Howard's Blog

This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

do you speak American?

A great article in the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday titled "Learning American".

The writer describes an incident involving her sister some time ago. Her sister was the "Irish nanny" to a Denver family, receiving the a meager sum of $50 a week as the au pair. One Christmas, the grandmother and family matriarch handed her an envelope. It had 50 $20 bills. My math says it comes to $1,000. Not bad money in Colorado.

Her sister's polite reply was, "Oh, no, I can't accept this. No. No, really. It's far too generous." Grandma's response: "If you say so." Then she took back the envelope pulled out a single $20, handed it to her, and said, "Is this about right?".

This is where worlds collide. We both speak English, right? Well, one was speaking Irish English, where such words are expected as gratitude in acceptance of the gift. In American English, where we don't like no confusion, "I can't accept this" means "I can't accept this." Grandma may have though the Irish nanny was strange for not wanting the money, but we're a people that honors what people tell us!

Reminds me of a handy chart that appears in dave Barry's Dave Barry does Japan.

First statement is the English statement made by Japanese person, then we have the actual meaning in American

I see. = No.
Ah. = No.
Ah-hah. = No.
Yes. = No.
That is difficult. = That is completely impossible.
That is very interesting. = That is the stupidest things I ever heard.
We will study your proposal. = We will feed your proposal to a goat.
|| hcpark, 5:56 PM


I love that book.

I frankly wonder how Americans and Japanese ever communicate with each other about anything. According to the guidebooks, when two Japanese businessmen meet, they tend to be very formal, and each man tends to be self-effacing and apologetic, often for no apparent reason:

First businessman: Hello, sir.
Second businessman: Hello, sir.
First businessman: I am sorry.
Second businessman: I am extremely sorry.
First businessman: I cannot stand myself.
Second businessman: I am swamp scum.
First businessman: I am toenail dirt.
Second businessman: I should be put to death.

Here’s another of my favorite excerpts.

I minced down the hallway to the bath area, and I started to go in, and although there was a lot of steam in the air, I was able to determine the following:

1. There were people in there.
2. I did not know these people.
3. These people were naked.
4. These people represented all of the major genders.

So I minced the hell out of there and back to our room ….
Blogger Nils, at 2:55 PM  

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