“Please pee”: Adventures in Japanese

Languages are funny things. Even the slightest change in pronunciation can absolutely destroy your intended meaning. Here’s a little story about that that’s sure to make you chuckle.

I first came to Japan in October of 2016. While I now know enough basic words and sentences to get around in restaurants, supermarkets, and trains, I knew almost nothing when I first arrived… Nothing, that is, except for two sentences, “Hajimemashite” and “Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”

Both of these sentences are used when meeting people for the first time. “Hajimemashite” is very similar to “Pleased to meet you.” and “Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” could be compared to “Let’s work well together.” As an English native speaker reading these sentences in romaji, I naturally thought that “Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu”was pronounced DO-ZO-YO-RO-SHE-KOO-OH-NE-GA-EE-SHE-MASS. Boy was I wrong!!!

On the first day of work, in a bid to impress my new Japanese colleagues, I busted out my well-practiced sentences. I had repeated them over and over in the mirror that morning, and I was determined to use them! “Hajimemashite” went just fine. My colleagues bowed slightly and responded accordingly, but “Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” didn’t go so well. When I said it, people looked confused, and then, after a moment, they just chuckled. What was I doing wrong? In this country of ultimate politeness, was I being too polite? Not polite enough? I had no clue.

The following day, still perplexed, I told one of my English work friends (who knows Japanese) this story. He immediately started laughing uncontrollably. Seriously? I thought. What is up with these people? I got my answer soon enough. I had essentially politely asked my Japanese colleagues to go pee. I had said: “Please pee.”

You’re probably asking yourself: How is that possible? As it turns out, I was mispronouncing “Dozo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” “Shiku” (SHE-KOO) in Japanese is “to pee.” If I had done a little more research, I would have realized that I should have been pronouncing this sentence: DO-ZO-YO-ROSH-KU-OH-NE-GA-EE-SHE-MASS and definitely not DO-ZO-YO-RO-SHE-KOO-OH-NE-GA-EE-SHE-MASS…….

Luckily for me, my colleagues took it all in stride. And I was only mercilessly bugged about the incident for about a month until something funnier came up in the office. So, all in all, I would say I got out of this pretty much unscathed!

 

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