Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cultural Confusion

Here are just a few of my daily experiences as an American caught in cross-cultural jokes and miscommunication with Japanese.

1.) I was looking for one of my coworkers whose office is located in the library of school. Because it's a little out of the way my presence there is a bit uncommon. But the librarian is a really nice lady that I like to chat with in Japanese when I drop by.

"I'm looking for Kobayashi Sensei, is she here?"

"No, she had to go to the post office."

"Oh OK. It's been very hot lately hasn't it?"

"Oh yes, it's so hot."

"It's hard for me to sleep because it's so hot sometimes. In fact, I need to buy a fan to keep me cool at night."

"Eh? Oh no! Don't do that!"

"What? It's bad to have a fan to keep me cool at night?"

"Oh yes, please don't do that!"



"Why is it bad? Because I may get sick from being cold?"

"Ummmmm, no."

"Because it wastes electricity?"

"Ummmmm, no."

"Oh oh oh, it's dangerous?"

"Oh ... Ok."

"Ummmm ... Ok."

"See you later."

I was genuinely worried that she reacted the way she did when I mentioned I wanted a fan to cool me at night, but it seems my questions were futile. When I ask strange personal questions, things usually degenerate into confusion, and dissipate to "Ok, see you later."

2.) I had gotten a haircut the night before, and as I walked into the office first thing in the morning, I was expecting many random comments about my haircut. First, Terao Sensei, my favorite English teacher, looked at me shocked and said in English:

"Oh, Zac-san, did you get a haircut?"

"No Terao Sensei, I got all of them cut?"


"I said, no, I got all of them cut."

"I don't understand."

"You asked me if I got A haircut, so I said no, because I got all of them cut."

"I don't understand."

"I got ALL of them cut."

"Oh ... hahahahahaha."


"Is this a normal expression in English?"

3.) One afternoon I was frustrated because in one of the classes I teach, there is a student who rarely turns in his homework. Terao Sensei sensed my frustration and asked in English:

"Is everything OK Zac-san?"

"Yeah, it's just this student. He rarely turns in his homework and it's pissing me off."

"Oh, do you want me to do something?"

"No Terao Sensei, it's OK."

-Terao Sensei turned back to his desk, and I decided to say:

"He's just lucky I don't take his balls." As I motion a slicing motion towards my groin.


"Yeah, on my island, if you don't turn in your homework on time, we cut off one of your balls. In fact, most men my age only have one ball. At your age, your lucky to have any left."

"Haahahahahahhaahhaha, you must have lived in a very strange place."

"Yes I did."

A few moments later, I was venting more steam about the amount of papers I had to grade. So Terao Sensei turned to me with a completely straight face and said:

"I suggest you take half of them ... and throw them in the trash."

I couldn't help busting up right there. It was one of his funniest jokes to date.


  1. I'm bit a bit puzzled about the fan... is there perhaps a japanese word which sounds much like fan but means something nasty? It does happen sometimes, with foreign accents and all. I've seen many a foreigner at a restaurant ask for "mice" instead of corn (maize).

  2. The fan blows.
    You can go blind from that.