Late-night TV, multilingual style

So I was flipping channels at 3 a.m. Torino time, and I stopped on NHK, the Japanese channel. Apparently, they were teaching people English. It was hard to tell, because the name of the show was something like “100% … (Japanese characters),” but they were giving English phrases and breaking them down bit-by-bit, with what appeared to be Japanese translations underneath.

Seems straightforward enough, but there was something odd about this show. Actually, there were a lot of things odd about this show.

The hosts were a guy who looked like an American snowboarder and a Japanese woman who kept nodding that peculiar nod that’s somewhere between a nod and a full-on bow, bending her long neck over and over like one of those “duck drinking water” toys. She also didn’t have a firm grasp of English, but she seemed so cute, polite and fragile that you probably wouldn’t correct her for fear of making her gasp and cry. And no one wants to see that.

It only got weirder when they gave a scenario. They cut to a guy with two hand puppets who said, “I have (turns head to other puppet) a question.” The hosts dissected that sentence for a while. Then they went back for the response: “The answer to the question you have asked is that one.”

What? Hey, I speak English — it’s the only language in which I can even pretend to be fluent — and I didn’t get that.

The next sentence: “I will now ask my question to someone else.” Yeah, knock yourself out.

After more dissection from Shaggy Dude and Nodding Girl, they added another sentence — in the MIDDLE of the conversation they’d just had! The guy who said he had a question apparently wanted to know which of his puppets was cuter. He looked like he was asking the puppets, but there was apparently someone else in the room who was supposed to tell him which one was cuter. But his opinion obviously didn’t carry much weight, because he needed to ask someone else.

English lesson or game show in which you’re supposed to guess the missing sentence? I have no idea. I watched far longer than I should have given my lack of sleep, just trying to figure out what the hell I was watching.

I wonder if this might have been English for secret agents. “When you meet the contact at the puppet shop, ask ‘Which one is cuter?’ If he answers, ‘The answer to your question is not the answer to one you have asked before you asked it,’ then you have found Igor. Give him the puppet with the microfilm.” Nodding Girl could be sending secret instructions in Morse code or deliberately mispronouncing important words … “the answer to the QUESTION is not THE one concerning the STATE of your health.”

In any case, it was better than the bad movie I found myself watching on German TV the other night. At first, I thought it was porn, but it turned out to be some dreary tale of double-crossing and shooting each other punctuated by occasional passionate nudity.

We were led to feel some sympathy for the couple at the center of it all, and she still seemed interested in prancing around for him in all her glory even after the guy in the bad-fitting yachtsman jacket was killed. But then he did a couple of monologues before going to her house, which was roughly the size of the house Lois inherits in that Family Guy episode. He finds her practicing piano and exchanges a few words with her. Another guy enters and says something. Then he draws a gun. Our hero (we think) says one more thing before he’s shot, as if the gunman were saying, “I’m NOT going to listen to another of your stupid monologues!”

So is the woman upset? Perhaps, but it seemed a lot less like a “the man I love has died instantly from a stomach wound” and a lot more like “oh, damn it, there’s all this blood on the floor, and the maids are gone for the weekend.”

It was either that or watch Jacobellis fall again on every other network, and I sure as hell didn’t want to see that. I never thought when I shook hands with her on our plane to Munich that she’d end up getting her actions dissected by every boneheaded macho jerk in the media who see so little of snowboarding that they don’t even have a basis for comparison. I wonder if U.S. fans will learn to cut athletes a break before we turn into the Soviet Union. (If Rocky IV were filmed now, which country would have Drago?)

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