As I was settling the bill after lunch today, the guy behind the register informed me that he had a question for me (and he said this in halting English, which was simply adorable).
Today there were three people working at the cafe: Question Guy, Lady Waitress, and Chef. When Question Guy started to ask me his question, Lady Waitress and Chef both crowded in behind him to watch.
(A little background: I go to this cafe once a week for lunch and have gotten to know Chef and Owner. Question Guy is fairly new, but last week he learned that I’m American and he told me that he loves to watch an American television series, the name of which is escaping me right now.)
Him: What is it mean… bresshuu.
Me: … hmm… すみません、もう一度お願いします。(I’m sorry, one more time please.)
Me: … (at a complete loss)
Granted, this is most likely how I sound to a native Japanese speaker when I try to bust out any kind of conversation skills, and I was super happy this guy tried so hard to ask me something he wanted to know. But then I didn’t understand what he was asking at all! Pressure? Breasting? Press you?
Finally Chef stepped in and clarified.
Chef: Ah, he is asking what does it mean, “bresshuu” (he pronounced it the same way). When someone sneezes “hakashun!” then someone say “bresshuu.”
Me: AHA! “Bless you!” Hmm… it’s what people usually say after hakashun. It’s polite. Sneezing is supposed to be bad luck, so people bless you afterward.
Question Guy: Ah so… Thank you!
Me: If you have any questions, please ask me!
I don’t know if my explanation was enough for Question Guy or not (I think Chef was going to explain further in Japanese for him after I left the cafe). I’m also unsure if “bad luck” was the right thing to say, but I didn’t want to have to explain the whole idea of your soul leaving your body and figured that “bad luck” was probably just the easiest thing to say.
I really hope he does have other questions to ask for me some time later. It’s really interesting and fun finding out what people want to know. And plus, it always seems like everyone else’s English is so much better than my Japanese. When I try to explain something verbally in Japanese it’s just awfully slow and painful. I usually end up practicing my question over and over again to myself so that I can say it somewhat fluidly when the time comes, but of course I usually forget to practice any kind of followup questions that I may need to ask after.
And for the record, in Japan, people don’t say anything after someone sneezes.