So now that I’m back in Amsterdam and having a nice time here, I thought that I might learn some of the language.
The last time I worked in this little town of churches and canals, I hated the place so much that I swore that the sounds of Dutchness would never pass my lips. It’s guttural like German, but sing-song like Scandinavian languages. The combo just never did it for me.
But I’m a different man I guess and it all sounds a lot better than it did before. So I’m going to make an effort. It’s actually a rule that I have, I will always learn the language of a place where I’m living. I think it’s just respectful; you’re taking the country’s money, the least you can do is learn please, thank you, left, right, what’s your phone number etc.
The language that I was the most proficient at was Japanese. I spent about ten years learning it, then didn’t speak it for ten years, then moved there for a year to work. It all came flooding back and I was actually pretty pleased with myself. By the end of my stay there I would do my meetings half in English, half in Japanese.
I loved that I could walk into a room, talk Japanese and look at the shock on people’s faces; that’s right, this gaijin isn’t half bad at your lingo.
Then one night I was out with my Levi’s client, Kazuko san, the head of marketing. She had risen the ranks of Japanese business and done very well; it’s not easy to get to where she has as a woman. I liked her, she liked me and we loved a drink.
So we’re out one night, a little tipsy when she turns to me.
Kazu: Ano neh… Kaaru san?
Me: Yes Kazuko san?
Kazu: I think many Japanese are willing to be shock by you.
Me: Oh, OK. Why is that?
Kazu: You look very cool, like James-u Dean…
Me: Oh, cool, thanks.
Kazu: …but you speak Japanese like a girl.
A side note; there are two very distinct accents in Japanese for men and women. For women, you should sound like a bird. For men, you should sound like a cement mixer.
I apparently sounded like a little bitch. You see, all my Japanese teachers were women so I picked up a woman’s accent and I really spoke it high. So those looks of shock I saw when I opened my mouth in Japan were definitely surprise, just not for the reasons I thought they were.
6’3″, 200 pounds of westerner talking like Tiny Tim.
After that I used my overlord accent every time I had to speak Japanese. In my overcompensation I went from manga girl to yakuza hit man.
Here’s hoping I don’t end up sounding like a woman in a red window here in the Netherlands.