Japan’s English Fear:
It seems that every time an international event is to occur in Japan, the western media rediscovers the overall poor English language skills of the average Japanese and analyzes the reasons for Japan’s “fear of English.” Not that it makes any difference what the western media thinks…
I stopped by MosBurger to have a quick lunch of junk food. T’was a simple thing to do which I have done many times in the past.
But today as I walked up to the register to place my order, the woman there moved to the next register which was, oddly, closed and said “welcome.” Well, this was a bit confusing as to why she moved over to the closed register, so I started to move to it but she backed away and repeated “irrashaimase” without looking at me. Getting a bit more lost now, I started to ask her which register I should use, when another employee who had been cleaning the smoking room came out, walked to the open register and took my order. All I could figure about the first woman was that she must have panicked when she saw me because she was afraid she would have to take an order in English.
I must say that I understand the fear of English many Japanese have, for I have developed a fear of English myself. You see, nothing frightens me more than to have to use English with someone who cannot speak English but insists on doing so in spite of the fact that I am speaking to them in Japanese.
Last month an old high school friend came to visit Japan for the first time and I showed her around a bit. We decided to drop into a pizza shop for a quick lunch.
As we looked over the menu, a young waitress came to us and started speaking in English. Immediately I felt a surge of concern.
We began to order. Or at least tried to. I was speaking Japanese. She was speaking English. OK. Just a simple order in English would be fine, so I switched to English to order two set menus which included pizza, a drink and a small salad. Then things went horribly wrong.
My friend, perhaps thinking “American,” decided she did not want a drink, but instead just water. (Oh, shyt!) The waitress didn’t seem to clearly understand her, so in increasing panic I explained in Japanese. She responded in English, “This is a set menu…” but couldn’t get any further. Now I had my friend insisting in English that she wanted water and not the set drink while I tried to tell her just get the drink and a glass of water and just give me the drink. At the same time I was trying to figure out whether to talk to the waitress in English or Japanese, neither of which she appeared capable of fully understanding as her brain was stuck in Berlitz English mode.
After several minutes of this, I finally convinced my high school friend just to order the set including the drink and get a glass of water on the side. The price would be the same either way. The waitress seemed to be relieved.
Five or so minutes later our order arrived. My friend received no drink.