Monday, September 14, 2009

Who wants gyoza?

So I have taken a few pictures of silly Japanese things with my small, point-and-shoot digital camera and I was all ready to upload them for you all, but guess what I forgot. Yes, the tiny yet crucial cord that connects that camera to my computer. Don't fret everyone, I will get it soon but until that comes I thought I would recount a rather embarrassing and pathetic story about when I wanted gyoza. These are little dumplings that are quite fantastic and I had a great craving for some.

Keep in mind two things: this actually happened about a week ago and since then my confidence and ability to speak the language has slightly improved; also Japanese people don't handle bluntness well. Ok, let's begin.

So Cooper and I found a place on our map that was said to be a gyoza restaurant. We had trouble before looking for restaurants on our bikes so we decided to memorize the name of the place, write the Kanji for gyoza down and take the map with us just incase we still failed. With all these precautions, we still failed. There was no sign that said 'gyoza' nor a very clearly written name of 'Oshu.' There was, however, a pretty happening joint that we had passed earlier and we decided to head back and eat there.

Inside we see people all in the same black and white uniform rushing about very dramatically and the patrons were sitting at their tables or at the bar, stuffing food into their pie-holes and acting rather un-japanese-like. Sometimes one of the workers would fly over to a microphone, shout something quite abrasively into it in Japanese before returning to their missions. Cooper and I saw a small podium with some paper and a pen on it. Without thinking, almost instinctively, we walked over to it, wrote "Wilson" in Japanese, circled what we assumed was 'table' and 'two people,' and sat down on a bench to wait. Proud that we unquestioningly did what we thought we were supposed to do we felt our pride crushed as two people came in to the restaurant and struck up a conversation with the person behind the register! "What is going on?! What did we just do? Were we supposed to talk to the person behind the register instead of writing on that paper? What did we just sign up for?!" Our brief moment of panic was subsided when a man in uniform arrived quite abruptly and said, "WIRUSON-SAN!" Cooper leapt up and yelled back, "HAI!" Slightly frightened, this person nevertheless led two stupid white kids to a table.

Just as we were sitting down, he let out a flurry of Japanese words, one of which I thought was "sake." I did not want sake, so I said back to him, "mizu dake." This just means, "water only." That's it; nothing polite or humane about it. He looked at me confused for a moment before gesturing to the table and saying, "menu," very slowly. Then he slid a pitcher of water that was already on the table to me and cast me one last disdainful look as he turned to leave. He had left a sheet of paper on the end of the table with a grid and lots and lots of japanese words that neither Cooper, nor I could even begin to read. "Shit. What the hell are we supposed to do with this? Do we put our order on it? How do we know where to put it?" I had cleverly decided to spy on the family next to us to see what they do with it. Casually, I looked over and noticed the waitress was marking something on it. Thank GOD we don't have to deal with it!

We eventually decide what we want from the menu thanks to a few pictures of bowls of meat and stir-fried vegetables. I also noticed they had gyoza! What a victory! I put the menu back and we clean off the table, clearly ready to order. Well, not clear enough. Five minutes pass by and we wonder where our server is. After twenty minutes and wondering how to distinguish the wait staff from the host staff from the bussers, I make up my mind again to watch newly seated customers summon service. I watch two men walk into the place, get seated, pull out a menu, when all of a sudden food appears! Somehow food was brought to them when I clearly saw no one take an order! Thinking this is a fluke, I watched two more parties sit, look at the menu, and have food delivered! This happened three times and the mystery of how to order lingered on!

Cooper decided to man up and leaned over to someone cleaning the table next to us. "Excuse me," he said in Japanese, "we are stupid foreigners. How does food come?" The lady understood we wanted to order and she knelt down by the sheet of paper. We had noticed on the menu a slightly larger number next to the price of each item with a strange symbol next to it. Curious, Cooper tried to ask what the symbol meant. An avalanche of Japanese came roaring at us wherein we caught nothing. Not yet defeated, Cooper tried to rephrase his question only to be met with another onslaught of linguistic fury. While the lady was talking, I thought I should offer some help, but I didn't really know what I was saying. I leaned over the table, pointed to the price and said, "chigau!" This just plainly means, "wrong!" Realizing my error I looked up to meet the second face of confusion and annoyance at my existence. I sat back in my seat and slowly took a drink of my water that I so clearly demanded earlier that night. The woman turned her head from me and angled herself directly to Cooper, cutting me off with her shoulder. She talked one more time while Cooper pretended to understand what she said. Finally, we ordered two stir-fries and some gyoza. She left in a strikingly similar fashion the man earlier had done.

Later, a third person came and delivered our food. As she turned to return to her job, I noticed I didn't have my gyoza that I had so much wanted. I didn't quite know how to ask for it and in a state of panic I just shouted, "Gyoza!" And there was number three! This person walked back over to the rude, asinine gaijin who just shouted food at her, made a crude mark on the paper and got my gyoza. When she returned I tried to thank her as politely as I could, but that most likely just made things worse. Suffice it to say, that night was not one of my finer Japanese experiences.


  1. Mother and Aunt Jan expect you to speak fluent Japanese by Friday

  2. Oh, you stupid American. This sounds like one of my stories here in Germany.