Monday, February 23, 2009

China-town bus to Boston

"Do you think she's going to carry on talking all the way back."
"Looks like it."
Smoothly taking the cue, the girl behind us remembers another person that she needs to call. For the next twenty minutes she retreats from our very English tutting into bullet-fire Mandarin. To me, crushed up a half foot in front of her face, it sounds like her mouth is out of tune.

Sitting in a taxi earlier that day it had taken us half a news report to realise we were listening to the clipped tones of the BBC World Service. It seems an odd choice for our monosyllabic driver, but I can't imagine he changed it over when we jumped in the back. Everyone knows that Brits are terrible tippers.

American voices - already made so homely by indie rockers and the movies - are now what we expect to hear. Unfortunately this special relationship doesn't work both ways, and oftentimes people look at me like I'm speaking Chinese at them. In my head I chant, I understand you fine, so why can't you understand me?

This is nothing, I tell myself, as I gesture wildly in shops and banks and subway stations. If Americans have problems deciphering English accents, how much more strange for shopkeepers in suburban Japan who may never have heard someone mangling their mother-tongue.
"How mach is this?"
"How moch is this?"
"How muuuch is this?"
Fucking hell, lady. Take a wild guess at what I mean when I'm pointing towards your pile of eggplants and waving a fistful of unfamiliar currency in your uncompremending face.

Usually I just say Eggplant and Quarter Of and 'Erbs and try to quosh the childish thought that it's our language, we had it first.

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