This past fall I received an e-mail from a student traveling in France. There was a photo attached and the mail announced it would be a shot of cows eating “glass.”
Now that’s a rare shot, I thought, and scrolled down with fair enthusiasm. I envisioned a barnyard of Holsteins snacking on champagne flutes. An attraction so compelling it would soon push other French sights — like the Eiffel Tower, Versailles or Carla Bruni — out from the limelight.
But no. The mail window revealed a loping hillside with cows munching upon “grass,” not glass. Not a bad photo — although in the end I might have preferred Carla Bruni.
The student had caught her language legs in the old L/R trap. I wrote her back saying, “Thanks for the mail, but I think you misspelled ‘Flance.’ “
Of course, I have no right to snicker. My own Japanese goofs could fill a book — and have. It’s been eight years since I penned “Japanese Made Funny,” a collection of Japanese language bloopers, spiced with many of my very own screw-ups.
First published by The East in 2001 and then anew by IBC Publishing in 2008, “Japanese Made Funny” can be found in most bookstores even now. The original idea can be blamed on good friend Andy Boerger, who also did the illustrations.
Yet, more than a few new bloopers have since blundered my way. Here are some of the better ones, plus one or two oldies as well. Be forewarned: Some are borderline risque. And others ignore the border all together.
A foreign gentleman checked his overcoat at a fine drinking establishment in Tokyo and settled in for a few rounds with friends.
When he got up to leave some time later — and now just a bit tipsy — he found that the employee at the reception desk had changed.
No matter. He asked for his coat. Except . . .
Instead of the Japanese word for overcoat — “uwagi” — he said, “usagi.”
“You want your . . . rabbit?” said the clerk, with his eyes pinched tight.
“Yes, my rabbit. I left it here when I came in.”
The young man probed every corner of the clothes closet and peeked behind all the cabinets.
“You’ve lost my rabbit?” The guest rose to his full — and imposing — height. “How could you!?”
“W-what did it look like?”
“It was black! All black! And it was a gift from my wife! I’ve only had it a week!”
Other employees joined the hunt, the first one having left for the day. Somehow it seemed rational that a foreign wife might present her husband with a rabbit. And that he might bring it to a bar. They searched at a pace as feverish as the man’s indignation.
And when the foreigner thrust his finger and shouted, “It’s in there! I see it!” they must have each expected a lop-eared bunny to come hopping from the closet.
Yet their ordeal of embarrassment was over. And that of their guest’s was about to begin.
At least he could blame it on the booze. And it could have been worse.
Like the housewife in Hokkaido who announced to her neighbor she’d killed a bear in her closet. Mixing up “kuma” and “kumo,” the word for “spider.”
And that could have been worse too, like the young woman in “Japanese Made Funny” who complained to her landlord about a mouse, also in the closet.
In this case, she got the word for mouse correct, but tripped over the word for closet — “oshi-ire.” Instead, she claimed the troublesome mouse could be found inside her “oshiri.” Or buttocks.
And that could have been worse too. Like when the guy took his Japanese girl on a sightseeing date to Yokohama. When she asked what they would see, the last highlight he listed was the renowned “Foreigner’s Cemetery.” Except instead of the word for cemetery — “bochi” — he used, “bokki.” Meaning they would view the foreigner’s erection.
And that could have been worse too. Like the guy who tried to explain how he’d injured himself while practicing the shot put, which is “hogan nage” in Japanese. His bloop of “kogan nage” — or throwing his “testicles” — made his male listeners cringe.
Sometimes a blooper can be projected on others. Like the language student who received text mail from a female classmate saying she would be late. The man tried to tell the class she had been slowed by a train accident — “jinshin jiko.”
But instead said she was the victim of an accidental pregnancy — “ninshin jiko” — and would thus be delayed. An arrival met by stares when she later crept into the room.
And sometimes bloopers can be passed between foreigners. Like the woman who wished to thank me for some encouraging words and thought she had said so when she offered . . .
“Hagemashite kurete, arigato!’‘
Yet, her “hagemashite” came out as “hagete” . . . Thank you for “balding.”
Well, anything to oblige! And who needs hair anyway.
At my age, I’d rather have the blooper.