A few days ago, we visited the Akihabara neighborhood of Tokyo, which specializes in exactly two things: electronics and comics-related costumes. We were there for the former, trekking from store to store in search of a new phone for B. We hit up several superstores, like the old Best Buy or Circuit City, but times five. Not having any luck, we proceeded to little stores that were low on fanciness and high on used merchandise. B was trying to make sense of the English language terminology. For example, did ‘SIM FREE’ mean that a phone wouldn’t accept a SIM card (rendering it useless to B) or that the SIM was free from ties to any specific carrier? (If you’re curious, it’s the latter.) Did seeing a phone company’s name on the description suggest that the price would be lower for those who got a contract, or that we could only use it on that company’s network? Scintillating questions all.
In one particular store, B was discussing these topics with one of the salesmen, and I was looking at a random display case nearby. Another salesmen had recently arrived, and he was putting on his vest when he sneezed suddenly. I looked up at him, intending to say ‘bless you!,’ but I paused when I realized that: (a) I didn’t know how to say it in Japanese and had no reason to believe the man would understand the expression in English, and (b) I hadn’t actually heard anyone say it here; maybe they don’t do that? So, here I was, kind of frozen looking at him. He filled in the silence by saying, ‘Bless me!,’ to which I smiled. It seemed too late to offer any comment, so I kept quiet.
As B and I were leaving a few minutes later, we saw that salesman. He turned to me and asked quite clearly, ‘Italiano?’ I shook my head no, while B said, ‘A little’ (in English). I can only assume that he inferred my nationality from my significant tan and my lack of English speech to him. But whatever his reasons, the incident amused me. After all, I have now been assumed to be from the entire Mediterranean sea board! When I was in Copenhagen, I was assumed to be Spanish. While in Greece, people spoke to me in Greek (and in Russian). In Italy, a woman thought I was French. And now, here in Japan, I was taken for Italian. If only I could figure out a way to make this blending ability more useful to me… Ideas welcome!