Sunday, March 15, 2009

lost in translation

This week, we have a lovely young girl from Toyamaken, Japan visiting our home. She's a 16-yr-old high school student here on an exchange through the high school where my husband works.

She speaks a bit of English. We here at our house speak zero Japanese. Hand gestures abound. I didn't know I could move my eyebrows up and down that energetically!

I haven't been a host to someone from another culture in a very long time, and this exercise is teaching me a lot about communication, presumption, non-verbal cues, etc... It's making me realize that a lot of my day--really, a lot--is about anticipating disaster and managing expectation. Having a non-English speaker in the house has magnified this. It has magnified my ineptitudes as well. For instance. I'm a really shitty folder. Sheets, towels, Origami, you name it, if the goal is to make something look like it just spent a week in the hamper, I'm a pro. Our house guest is an expert folder. She handed me her dirty laundry and it was presented in this beautiful shape, as though it were a bouquet she was offering. I'm going to labor over the folding of this laundry when I hand it back to her. Or maybe I won't actually hand it to her. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to stack it by her bedroom door. Maybe she'll think my nine-year-old did it that way and I can save face.

So, I'm a terrible folder, BUT, I'm good at flinging things. And the hip check? I have that down pat. Plus, I can scramble through a Safeway, get everything on my list and into my car in less time than it takes to, uh, fold a load of towels.

In order to give our guest an adventure, today we took her skiing. The mountain was more blizzardy than I've ever seen it. My ass was literally lifted off of the ski lift during one gust. Our Japanese girl was quite amazed, though certainly polite, as horizontal ice pelted the few exposed areas of her cheeks. She had enough after three runs down the bunny slope. And who could blame her? I tried to joke in that way that you do when you speak a different language than the person you're joking with.

"Bet you wish you were on a nice beach, eh? Well, we're tough here in Oregon. Very tough. This is what we do for fun!" I said, emphasizing the joke words by saying them way too loud, Trying out hyperbole with my cheek muscles, though, my voice was muffled and my jaw was enshrouded by the neck warmer I'd pulled up to my goggles.

She's off to slumber land now, our guest. The trepidation she carried in her body the last two days (she was very nervous about this impending ski trip, I think), has melted, if, indeed, the ice on the mountain has not. She's relieved and looking forward to the next few days, where she'll attend American high school with the other Japanese students, and as far as "home stay" activities--I think we'll take in a movie tomorrow night. I'm thinking Coraline.

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