As a foreigner in Japan, one has the opportunity to do things that one would not normally do in one’s country. Some of those things can be unforgettable and enriching experiences, but others can be embarrassing. A couple of years ago, I appeared in a Japanese TV commercial, but it wasn’t precisely because of my looks, or maybe it was.
The commercial was to be launched during Halloween and my role was an American professional wrestler zombie. During the shooting, I met people from several nationalities and backgrounds. Among those, there was a group of Japanese students that came from the Kyoto University of Arts and Design to help make the costumes and assist us. They were very friendly and cooperative. They took care of me during the whole shooting. We talked about ourselves, made jokes, and took pictures together.
Once the shooting was over, I thanked them and gave them my email. I was interested in the pictures they took with me, so I told one of them: “??????????? (Can you send me the pictures?” and left. The next day, I got an email from this person and he sent me a picture of himself smiling and making the usual V-sign. It felt a little awkward and I started to think. I realized that when I asked him to send me the pictures we’d taken together, I didn’t specify which pictures. English relies on articles, plural structures, and inflections a lot, while Japanese relies on the context more. At that moment I didn’t notice that literally, I was saying something like “Send me picture, please.” He thought I was asking him to send me a picture of himself! Why would I want his picture?...
This is one of my funny inter-linguistic experiences. I’ve learned that I should be more careful when using a foreign language, so from that moment on, I try to be sensitive to these linguistic aspects when speaking, but, of course, this is not an easy task.
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