Compliments

Japanese food is great – and I try to sample as many different types as possible, with a certain preference for sweet stuff of course. A good way to try various cheap types of food is at a matsuri or other gathering where street vendors sell their wares. There is a particular type of sweets that is essentially walnut sized pieces of pancake batter (which allegedly contains just a little bit of soysauce) fried in a mold and preferrably eaten as hot as possible (they become tough rather quickly).

When I first noticed them I was intrigued and decided to try them. The first question was easy: “Amai desuka? – This is sweet?” – “Hai, sou desu – Yes, it is.” Good, the sweeter the better, but my objection to anything containing anko led to the second question: “Okunai wa anko desuka? – Is there anko inside?” – “Iie, anko naindesu – No, no anko.” Sufficiently satisfied I bought a small bag for 300 YEN and found the taste very nice indeed, very simple, straightforward and not too sugary – almost instant happiness. I was even more happy when the vendor complimented me on speaking Japanese so well, a compliment I modestly refused with the expected standard answer any Japanese would give in such a situation: “Iie, benkyoshite imasu – Oh no, I’m just studying…”

Anyway, a few da page from my Japanese dictionaryays later when I went over my vocabulary list again my happiness was greatly diminished. I found out that “okunai” does not really mean “inside” in the way I used it, but rather “indoors”. The meaning I had intended called for the word “naka” instead… Somehow the vendor’s compliment didn’t feel that great any longer.

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