Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Engrish" Part I

So I am sure it isn't news to you that when you enter the Land of the Rising Sun, you also enter the world of very bad "Engrish"...everywhere you look you can find signs that have the strangest English phrases such as "hair & Make"...instead of "hair and makeup" or "spaghetti meet sauce" ...instead of "spaghetti meat sauce". Some of the phrases just make you shake your head in bafflement, others just make you laugh out loud. Needless to say, growing up in Japan, I have had my share of "Engrish"moments. Here is one of my favorite "Engrish" experiences...

The first one was probably about 18 years ago, when I was working as an extra for a very popular tv show for FUJI television, the biggest terrestrial network in Japan. Back in the days of the bubble economy in Japan (late 80's/early 90's), there was a group of about 50 foreigners living and working in Tokyo who regularly worked the "tv extra" circuit...and it was really a wonderful time. We would meet up at these various tv jobs about two times a week, and would always enjoy getting caught up on each other's lives as we would patiently be waiting for the director to tell us what to do. So it almost became this little family unit...we would share our victories, disappointments, frustrations, and various "gaijin" ("foreigner" in Japanese) with each other. It turned into a wonderful support system. In fact, to this day, I still keep in touch with quite a few of my "extra peeps". Of course many of us have since moved on and are doing totally different things, but my first "Engrish" moment comes from that period of my life.
On this particular job, it was a group of about 70 of us who had been hired to be in an audience scene by Fuji TV for one of their most popular show, hosted by two of the top comedians, known collectively as "Tunnels".
We were doing the usual, just hanging out and keeping ourselves entertained. About an hour or two later, one of the production assistants came into the big waiting room, asking us in Japanese to follow him. So we all shuffled our way into the studio where the show was being shot.
The director, who was explaining the scene to the guys of the Tunnels, turned to us as we entered the room, pointing to the lines of chairs, and asking us to all find a seat.
So we did, and patiently waited.
When the director finally graced us with his presence, he started rattling off in Japanese about the scene and what he expected from us. As he spoke, I thought to myself "Hmm, I wonder what's going to happen with all the gaijin who don't speak/understand Japanese." Usually, when there is a smaller group of us, a few of us who speak fluent Japanese help out, by interpreting everything for everyone else that DOESN'T understand. But for this job, the group was too big...and there was no way that we would be able to do that.
My question was quickly answered when the director introduced this small man standing next to him, saying in Japanese " this is Hiro, my assistant, and he will be your interpreter for the day. So please listen as he explains everything to you in English."
Then Hiro timidly stepped forward, saying "HI everyone. My Engrish is not so good. But I try.."
Awwww, I thought. How cute. And how brave...I knew that poor little HIro must have been terrified to have to do the interpreting for a group of 70 gaijin...AND in front of all his co-workers, none the less. I am sure that he didn't wake up today knowing he would get thrown in the lion's den today at work. Otherwise I am sure he would have stayed I know I would have...
Hiro then continued to explain to the group that the director wanted to film various scenes of us as part of an audience, and he wanted us to "crap and enjoy ourselves".
Poor Hiro...he meant to say "clap" of course, but...well, sometimes those l's and r's can be a tricky thing for the Japanese.
I started giggling, and next thing I knew the room was full of giggling gaijin.
But to our credit, we DID try to to restrain from being TOO obvious, out of respect for our new friend.

However it was like watching a train wreck...
"When you crap, director wants you to crap together...I will count 1,2,3, and then we will crap. and we will crap again and again. we will do this crapping scene many times to get many version."
OH LORD...headed for disaster.
By the 5th "crap" all of us were laughing uncontrollably, some of us (that would be me) had tears in our eyes from laughing so loud.
Meanwhile the director is looking around, totally miffed...not understanding why, all of a sudden, his quiet studio audience had gotten out of control.
And poor Hiro...he knew that this group of gaijin was, unfortunately, laughing AT him, and not WITH him. And he started getting flustered...pleading "I know, I know... my Engrish not good. but please listen"
So we tried to stop laughing and listen...
"Ok, now we do rehersal...when I say "crap" please crap". let's try..."
We were all still giggling, but went along with Hiro...
We practiced a few times, and then the director took Hiro aside and gave him some more isntructions.
"Ok everybody...director will crap first, then point to you and you crap. keep crapping loud and strong until he says so. and everyone please remember- crap together". just really WASN'T getting any easier...
By the end of the filming, poor Hiro was pointing to us everytime we were supposed to crap together, and then he would give us a cue when we were supposed to stop crapping.
I think after about 40 min of this crap nonsense, Hiro had pretty much just given up and focused on ignoring all the giggling around him. And us giggling gaijin were just all laughed out.
In fact, to this day, I don't think there was a job where I have ever laughed so hard and for so long.
Now I walked away from that day with a great story, which to this day I love telling people. And it usually garners quite response from people.
BUT my poor friend Hiro...he must have been so eager to just go home and bury his head under the covers and forget that experience ever happened.
And I am sure that after that unfortunate experience, Hiro never offered up his interpreting services again. I just hope that he didn't walk away totally emotionally scarred from working with us giggling gaijin.