Limited Vocabulary

One of my favorite things about my Japanese co-workers is their almost childlike innocence. I suppose it stems from their lack of vocabulary, but I like to imagine that this is how they actually talk with other adults.
Take, for example, the conversation I had with Spiky-sensei yesterday. I had open to an article with an unflattering picture of Boy George (aren’t they all these days? Put down the Twinkie, George!) about his inability to get a US visa, and Spiky-sensei stopped in his tracks.
Spiky: He is…dead?
Lauren: No. He just can’t get a visa to the US.
Spiky: Oh…but he is gay.
Lauren: Yes, he is. But still no visa.
Spiky: Who is dead?
Lauren: Um, George Carlin? Do you know him? (I open a picture.)
Spiky: Eeeeh, no. I don’t know. Is he gay?
Lauren: I don’t think so.
Spiky: Do you know Queen? Freddy Mercury?
Lauren: Yes, he is dead.
Spiky: Also, he is gay.
So there’s the highlight of my lunch hour. Maybe I should present him later with a Venn Diagram of Dead People Vs. Gay People, and we can chat about it more at a later date.
My students, however, are not that innocent (♫ Oh, baby, baby).
I’m in charge of a group of kids who clean the bike rack area every day after school. They rotate classes, and every so often I get a lovable bunch of hooligans who suddenly can speak all the English they “forget” in the classroom.
I asked them their names a few months back, because I couldn’t read the kanji, and the 4 boys introduced themselves as Lucy, Catherine, Bob, and Robot Gonzales.
Hooligans I tells ya.
So yesterday I was getting them to clean the top floor of the bike area, and they were complaining as best they could.
Robot: Finished!
Lauren: You’re not finished. Today, we clean the second floor.
Lucy: But tomorrow is holiday.
Lauren: Tomorrow’s not a holiday.
Lucy: Yes. Cleaning holiday.
Lauren: Let’s go. If you are fast, we will finish soon.
Robot: But Lauren-sensei, you are so cute.
Lauren: No, I’m not. Cleaning!
Lucy: Very cute.
Lauren: Thank you, but we’re still cleaning.
Robot: There is nothing.
Lauren: What? I see trash right there!
Robot: Oh, good eye! Good eye!
Lucy: No, beautiful eye.
Robot: Beautiful eye. We are finished now.
And with no more trash in sight of my one beautiful eye, I reluctantly let them finish. Then they always mistake the “Good job” I tell them in English at the end of cleaning for the Japanese counterpart “Otsukaresamadeshita,” which I think means half goodbye, half thanks for working hard today. And in Japanese, everyone just says it to each other, no matter who actually did the work. So when I dismiss everyone, I bow and tell them “Good job!” for their cleaning, and they all respond with a hearty “Good job!” I guess for ordering them around so well. I love this country.

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