“Do you speak Japanese?”

Despite having formally studied for 1 year, it wasn’t long after I arrived in Japan that I had to face the harsh reality of how little Japanese I knew. 

In the 4 weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve been asked that deceitful question countless times. And each time, the conversation that followed has resembled a rather similar pattern:

[Upon first meeting]

日本人 (Japanese person):  日本語をしゃべりますか (Do you speak Japanese?)

Me:  [hesitantly mutters]  ちょっと… (little)  [gestures a pinch of air to indicate amount]

日本人:  ちょっと? そうですか。 [proceeds to speak in Japanese]

Me:  [understands nothing]  [stares blankly, embarrassed]

日本人:  [beginning to feel dumb]

Me:  [beginning to feel dumber]

日本人:  [reluctantly attempts poor English]

Me:  [feeling like sh*t]  [relieved to hear words that can understand]

日本人:  [glad communication was (somewhat) successful]

Me:  [still feeling like sh*t]

Although I’ve now accepted this as simply life, and not anyone’s fault, it was initially stressful to go through these experiences.  Being someone who is naturally independent and who tries to inconvenience others as little as absolutely possible, I really felt bad about my subpar Japanese ability.  Claiming that I could understand Japanese and then repeatedly proving that I couldn’t really made me feel like a waste of people’s time.

If there’s anything that really grinds my gears about living in Japan, it’s moments like these when I just can’t communicate in my daily life, and it’s just a dagger through the heart because I really do want to connect with Japanese people, I really do.


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