Humor Speaking Japanese Slowly

Humor Speaking Japanese Slowly is adapted from a humorous book by David Sedaris: ‘When You Are Engulfed in Flames’, with this part about struggling to learn Japanese.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter The Smoking Section, pages 262-263:


In the summer of 2006, shortly before our three-day trip to Tokyo, I bought a Japanese-language CD.

It was just the basics: “Good morning,” “May I have a fork?” that type of thing.

The person giving the English translation spoke at a normal pace,

but the one speaking Japanese, a woman, was remarkably slow and hesitant.

“Koooonniiiichiii waaa,” she’d say,

“Ooooohaaaayooooo oooooo...zaimasssssuuu.”

I memorized everything she said and arrived in Japan feeling pretty good about myself.

A bellman escorted Hugh and me out to our hotel room and, without too much trouble,I was able to tell him I liked it.

“Korrree gaaa sukiii dessssu.”

The following morning I offered a few pleasantries to the concierge,

who politely told me I was talking like a lady, an old rich one, apparently.

“You might want to speed it up a little,” he suggested.

A lot of people laughed at my Japanese on that trip,

but I never felt I was being made fun of.

Rather, it was like I’d performed a trick, something perverse and unexpected, like pulling a sausage out of my ear.

When I came to France, I was afraid to open my mouth, but in Tokyo, trying was fun.

The five dozen phrases I’d memorized before coming served me in good stead, and I left the country wanting to learn more.


Humor of Japanese Vocabulary Cards is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Japanese Placement Exam is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Japanese School is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Speaking Japanese with Skill is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of Japanese Indirectness is more from David Sedaris.

Humor of the Last Day of Japanese School is more from David Sedaris.

Return to Humor of Language Learners.


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