I have a confession to make — sometimes I don’t answer the phone. Not because I am afraid of stalkers, or because I am too busy making love or something, no it is because of a much simpler reason. My Japanese sucks!
So I can speak a little bit of Japanese, and read a little bit, but when I say ‘little’, I mean it. Generally I suck.
If I am home alone, I don’t answer the phone. If I pick up the phone and say ‘moshi moshi?’ — which is the Japanese greeting on the phone — and someone immediately starts speaking to me in rapid Japanese, I freeze. I don’t know what to say or do. Once I told the person to please hold on for a second, and then in a moment of panic, I hung up the her. Terrible, I know. But how was that conversation going to end? Like a farmer putting a lame horse out of its misery, I simply put down the phone.
See, the thing is I can have some basic conversations with people, I can get around, I can order in restaurants, I can ask directions, read a menu, and usually follow a conversation when friends are talking, even though I don’t catch 100% of it. But say the phone rings, and it is the electricity company, and they want to ask me something, I have no clue what on earth they are saying! I don’t know enough vocabulary to have that kind of conversation. So why bother to answer the phone? It can only end in disaster.
I usually don’t answer the door bell either. We live on the 3rd floor, and have an intercom downstairs by the entrance. Once, when I was feeling brave, I answered the intercom bell, picked up the phone, and listened. I had no clue what the guy was saying but I told him to come upstairs anyway, thinking perhaps it was the post office. When I opened the door and he saw I was a foreigner, oh the shock on the poor boy’s face! I think he was a political campaigner or something, he had a stack of flyers in his hand. We went through the whole ‘I’m sorry I don’t speak much Japanese’ routine, which is a sentence I have perfected by now, and he went on his way. But in all truth, why answer the door anyway? If it is the post office, they will put a note in the mailbox. Anyone else is probably going to engage me in a conversation that I won’t understand anyhow. So, like an ostrich hiding its head in the sand, I simply don’t answer.
Sorry delivery people, I don’t mean to waste your time. I’m just too shy, and I don’t speak your language well enough!