I’m Not Sure You Can Claim to Speak the Language If You Don’t Know “I’m Sorry”

“Do you speak Korean?”

I hate that question.

I have no idea how to quantify it, so I usually say, “I speak enough Korean to get myself in and out of trouble.” Or, “I speak enough Korean to deal with my mother-in-law when my husband’s not around.” Or, “I’m studying, but I’m not very good.”

I qualify things like that so I don’t end up looking like the chick we ran into on the way home from the airport, on the Super Shuttle. I don’t usually pay attention if people claim to speak a language but really don’t. This time, I had to bite my cheek to keep from laughing.

There was some girl that the driver seemed to know. He was chatting with her about her trip (she’d gone to Japan).

He asked if she spoke any Japanese and she said she did when her father was alive, her husband spoke Japanese, and she knew a lot of slangy Japanese from her family in Japan and she could communicate with them.

OK, so I was sort of eavesdropping, of course, because they were the only people speaking, so it was hard not to, and because a white-looking girl speaking any Asian language is unusual.

So the driver asked her how to say “thank you” in Japanese.

And she couldn’t tell him.

He asked her how to say “excuse me” or “I’m sorry,” and she couldn’t tell him.

He said a friend had taught him some phrases. He’d say them and she’d say she wasn’t sure because she didn’t really know how to say it. She kept sort of pronouncing things and then claiming she didn’t know the phonics.

The lyrics “domo arigato, Mr Roboto” kept running through my head and I wondered what she and her family “communicated” about.

Since she was failing at Japanese, she said she spoke French. Apparently she didn’t know the driver’s native language was French. So he started speaking French to her.

“Well, you know, I haven’t studied it in a long time,” she said, “but I know Spanish, too.”

So he switched to Spanish. You can guess the outcome of that.

It was a little embarrassing to witness.