Shamed in Translation

by James Hearne

One of the lessons I’ve learned in life is this:

                Never get overconfident in your own skills, especially in a foreign language.

            Last November, my then-girlfriend (and still close friend), who is Japanese, asked me to e-mail her extended family and introduce myself. “Good idea,” I thought, and set about putting together a small paragraph (maybe 3 or 4 sentences) describing myself. Her extended family still lives in Japan and, with a few exceptions has a limited knowledge of English.

            So, in what I’m sure seemed like a good idea at the time, I decided to write the email in Japanese…by myself. My girlfriend offered to look it over, but I would not hear of it. I’m gonna do this MYSELF!

            Keep in mind, I wasn’t baring my soul to them or anything. I just wanted to send a friendly “Hello-nice-to-meet-you-I-make-out-with-your-niece-bye,” sort of thing. So I wrote them the following:

            “Hello! My name is James and I am 28 years old. I am currently dating your niece. It is nice to meet you! She and I have known each other since she first came here to America. I hope to talk to you soon! Goodbye!”

            ….or at least that’s what I thought I wrote when I clicked “send.”

            A few days later, my girlfriend called me, half in a sputtering rage, half dying of laughter. “What the hell did you write to them!?” she demanded.

            “What do you mean?” I asked, completely bewildered.

            Puzzled, I fed the email into several different online translators and forwarded it to Yumi herself. This is what I had actually written:

  “Hello! My name is James and I am 28 months old. I am currently on top of your niece. It is nice to meet you! She and I have known each other since she first came here to America. I hope to yell at you soon! Goodbye!”

            My ears turned red. I could not remember feeling so embarrassed. “This is so wrong,” I muttered, standing over her shoulder.

            “Your right, it is!” she said. “I’m always on top!”


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