October 18, 2013
Most of the time I function reasonably well with my admittedly pidgin Japanese, but sometimes when I’m at a shop or a restaurant the person I’m speaking to gets stuck on a particular word and hilarity ensues. Though my vocabulary is limited and my grammar worse, my pronunciation is actually pretty good so I think in most cases it has to do with the person suddenly looking up and being intimidated by this big foreigner trying to ask a question.
The Japanese word for lamb is ラム, or “ramu.” Couldn’t be easier, right?
But at the grocery store the other day I was in search of lamb chops and couldn’t find any, so I approached a middle-aged grocer stacking mackerel and asked, in Japanese:
“Excuse me, do you have any ramu?”
“Do you have any ramu?”
“Ramune?” (a Japanese soda pop)
“No, not that. Ramu.”
(In English) “Instant?”
(I, bemused) “No, no, no. Ramu. The meat. You know, ‘Baa Baa!’”
(At this point an English-speaking Japanese woman stepped in to help.)
(Her): “He wants ramu!” (pronounced exactly as I did)
“Oh! Ramu! Why didn’t he say so?”