It’s Getting Engl-ish – By Kaz Matamura


By Guest Blogger:  KAZ MATAMURA – Japanese

The first time someone asked me if I wanted to get high, I thought I was being asked if I wanted to be taller.

Being the polite Japanese girl that I was, I said, “Yes, I do,” and hopped into his golf cart.

My justifications for getting into a golf cart with a total stranger were:

A) He was riding in a cart – which meant he was on staff at this park.

B) I was standing under a rather big tree so he must have thought I wanted to climb the tree therefore we were going to get a ladder.

I went to the LA Coliseum to get tickets for a concert.  When I called the box office beforehand, I was told it was SOLD OUT.  So, I just dropped by the stadium because I thought “sold out” meant it was sold OUT there somewhere.

I got to the box office eight hours before the show and was waiting under a tree when the aforementioned cart stopped by.

We never got a ladder.

The cart driver took me to the other side of the Coliseum where we stopped at a huge gate that looked like a place bulls enter an arena to meet a matador.  He waved at a security guy, the gate opened, and we drove into the stadium.

I must say I was oblivious.  I just kept thinking, “Wow, you would need a big ladder to climb the fence around this place!”

He parked the cart, and took me into a trailer.  There were no ladders inside, just a couple of girls sitting around like wet bath towels on pool chairs.  A little mountain of a white powder was in front of them.  I wasn’t sure but I had a feeling it was not their make up and although they spoke to me, I couldn’t understand a word.

The cart guy took off his hat, revealing his grisly bear look, sat down and took out his wallet.  I was curious to know how much he was going to pay for the white powder mountain but to my surprise, he took out a credit card and started to chop it like it was garlic.  Then, looking satisfied, he took out some cash.  He didn’t give it to anyone, but rolled it like origami, and made a straw.  He passed the tray and the bill straw to the girls, who ungraciously accepted it and snorted it up their noses with one inglorious wheeze.

Then my turn came.

The mirror was in front of me, facing the ceiling.

“Would they kill me if I sneeze now?”  I thought.  The more I thought about it, the more I was afraid I really would sneeze.  So I passed it to the cart guy.

There was no temptation.  I saw the movie “LESS THAN ZERO”.  I didn’t want to put anything in my nose because I remembered the time milk came out of my nose.  That didn’t hurt my sinuses as much as the chaffing my ego took from the entire class laughing at me.

Later, when we left the trailer, we made our way to the backstage area.  I saw the guys from Metallica walking by.  I wanted the cart guy to take me back to the box office but he said, “You can stay.  Here’s a pass.”

I became one of them – the backstage people.  I sat in the corner, closer to the audience and far edge of the stage.  I couldn’t figure out what most people were doing – they were kind of just hanging out, like I was, so I hoped they were not on the payroll.  There were also groupies in rainbow colored clothes and business people making themselves look important.  It was all so new to me.  I was the luckiest Japanese tourist ever.

When I returned to Japan, I studied the real American language – SLANG.

I learned how to say things like, “No, I don’t need to do a line now.”  Or, “It looks like bad shit to me.”  I learned how to break the ice with something like,“ Did you know Paul McCartney was canned in Japan for nine days for a stupid weed?”

I studied slang more than business jargon, so when I heard  “joint venture,” I thought Americans were way ahead of us.

Between Japan and America there are more differences than just the language itself.  The languages accentuate cultural differences too.  For example, “ish” as in, “Come around four-ish.”  For Japanese, if your appointment is at four, it means you are supposed to show up fifteen minutes before four.  If your party starts at six, you can bet you’re your Japanese friend will show up at 5:45 PM, dressed impeccably, and then help you set up until the other guests start arriving “seven-ish”.

This “ish-ism” meaning “not quite, but close enough”, really confused me.

Take the word JEWISH.  I thought I meant people who actually were Jews but didn’t tell anybody or act like it because they didn’t really want you to know.  Like Mel Brooks vs. Tom Cruise.  I thought the guys in the black suits with Hasidic curls were Jews, while non-orthodox Jews who go out and party on Saturday nights were Jew-ish.

I was able to read Shakespeare before I could say nursery rhymes.  Education in Japan is heavily literature oriented so we never study real conversations or pronunciation.

But when I fell in love with an American boy, Larry, I became more oral.  We didn’t need to communicate verbally, we spoke the language of love.  But I knew speaking the same language would help further our relationship.

Looking back, now I wonder what we talked about.  I mean, how did I talk about anything or understand what he was saying?  How can you fall for someone who doesn’t understand you?  I must have been like one of those (seemingly) stupid foreign girls, you know, the ones that give a bad name to independent smart women?  They are delicate (because they don’t talk much), nice (because that’s the only way they can be affectionate) and understand guys (because they don’t understand what the hell the guy is talking about).  And they giggle a lot, instead of saying, “HEY!  I DON’T GET IT!”

I knew my cute foreign girl status wouldn’t last long, simply because the Japanese accent isn’t as sexy as a French accent.  It doesn’t work miracles like it does for the Russian or Italian girls.

At school, I used to be a slacker but I studied English hard now that I had an incentive. Now I was in love – leaning English meant being able to explore his mind.  This endeavor paid off eventually.  I became the same old me whether speaking in English or Japanese.  Loud, rude, and direct.

My Mother hoped that my cursing would be reduced dramatically but she didn’t know that English has more variety and different levels for cursing.  She didn’t know in America that something like the F-word can be used very casually, for example replacing the word “very” in a sentence.

I learned to speak English pretty well within 3 months,  but then I got lazy.  Long words were sure to be wrong words.   I remembered long words by putting together shorter words.  Antibacterial – easy.  Anti and Bacteria.  However, I got confused with some less frequently used words.

When I had to set a condition with someone and demand that they make a choice I would say something such as, “Either you shave off that ugly beard or we’re through!  I’m giving you an ‘ultra-tomato’!”  When traditional medicine doesn’t work for you, I suggest you try alternative medicine – homo-pathetic medicine.

Because of poor study habits and a not-so-great memory, I have the hardest time memorizing words.  Idioms or clichés – if they involve more than five phrases or if there are two that are different but mean the same thing, I get all mixed up.

When nothing gets done, and it’s because there are too many ideas and not enough action, I’ll hear someone say, “There are too many Chiefs and not enough Indians” or “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”  Then several weeks later a similar situation will arise and I’ll say, “We have too many cooks and not enough…waiters!”  When you don’t want someone to tell a secret, you’ll say, “Don’t let the cat out of the bag.” Or “Don’t spill the beans.  Later on, I’ll want you to keep a secret and out comes, “Don’t spill the cat.”

As with all Asians there is the classic mixing up of Ls and Rs.  We really don’t hear the difference.    When I’m tired I have to pay really close attention.  For instance, are you, “going the long way” or “going the wrong way”.  And names like Larry or Frank Lloyd Wright – forget about it.  Sometimes a soft “t” or “d” sounds like the Japanese “r.”  You all know about Hello Kitty – well, saying that can sound like Japanese suicide – hara-kiri.

Many people think Japanese is hard language to learn.  Not true.  To start with, we do not have too many cultural or ethnic related sayings or phrases like “Indian giving” or  “Chinese fire drill”.  “Dutch oven” still doesn’t make sense to me because they aren’t made in Holland.  Just like French fries aren’t imported from France. What did Dutch people do to deserve this, I wondered?  Here it means your partner pulls cover over your head after he farted. it should be called “Gas chambering”. Furthermore, in Japan, a Dutch Wife is a rubber sex doll.

After ten years of living in the States, I am still not used to using articles, adverbs or phrases properly.  But I embarrass myself less now.  I no longer look up every time someone asks me, “What’s up?”  And I can say, “Hang in there.” without feeling like I’m telling them to commit suicide.

I tried accent reduction, too.  And I still feel stewpid when I do “‘merik’n aaaksnt.” The greatest discovery I made was that most Americans are pretty forgiving with accents, whether you are from the Deep South, the Bronx or a foreign country.

Although I still speak the language of love, I can speak the language of honesty and caring. My speech may not be perfect, but it is Engl-ish.

23 Responses to “It’s Getting Engl-ish – By Kaz Matamura”

  1. nancy bianconi says:

    It is interesting that your verbal and written communications skills are way above the norm and you weren’t born in the US. Talent knows NO geographical boundaries.

  2. Perry says:

    What a funny Story!!! I laughed til my sides hurt:)

    (I guess Larry was the lucky one in the story;) )

  3. Dan Hirsch says:

    Yooo so fonny! Kinda cute too…

  4. JUST ME says:

    What a very funny story indeed! You write so very well for someone whose native language is not English and you get all the nuances of “tongue-in-cheek” American humor. GREAT, GREAT job with this blog. I immersed myself in this story and didn’t want it to end. I can’t wait to read what you have next, Ms. Kaz Matamura. Big fan.

  5. Pat Lin says:

    Very funny!

  6. Sandra Lord: Co-Founder of this Blog says:

    Kaz, I am just in love with your writing so far. You are bold and funny and entertaining in a very thought provoking kind of way. You made your experience learning English an enjoyable read. Congratulations.

  7. Trendy Mom says:

    very entertaining. great humor in any language in any culture is great humor. congratulations on a wonderful blog.

  8. Squid says:

    I laughed mostly because I’ve HEARD you say some of those things! Hearing you say “blueberry bread” was a treat!
    You’re the BEST!!!!!!
    XOXO

    • kaz says:

      I can pararel park, like a true Speed Racer. I just cannot say “pararel” to brag it (but I can blog about it!) Love you so much, Squid!

  9. Georgette Rinfret says:

    I have to say, I enjoy reading your article. Maybe you could let me know how I can subscribing with it ? Also just thought I would tell you I found your website through google.

  10. LGVX says:

    Helo there. Your article is funny but a little contrived in some places. Were you really that naive?

    • kaz says:

      I thought I was being “adventurous,” not naive. Your universe is much smaller when you are a 17 yr old who grew up in a pretty protected overly safe country. Back then you can leave pile of grocery bags (with full of shtufffff) out side of a public restroom while you do your business.

  11. what does my name mean says:

    hi wats your myspace page

  12. Vicky Modena says:

    Hey can I quote some of the material from this blog if I link back to you?

  13. Ovel Inad says:

    I really enjoyed this post, especially the “examples in this post” portion which made it really easy for me to SEE what you were talking about. Thanks

  14. Parco5 says:

    LGVX should get a life and get a dictionary to know the meaning of naive and contrived so you don’t use them out of context. Kaz, this is a delightful blog. Love your stories. Just read everything you wrote on this site and enjoyed every moment of it. You have a talent to tell great stories. You go girl.

  15. cathbee says:

    I didn’t quite follow this at first. But when I read it a third time, it all started to make sense. Thanks for an entertaining post.

  16. Drew Kraner says:

    i cant beleive i stumbled onto your post..thanks so much!!! i am going to have to sign up 2 ur RSS feed so i can keep updated with your posts…good work.

  17. Danuta Austen says:

    I did like the article very much, was entertaining and useful and very funny.

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