25 April, 2017

Being flexible

Here is an edited post I wrote in 2009. It is still relevant (though I no longer go to Curves):

The other night at Curves one of the trainers was giving out slips of paper detailing some changes during the next month in opening times. Just a simple slip of white paper, covered in black type, all in Japanese. 

They are very kind to me at the gym and knowing my reading isn't so good, so she attempted to convey to me verbally the essence of the message, to be sure that I understood it. She then apologised for any inconvenience, but I replied trying to say that my schedule is a bit flexible. Unfortunately I couldn't remember the word for "flexible". So I did what any foreigner with some Japanese knowledge will do, and I Japanized the English word and said I was "furekishiburu".

To understand this you have to know that Japanese is a syllabic language. That means that they don't construct words with single letters like in English, they construct words with syllables. This works fine, it really does, until they try to import foreign words. Just like when we try to read Welsh words which have not enough vowels, the Japanese panic a little when they see two consonants together. Then they insert vowels in the middle and on the end in most cases.

So McDonalds becomes an unwieldy Macudonarudo. An easier example would be "beetle" becomes "beetoru". They also have only five vowel sounds and some English consonants don't have an equivalent (for example "r" and "l" come out the same). However, once you put a word through this filter, they can actually pronounce it and remember it. 

Many, many English (and other language) words appear in Japanese and make foreigners' lives easier. They are even so kind as to use a different alphabet to distinguish between Japanese words and foreign-originated words. The problem comes when you cannot remember which words have been adopted and which have not. Occasionally you get a surprise when you use the Japanese word and they come out with an English-type equivalent. 

That's a long explanation, I'm sorry. I guess this story is not so easy to understand, after all! Anyway, they didn't know furekishiburu

After some explanation and gestures, they figured out what I meant and someone immediately said, "ahh, furekishiburu taimu". Can you translate? Yes - "flexible time". They had a phrase including the word, but not the adjective itself! Ah, the fun time we have living in a non-English speaking country. It sure makes you furekishiburu!

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