Friday, February 19, 2010

japanese schoolgirl

Last night I popped over to the neighbor's apartment mostly to check out their decorating scheme. (I saw Colin's bachelor pad back in the day; now I had to see which direction Eleanor's design sensibilities had taken his new apartment.) They had a houseguest there from Japan and we ended up having what I now consider one of the greatest conversations of my life.

After spending quite some time listening to Pica's travel plans to visit the Peru, the New Orleans, and the Carmel, I had to put a stop to her definite article abuse. This led to an interesting discussion comparing Japanese and English grammar, in the midst of which I remembered that I don't speak Japanese. This is how much of a nerd I am: even though I don't know the language, I'm familiar with the grammar. In fact, I'm a highly-trained speaker of pseudo-Japanese (which basically means I know that I'm supposed to introduce the subject before the verb as in, "About that cookie. Are you going to eat it?) I even used to know the Japanese word for "about" although I've forgotten it now.

It turned out that Pica is in a band and that she's opened for Shonen Knife. (My favorite Japanese band by virtue of being the only Japanese band I know of.) Pica met Eleanor when Eleanor went to Japan to do a documentary on her band. The director of the film quit so it was never finished, but Eleanor still has a lot of raw footage on VHS that Pica has never seen. Which prompted Eleanor to ask,

"Do you have a VCR?"
I said, "Yeah, sure, you have a key to my place so just come over and watch it tomorrow while I'm at work."
She no sooner thanked me than Pica asked,
"Oh, and do you have a schoolgirl outfit?"

You know how, when something unexpected happens, you have several thousand thoughts simultaneously? Here are some of mine:

1. Of course. It's totally natural that a Japanese rock star would ask that.
2. What is it about videotape that makes people immediately associate it with schoolgirl outfits?
3. I should have a schoolgirl outfit! It's like a little black dress -- every woman should own one.
4. Wait. My roommate does own one.
5. How do I know that about my roommate?
6. Is Pica going to wear it or does she want me to wear it?
7. There's gotta be a reasonable explanation.

The best thing about people who barely speak English is that they say everything in this totally deadpan way. Pica had already made me cry tears of laughter by describing her Peruvian toothache, her nude modeling job ("No moving! I spent three years not moving!"), and the various incarnations of Shonen Knife. The schoolgirl outfit explanation promised to be good.

It was actually pretty simple, albeit strange. Pica didn't go to her high school graduation ceremony, so Eleanor and Colin are going to recreate the ceremony here. Pica thought it would be a good idea to get an authentic schoolgirl outfit for the occasion. I told her I could hook her up with a pleated skirt.

The thing is, when I got home Christina was still out somewhere so I had to leave her a note. And the note had to explain "for a joke, not for sex." When I woke up this morning there was a microscopic plaid skirt, complete with a shoebox of patent leather mary jane platforms, on the dining room table. I loved the gratuitous shoes more than anything.

But when I came home from work, the outfit was still there. I took it down to Pica's house to give to her. She looked puzzled and said, "That is a schoolgirl outfit here?" Then it hit me that Japanese schoolgirls wear navy we-were-conquered-in-WWII blue, not Catholic plaid. That's why she didn't take the outfit earlier -- she didn't recognize it as a school uniform. I reassured her that it was and she seemed okay with it even though it probably screwed up, like, only the biggest day of her life.

Walking home, I pieced together some more parts of the story. In Japanese Pica was probably thinking, "school uniform" but in English that got translated to "schoolgirl outfit" without her being aware of the shift in connotation. Which is why she could ask me for one without any hesitation. And since everyone in Japan wears school uniforms, she probably thought most people would have an old uniform lying around. Which is why she assumed I'd have one.

So in the end it all makes incredibly non-sexual sense. And I'm not even going to attempt to make grammatical sense of all my other simultaneous thoughts and feelings.

1 comment:

Wayfarer said...

I was thinking...I miss Janet, so I'll read her blog. Now I have but of course I just miss you more!