Hikari's Food/Japanophile and Other Interesting Stuff blog

Guest Blogging: Sticking the proverbial foot in the mouth

on February 6, 2013

Hiya, all! I’d like to introduce my friend, Melissa! She’s in the JET program and is teaching English to Japanese Elementary students.

As we all know, what we think we’re saying and what’s actually coming out of our mouths can be VERY different things. She’s had a couple of those types of experiences she’d like to share with us.

“My `Oh Shit` Moments” by Melissa B.

Learning a language can be difficult. No amount of book work can prepare you for the little cultural innuendos or dirtier words that you will never find in your textbook. I for one had this happen on 2 occasions, both of which were in very inappropriate locations.

The first time I ever made an `oh shit` moment was during my first week in Japan. I was staying in a hotel near my village while my housing was being taken care of. Every morning I would eat breakfast in the hotel café where the food is prepared by elderly women behind a large stone counter. The food, though delicious, was always just too much for me to eat that early in the morning. After 3 days of only finishing 1/3 of my food one of the old ladies came up to ask me why I wasn’t able to finish the food.

Looking back I should have known better than to say what I did so loud. But at the time I thought `This is my moment to shine` `I can show all these Japanese people my mad skills.` Thinking back to my Japanese lessons in the states about everyday conversations and how many Japanese people shorten their words and sentences to show they are comfortable with the person and the language they are using. I thought I could do this with the phrase: おなかがいっぱい、(onaka ga ippai) which means `I`m full`. I took the first character and the last 2 hoping to make a short new word to express my full-ness. All I can say is that I am an idiot. The new brilliant word I used was おっぱい (oppai) which I am sure for any person who has ever had a conversation with a Japanese person under the age of 30 will know this means boobs. I didn’t. I, very loudly, proclaimed that I was OPPAI while rubbing my entire torso to show that I was indeed very oppai.

The old woman burst into laughter and so did all the business men around me. I thought they were just so shocked that an American chick knew Japanese; so I smirked and internally high-fived myself. It wasn’t until I returned to my room to check the word that I realized my mistake. I face palmed and contemplated never going to breakfast again. To this day whenever I go near that hotel the staff point to me and wave saying `Good morning Oppai-sensei`.

My second `Oh shit` was actually in one of my elementary school classes. It was our body parts lesson and I thought I would make a couple of jokes to get the kids comfortable with some of the more difficult words. We worked on the words for the head first and when we got to the chin I popped in a quick joke about our vice principal. He is a heftier guy with a couple of extra layers under his chin. I explained the best way to remember the word chin in English was to picture the vice principal and count how many chins he has. So I jokingly pointed to a picture and said `Chin, chin` Vice-principal has 2 chins.

The kids burst into laughter and even the teacher was giggling behind her hand. I thought it was because that my joke was just that funny but in reality I had given the kids enough ammo and blackmail for a year. The word chinchin, I came to learn is a childish way to say penis. The kids from that point on when asked about body parts would stick their pointer finger out from their chin to make a small penis chin, giggling saying that they had a face chinchin. I still haven’t lived that one down with my teachers. My only saving grace is that they haven’t told the vice-principal out of self-preservation.


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