Friday, May 11, 2012


I love Fridays--here's the famous Fishducky!

Granted, English is a very difficult language for foreign speakers, especially Asians, to learn.  I give them credit for trying.  Not only must they learn an entirely new vocabulary, but the sentence structure is entirely different & the spelling is often weird.  (George Bernard Shaw once contended that you could spell “fish” GHOTI.  The “f” sound could come from the “gh” in “enough”, the “i” from the “o” in “women” & the “sh” from the “ti” in “nation”.)  I understand that the Japanese need jobs as much as Americans do.  That being said, I STILL think that a native born English speaker should be hired for writing their service manuals.  Let me give you two examples of why I feel that way.
I bought two kitchen chairs from  They were the “retro” diner style, with bent aluminum legs & red vinyl seats.  They came unassembled.  The following is a review that I sent to Overstock: “The chairs arrived quickly and are very comfortable.  Assembly was relatively easy IF you followed the pictures.  The written instructions were as follows (& this is a direct quote): Assembly way to request attention: all screws don’t first lock to tighten, until back cushion to lock tight after that, this chair all screws lock to tighten, then success.”  For some strange reason, my husband had difficulty following the instructions, although I read them to him very slowly & enunciated carefully.


The other example of fine (?) Asian manual writing: A newscaster on TV was trying to report a story, but he was laughing so hard that it was difficult for him to do so.  He finally was able to say, “This is from an instruction manual for a certain unnamed Japanese product.  There is a word in it that needs to be corrected.  We can’t tell you what the word that they actually used is, but we’re pretty sure they meant ‘SCREW’ part A into part B!”
I studied Japanese for a while in night school.  I didn’t expect to become fluent & I didn’t.  I just like to learn.  I used to do my homework at my son’s trumpet teacher’s house while he had his lesson.  I guess he picked up some of it.  In his Jr. High School band class, the teacher said he wanted all the kids to count to “four” aloud before starting to play.  Matt asked him if the language mattered.  The teacher said it didn’t.  He WAS a little surprised when my white Jewish kid counted, “Ichi, ni, san, shi!” (Side note: One of the men in my class was a US customs inspector who worked in the Asian section at the Los Angeles airport.  He figured it would give him an advantage if he could understand the passenger’s language, especially if they didn’t expect him to.  He told us about one incoming passenger who kept scratching his legs.  It made the inspectors curious enough to examine him.  It turned out that he had 20 or so watches that he was trying to smuggle into the US.  The metal expansion bands were pulling on the hair on his leg & driving him crazy.)


How about Spanish?  We were in a small town in Mexico where no one, it seemed, spoke English.  I was trying to buy a small statue of the Virgin Mary for a friend.  By about the 10th shop, I had stopped even trying to be understood in English.  I haltingly asked, “Senor, le hace tiene una pequena figura de la Virgen Maria?”  He showed me some & we were speaking slowly in Spanish.  My husband was in the back of the shop looking at marble chess sets.  He called to me, “Ask him if he has any larger chess sets.”  The man immediately answered, “No, senor.  Those are the largest we have!”  I asked him why he didn’t tell me he spoke English earlier.  He told me I looked like I was having too much fun trying my Spanish—& I think he was right.
Italian, then?  My son-in-law had recently arrived in the US from Italy.  He was taking an ESL (English as a Second Language) course & had gotten a job as a stock boy.  He came over one day & said, “Mom, this guy at work keeps asking me questions around lunchtime & I don’t know what he’s saying.  I looked up the words & couldn’t find them in the dictionary.”  I asked him what the words were.  He told me, “jeet” & “wajeet”.  If he hadn’t mentioned that it was around lunchtime, I’m not sure I could’ve helped him.  I told him the guy was asking, “Did you eat?” & “What did you eat?”.

Piu Italiano (More Italian): My daughter was teaching English to air traffic controllers in Italy.  I told her to be VERY sure they at least understood “UP” & “DOWN”!  When her youngest daughter was about 2, we all went to a dance recital (in California) to watch her 4 year old sister perform.  The theater went pitch black between the dance numbers.  When the lights came back on, it delighted my little granddaughter.  Every single time, a big smile came on her face & she loudly cried, “ECCO!”  (There!, or Look!, in Italian.)
OK, French, but this is the last one:  My husband is a VERY intelligent man, but somehow he can’t seem to learn foreign languages.  (Maybe he should have written instruction manuals instead of going to law school.)  I had to do all his translating for him in France, which I really didn’t mind doing.  I have to admit I DID get some strange looks when asking where the men’s room was.  We were in a restaurant BEFORE the days of women’s lib.  I got us a table, ordered dinner for the two of us, asked for some bread, got Bud some extra water (with ice) & requested the check.  I’m sure our waiter told his coworkers he was going to give it to the pushy broad with the fat guy!
Adieu, adios, ciao & sayonara----fishducky