Google+ Sandra's Stories: Sometimes small talk is big talk

Monday, 7 October 2013

Sometimes small talk is big talk

The other day, I tried to ask for no bag in Japanese (kekkoudesu), but instead, proposed marriage (kekkondesu). I realised I’d made a mistake when the check-out assistant froze and slowly backed away from me. The last time I tried to go to the optometrist in Japan I almost blinded myself (see What happens when you get cocky). So when my Japanese teacher wrote the word yukaueshinsui (inundation above floor level) on my vocab list this week, I felt it was a little beyond me. Before I memorise seven-syllable words about flood-levels, I should probably master some basic life skills in Japanese. But I memorised it anyway … because my teacher always seems to know what people in Japan will be talking about.

For example, in March, my teacher asked me to memorise the word sakurazensen (cherry blossom front), which is like a cold front, but made of cherry blossoms. She also asked me to memorise mankaisengen (declaration of full bloom). I knew people like cherry blossoms in Japan, but I couldn’t believe they got into such technical details. But after several conversations turned into detailed discussions of cherry blossom bloom-levels and locations, I realised I was wrong. These technical details were hot topics during cherry blossom season, and if I didn’t know these words, I wouldn’t be able to understand small talk. It’s typhoon season right now, so I guess my teacher is expecting some floods and ‘inundation about floor level’. I eagerly await putting my new vocab to use while my house goes underwater.

Cherry blossoms: get your jargon right before you try to talk about them

This has made me wonder what sort of things English teachers in Australia teach foreign students, which might seem surprising everyday topics to anyone from overseas.

Spring: The firies* were backburning this morning and now my washing smells like smoke.
Summer: Don’t you hate it when weetbix dries like cement on your bowl and you can’t get it off?
Autumn: It was cloudy and cold yesterday but I still got sunburnt. Thanks ozone hole!
Winter: It’s getting cold. I hope the huntsmans (spiders) don’t come inside to have babies in my bedroom again.

*Firies = firefighters

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