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  • Kady Potter

The insurmountable biling-wall

I've been having trouble making myself understood recently.

No, the Japanese language study is going well. Thanks for asking. (I assume you asked. Let's just say you did.) Trying to learn more Japanese isn't the biggest problem I'm having right now.

The main issue is - weirdly - with other English speakers from different countries. They just don't get me, for some reason. My Brit-speak is about as understandable to them as JLPT N1-level kanji. Which, if you need that joke spelling out, is NOT AT ALL.

Back home, I considered myself pretty good at making conversation. I was comfortable at dinner parties and social events. I could hold my own (and my obligatory glass of free drink, for mingling) with the best of them.

Now, faced with all these conversational culture clashes, I feel like a toddler trying to say 'mama' without dribbling mashed carrots down my front. I have to repeat things and explain myself a lot lately, to the point that it'd be easier to say nothing and hide under a rock. It'd also be cooler under there, I suspect...

My sense of humour's been lost in translation on my way to Japan - hell, it didn't even make it as far as the baggage carousel. Every business card I hand out now has 'comedy writer' hastily scribbled out in black marker pen.

Time to roll out a new Japanese phrase:

越えられない壁 (koerarenai kabe)

This means 'a wall you can't get over'. That wall can be literal (physical), but most of the time it's an imaginary one (mental/emotional) at the limits of your strength and skill.

It might be an opponent you just can't beat (sports, video games, martial arts, chess, whatever), or even your own insecurities holding you back. It could be your manager, resolutely blocking your promotion by refusing to retire. Hey, it's Gandalf yelling "YOU SHALL NOT PASS" in the LOTR films and everything.

To me, the language barrier with other people is the 'insurmountable wall' blocking my conversations. It's not just a hurdle in the way that needs a run-up to clear - neither of us can (figuratively) get over it.

I wasn't expecting to deal with this kind of 'biling-wall' during my time in Japan. And THAT is exactly the kind of gag that I can't make out loud any more.

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