…otherwise known as Curious George

Do you have a most embarrassing moment? How about one that happened in a public place? I wonder if it compares to mine…one of many, mind you, that are just part of life in another country.

Picture me, middle-aged mom, newly arrived in Japan, spontaneously peeking into the local video rental store for the first time with two young children in tow. You must also remember that beyond basic greetings, I spoke not a bit of Japanese.

unknownWe looked around for the movie they wanted, which happened to be Curious George, but soon realized our challenge: except for the occasional featured film, all the DVD’S were shelved like books at a library, only their spines visible. Remember that ‘speaking-Japanese’ problem I mentioned? Well, reading was even farther off the menu. We thumbed through the shelves for a while hoping to spot the familiar artwork on the cover, but couldn’t find the naughty little monkey anywhere.

Eventually, since my kids were quite determined that we find George, and only George, I ventured up to the counter to torture the young man working there with a game of charades. Some of you are asking why I didn’t simply Google my way out of this problem, look up the title in Japanese and hand the guy my phone? But this was 2006, dear friends, and the ubiquitous iPhone was still a year away (gasp). I was on my own.

The next sixty seconds went something like this:

me:  scratching my own armpits, saying, “ooh-ooh-ooh” as quietly as possible

clerk:  saying nothing. looking horrified, perplexed and oh, so subtly amused all at the same time

me:  using my hands to pretend a giant yellow hat is now on my head, then returning to armpits —i’m aware that I’m blushing. Other people are staring, but pretending they’re not. I am not fooled.

clerk:  chin now cocked ever so slightly to the left, lips pressed tightly together, expression still unreadable (his thought bubble reads: what in the *%!bakanahito!@* is going on with this lady?)

me:  mumbling apologies, turning in humiliation to go find something else

Ah, (lifting my chin and putting that image firmly behind me) good times….

Actually this little tale has a happy ending. A few minutes later the clerk found me in the store, his desire to be helpful overcoming the strangeness of our exchange. Hesitantly, he mimicked my previous monkey charade, a question hanging at the end of his own, “ooh-ooh-ooh?” I nodded, we both started laughing, and soon my kids and I were heading home with a Curious George—um, I mean おさるのジョージ DVD in a shiny, blue plastic bag.

(Of course, learning how to switch language options on a Japanese DVD player while two impatient children practically vibrate across the tatami mat floor is another story.)

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