Dear Gaijin Girl, Why won’t my foreign boyfriend learn Japanese? I’m tired of translating for him all the time. Set to spat, Akiko
Dear Akiko, I hear you. There is something emasculating about a man not being able to decipher a McDonald’s menu on his own, let alone all the apologies now hanging in that fine dining establishment promising diners they will no longer find strips of leather in their chicken nuggets nor will their children cut their mouths on ice cream machinery parts that somehow made their way into sundaes. (If he could, he wouldn’t be eating there or currently choking on a piece of leather while nursing a Joker worthy cut on the inside of his mouth.)
I’m assuming your husband is a native English speaker. If your husband spoke native French, Spanish or Italian, you wouldn’t be writing me, you’d be far too busy enjoying comparatively mind blowing sex. Let’s be honest, one of the reasons you were attracted to him in the first place was because he spoke a language exotic and yet oh so familiar to you since the third grade when the English alphabet and pesky letters like b, d, v, r and l were forced upon you. These letters tormented and taunted you to unleash your tongue from the confines of your teeth, bite your lower lip and even cause said lip to vibrate (Gasp!) You couldn’t escape the feeling that you were doing something naughty like Kate Winslet being taught to hock a loogie by Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. And just like with the movie Titanic, you couldn’t wait for the ridiculous English lesson to end.
English has always been a challenge and therefore has always been attractive. This is one reason why Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Keanu Reeves will always be popular in Japan. In any given action movie they are in, their characters have a vocabulary of 50 words max. With dialog like, “Go now!” “Trust me!” and “Shit!” the brains of Japanese theater goers light up with recognition and a feeling that 6 years of intensive English study in junior high and high school weren’t a complete waste of time after all. The other reason is Japan has the oldest population in the world and its senior citizens have the time plus the discount to spend hours upon hours in movie theaters . They want to watch movies that tell them they could still be spies, agents and freedom fighters that have tongue tussles with girls young enough to be their grandchildren if they just ditched the walker.
Let me warn you. If your boyfriend does start to learn to speak Japanese, it won’t be pretty. Actually it will, it will be pretty disappointing because he is probably going to sound a lot like you as he is going to listen to you the most (You’re the one that’s been harping on him to learn the language) and because Japanese has a distinct feminine and masculine ways of speaking. He probably isn’t aware how different the speaking styles are. The only way I could see this working out well is if you are Victoria Beckham and your boyfriend is David Beckham. You also need to ask yourself this question, “Do I really want my pillow talk to include Japanese grammar?” Since English grammar already takes up a majority of your pillow talk, you’ll burn out and finally discover (much faster than you would otherwise) that you two have nothing to talk about because you have nothing in common other than being incredibly horny.
Encouraging him to learn how to write Japanese may cause a similarly unsexy situation as your LDK will be littered with green, flowery and half finished kanji workbooks you haven’t seen since elementary school. You’re boyfriend will treat you even more like a walking google translation app than he does now, as he asks you what some obscure kanji means on the back of his box of condoms. (Of course the obscure kanji in question means “small” but you are not going to be the one to tell him that. ) He will try to impress you with the newfound knowledge that a kanji character depicting one woman in a house means “ a wife” while three equals “a cacophony” and then needle you, the native Japanese speaker, for not being able to write the kanji for “soy sauce” if your life depended on it.
I’d encourage your boyfriend to learn to do something a bit sexier than speak or read Japanese. For example, encourage him to get a job. If you think your boyfriend has enough time to learn Japanese, he’s obviously got way too much time on his hands. Good Luck, Gaijin Girl