register and then moseyed into line with the rest of the crowd. There were so many mourners they could not even see the front, where the family was waiting. Everyone bowed and passed sad smiles. The couple drew attention, as they were the only foreigners present.

Oddly, there weren't many women present either. Just businessmen.

How strange for an old lady's funeral. Then they swallowed . . . for they did not know their neighbor's maiden name. Were they at the right place?

They had just decided the only tactful way to find out would be to take their turn at the front and pay their respects -- hopefully to the correct family -- when the husband caught the eye of another mourner.

"Ahem," he ventured. "I was just wondering. . . . Is the deceased male or female?"

The crowd froze and the man whispered, "Why, male, of course."

"Oh of course!" They then smiled, pivoted . . . and left the temple. Or almost left. First they stopped to get their money back.

However, pride -- as we foreigners all know -- never returns.

To contact Thomas Dillon, send e-mail to marriedtojapan@yahoo.com

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