When you’re speaking a language you’re not fluent in on a daily basis, mistakes happen. And that’s okay; they’re a natural part of the language-learning process. Personally, I find them to be the best teachers of all – the more ridiculous your mistake, the more likely you are to remember it and therefore never make said mistake again.
Recently I made such a mistake. It was quite possibly the most hilarious mistake in Japanese word choice I have ever made. Therefore I will be sharing this little tale with everyone in hopes that my epic fail will help you to make the correct choice in the future (and also give you a good laugh). If you know Japanese, you may be able to guess what went wrong from the title. If not, just keep reading and I guarantee you’ll learn something both new and entertaining.
So I met and befriended this “personal trainer” guy at the gym. (I use quotes because I have yet to see him do any personal training of any kind – usually he and the other “personal trainers” just stand around doing absolutely nothing for hours on end) We hang out on occasion and, I can’t say for sure, but I get the feeling he thinks that they’re dates? Or possibly leading up to dates? Japanese dating culture is bizarre to me so I honestly have no clue what’s going through this guy’s head in regard to that. I just know that I have yet to receive a “kokuhaku,” so I’m going to assume I’m in the clear at this point. (For those who don’t know, “kokuhaku” means “love confession.” Japanese guys will “profess their love” to a girl before they actually start dating and considering themselves to be a couple.)
So me and Mr. Personal Trainer were hanging out and discussing various topics, having a good ‘ole time. He speaks zero English, so just keep in mind that the entirety of our conversation was in Japanese. Now, I can’t recall how I even got on this topic – because what ensued was so hilarious that everything prior is kind of a blur – but I started telling him how I hung out with the wife of this guy that we both know. I noticed his expression change – he almost twitched a bit – but, in any case, I kept going on about some of the things me and this woman have done together. Once I had finished, he was speechless. He just kind of stared at me, blinking, in what could only be taken as complete and utter shock. “Tsu-tsuma?” he finally sputtered.
Immediately I burst into laughter. Once I was able to regain my composure, I shook my head. “No,” I laughed. “I meant “okusan.” Mr. Personal Trainer proceeded to relax and the conversation carried on as it had previously. What had just gone down was a massive blunder in Japanese word choice.
For those of you who do not speak Japanese, you may be wondering just what those words mean. Below are the definitions given by Japanese dictionary site, Jisho.
妻 (tsuma) – wife
my dear, dear, honey
奥さん (okusan) – wife
your wife, his wife, married lady, madam
Now it may not be immediately obvious from these definitions, but in Japanese usually different words are used for one’s own family member and someone else’s family member. In this case, “tsuma” is used to mean “one’s own wife” and “okusan” refers to “someone else’s wife.” So basically, the entire time I thought I was talking about me and our friend’s wife, I was actually saying me and my wife. Considering that this guy is likely interested in me, and that in Japan gay marriage is (sadly) not really acknowledged, I bet that came as quite a shock! And the fact that I’m quite possibly more ripped than like 90 percent of the Japanese men I meet couldn’t have helped with my apparent Takarazuka-esqe persona, I’m sure!
In retrospect, I’m not gonna lie – as awful as it sounds, I think it would have been awesome to just go with the misunderstanding. But alas, like George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. 😛 Mr. Personal Trainer will be going to Colorado for a personal training conference in September, you see. He’s never been to America, so I think one of the reasons he wanted to hang out with me is to get an idea of what Americans are like before he goes. Since gay marriage was legalized in the states fairly recently, what better way to introduce him to AmURRican life, am I right?
I wish I could excuse myself of the blunder by saying that I had never learned about differentiating between “your wife” and “mine,” but that’d be a lie. I definitely learned about the differences between “okusan” and “tsuma” when I was studying Japanese at university. The information was quickly lost, however, as not having any married friends or being married myself (to a woman, man, or otherwise!!), it was pretty irrelevant to me. But now, I can proudly say that I will never forget the difference between “okusan” or “tsuma.” If I use “tsuma” it will be with full awareness of what I am saying. Like, for example, if Mr. Personal Trainer does pop out a “love confession”? Well, maybe I’ll just say that I lied about the whole “okusan” / “tsuma” mix-up thing after all…
Now to pat down the differences between “otto” (my husband) and “goshujin” (your husband). …Why do I get the feeling that by typing that I’m jinxing myself to yet another awkward situation?