Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bro Goes Out for Sushi, Hilarity does Not Ensue

China has a tendency to put me in socially uncomfortable situations, whether it be getting mistaken for a spy in remote border regions or accidentally congratulating my neighbor on his mother's death.  I've got a new experience to add to Bro's Travel Hall of Shame, and while this doesn't quite take the cake, it's definitely top 5.

One thing you can't get away from as a laowai (foreigner, literally "always outside") are the constant barrage of "hello"'s that start the moment you leave your apartment each morning.  People say it instinctively on seeing us.  Most of the time they're just trying to be friendly, but it gets irritating after a while.  Another thing that bothers me is people I've never seen before, e.g. waiters or storekeepers, switching to English on seeing me, because obviously as a foreigner I speak English and don't speak Chinese.  It comes off to me as presumptuous to assume I don't know Chinese, and besides I'm in their country.  I have an obligation to try to communicate in their language.  Think of it this way: if we Americans saw a vaguely Asian-looking person, we wouldn't go up to them and start speaking Chinese, would we? 

So, the other day I went to eat some sushi.  I like this particular place because it's popular with salarymen on business trips, and so the staff there all speak Japanese.  I like Chinese, but it's important to practice other languages too.

I went in and sat down, excited to practice.  The waitress, a solid 8/10, came up to me.  Before I got a "Kombanwa" out, she said "Good evening sir, here's our menu."


I paused, unsure what to do.  I was gearing up into Japanese mode, and the sudden cute girl speaking English threw me off.  "U-uuh..." I said.

I didn't want to speak English, and I didn't want her to use it either.  I wanted to speak Japanese.  Not only that, but being looked at by a cute girl was sending me into panic mode.  My mind raced.  I looked at her and stammered out in Japanese "I-I don't u-understand."

She laughed and asked if I was Japanese.

"U-uh...no..."  I could feel the spaghetti welling up in my pockets.* "I-I'm, uh..." don't say American "American".

She laughed and swiched back to English. "I'm only joking.  Have you decided yet?"

Shit. If I spoke English, she'd know I was lying when I said I didn't understand her.   There's nothing cute girls hate more than lying. Better keep using Japanese.  Also, she had this really cute way she flipped her hair when she smiled.  I was distracted by it and didn't think through what I said next:

"B-but, uh, is that English or something?"

Her smile was gone. "Come on, stop." she said.

"Because...I, uh...don't speak...English..."  That's plausible, right?  The statistic that 3% of Navajo speakers were monolinguals--American citizens who didn't speak English--flitted through my head.  I didn't occur to me that the statistic had no bearing on the number of blond white Americans who were Japanese monolinguals.  No, this occurred to me afterward.

She gave me a "come on now" look. "Fine." she switched back into Japanese. "What do you want?"

Struggling with Herculean effort to keep my spaghetti pocketed and my jimmies stable*, I ordered the first thing I saw: some basic crab roe and salmon, and a tonkatsu curry.  Not exactly the enormous sushi feast I had planned.  Looking at me like I was a dangerous lunatic, she took my order and retreated to the kitchen.

Thank god that's over, I thought.  Social interaction would be so much easier if it weren't for good-looking women.  I was about to pull out my book and get some reading done, when I realized that the book was in English, and I therefore couldn't read it in front of the waitress.  So I sat there staring at the wall like a loser until my food showed up.  I feebly muttered "a-arigatou" and ate as quickly as I could so I could hurry up and get out of there.

But it doesn't end there, nosiree Bob.  God, wanting to really drive home the "lying is bad" lesson and complete the humiliation conga, had bigger plans for me.  I looked up just in time to see my boss standing outside.  My boss at the school where I teach English for a living.

I ducked down and tried to melt into the wall. Please, God, don't let him come in! I prayed.

Of course, he opened the door and asked for a table.  "Oh hey, it's Bro!  How's it going?" he said, in English of course.  He walked up to my table and shook my hand. "I didn't know you liked sushi!"

"U-uh...hi...uh, see you." I muttered.  The cute waitress was now staring at me with pure and unadulterated disgust.  I put my money on the table and scuttled off, a wrecked and beaten shell of a man.

Of course, it only occurs to me now that if I had just said "Thanks for using English, but I'd prefer to speak Japanese" she wouldn't have pressed the issue, and maybe even been impressed enough to give me her number.

Oh well...maybe next time.

And that's the story of why Bro can't go back to his favorite sushi place.

*1: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/spaghetti-stories
*2: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/that-really-rustled-my-jimmies

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