Thursday, August 10, 2006
Perhaps, Sir, This Would Be A Good Time To Mind Your Speechisms
At the park, a hot and humid day, watching as two kids play together in the sandbox.
Kid One: What's your name?
Kid Two: My name is Kid Two, And you, fine young gentleman, what is your name?
Kid One: Kid One.
Kid Two: Oh what a delightful name! Shall we build castles together?
Kid One: Ok.
(loosely translated from Japanese)
Kid two, yes you guessed it, Bailey! In his defense, just let me say that it is not his fault. The story begins a long time ago, in a different time, a different place.
Picture this- a small town college with a large Japanese student body an one particular Japanese student body that I was interested in pursuing. In the spirit of you show me yours, I'll show you mine- I helped him with English and he helped me with Japanese (and math, too, but that is another story and wouldn't really match the whole "show me" metaphor, now would it?)
He didn't ask me to whisper dirty English words in his ear, so I didn't ask him to whisper dirty Japanese words into mine. We stuck to the basics- polite, family friendly, one size fits all conversations. We tried it in English first and then Japanese. The conversation would go a little something like this:
Him: Fine weather we are having, isn't it?
Me: Why, yes it is, very fine indeed.
Him: Shall we take a stroll?
Me: That would be lovely.
Somewhere, in the time that separated us when he came back to Japan and I finished my degree, he learned all kinds of slang words, words that are yelled at the top of the actor's lungs in action movies, dirty words, words that departed from our civilized conversations of yore. I, on the other hand, learned my Japanese from textbooks and teachers, who wouldn't dare yell at the top of their lungs like in an action movie for fear they would end up dead at the end of the show.
Even after moving to Japan to teach English, I was still overly polite when speaking in Japanese, if I got the chance to. Most of the people I met, students or not wanted only to practice their English on me, some of it so rusty, I swear they creaked when they opened their mouth. Even the volunteer they matched me up with at the Community Center, who was supposed to teach me Japanese, spoke mostly English. The teacher had become the student and the student had become the teacher. In a nutshell, I didn't have the opportunity to cultivate a more relaxed, more casual tone.
Nowdays, as the mother of two small children, I don't want the wrong word to slip out at the wrong time so I try to use pretty standard, polite Japanese. Bailey picks up on everything. (Just a warning: what you do at night is your own business. But remember this, if you speak about it even in hushed tones using "code" words your almost three year old absorbs it all and will repeat it in public at the top of his lungs like he was starring in some action movie. Just so you know.) Like I was saying, Bailey picks up on everything and since he spends a lot of time with me, he has adopted some of my speechisms and mannerisms.
So, don't blame my little boy for talking like an old victorian soul, he only knows what he hears and sees from those around him.