Humor of Speaking "Engarish"

Humor of Speaking "Engarish” in Tokyo is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about helping to improve the English of Japanese students in Tokyo.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter The Smoking Section, pages 287-288:


Beside the Imperial Palace (in Tokyo) there’s a park, with a big koi-filled pond in it.

Hugh and I were just nearing the gate yesterday, when a pair of young men approached, saying,

“Yes. Hello. A minute please.”

Both were students at a local university and were wondering if they might show us the sights, “Not for money,” explained the larger of the two,

“but to help improve our Engarish.”

“I don’t think so,” Hugh told him,

and the young man who had spoken, and whose name turned out to be Naomichi, turned to his friend.

“He is saying to us, ‘No, thank you’.”

Then I piped up. “Oh, what the heck,” I said to Hugh. “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Are you saying, ‘Yes, please’?” Naomichi asked. And I told him I was.


While Hugh and Naomichi talked about the declining popularity of sumo wrestling, Student No. 2 and I discussed the majesty of nature.

“What wild animals do you have in Tokyo?” I asked.

“Wild animal?”

“Do you have squirrels?”

No response.

I pretended to fill my cheeks with nuts, and the young man said,

“Ah, sukaworra!”

I then moved on to snakes and asked if he was afraid of them.

“No, I think that they are very cute.”

Surely, I thought, he’s misunderstood me.

“Snake,” I repeated, and I turned my arm into a striking cobra. “Horrible. Dangerous. Snake.”

“No,” he said, “The only thing I am afraid of is MOUTHA.”

“The snake’s mouth?”

“No,” he said, “moutha. I maybe saying it wrong, but moutha. Moutha.”

I was on the verge of faking it when he pulled out an electronic dictionary and typed in the word he was looking for, ga, which translates, strangely enough, to “moth.”

“You’re afraid of moths?”

He nodded yes and winced a little.

“But nobody’s afraid of moths.”

“I am,” he whispered, and he looked behind us, as if afraid that one might be listening.

“Are you afraid of butterflies too?” I asked.

The young man cocked his head.

“Butterfly,” I said, “Colorful cousin of the moth. Are you afraid that he too will attack?”

Hugh overheard me saying this and turned around.

“What the hell are you two talking about?”

And Student No. 2 said,

“The wildness.”


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