A couple of short anecdotes that don't really go anywhere much:
While wandering around the gardens of the Imperial Palace (very nice gardens, actually. It's good ta be da Emperor...), trying to figure out what things were without the benefit of informative signs (the signs were there, but in kanji), I ran into a Romanian woman doing the same basic thing. The key difference being, she could read some of the kanji.
It turned out she was a student from some sort of Language Institute in Bucharest, there to study (duh) Japanese. She spoke flawless English, though, and the only tip-off that she was an Eastern European (other than the characteristic Eastern European ability to bitch and moan about anything in an amusing fashion- the Slavs are peevers born) was an occasional odd vowel inflection. She mentioned something about needing to get a visa to visit the US at some point, and I asked "Have you ever been to the US?"
"No," she replied.
"Your English is excellent," I said, lamely.
She then launched into an explanation of how she had spent a couple of years studying English (duh) as part of this Language Institute thing, mentioning in passing: "It's two departments, actually. There's an English Department, and an American Department."
"I'm sure the British will be happy to know that," I replied.
She then went on, by way of explaining her American pronounciations of things, to say that she had started out in the English Department, but made a conscious decision to pick up an American accent.
The reason? "I was studying the Irish accent for a few years- it's a lovely accent- and I decided that I really didn't like the British at all."
Evidence, I suppose, for some sort of inflectional Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The Irish accent apparently carries with it a profound distaste for the Queen...
The other story:
One Friday, after a long day at work, I went into a restaurant near my apartment, where I would usually go on Fridays to get some grilled food and a couple of beers. One of the regulars there is a very successful but deeply insane businessman (henceforth referred to as "Takahashi-san" because, well, that was his name), who has a real thing for America, and insists on buying me drinks and dinners.
Which was, of course, part of the reason I kept going back- I'm not wild about being dragged to karaoke bars, but standing in front of a room full of Japanese people and singing "Yesterday" is a small price to pay for free chow and beer...
(The other, probably more significant, reason was that one of the cooks in the restaurant (Takahashi-san's son, actually- here's a picture of the Takahashis (104KB)) spoke excellent English, by virtue of having gone to high school in Canada. This let me order food and beer, and carry on a conversation, without having to resort to the pantomime show that was a feature of the vast majority of my restaurant visits in Japan. For similar reasons, I made several visits to an Irish pub in Shinjuku-- not out of any great feeling of kinship with the raggedy assortment of expatriates and vacationers inhabiting the place (though the Australians were a hoot), but because it was such a relief to be able to relax, drink a beer, and bullshit about randomly chosen topics without having to charades every other sentence...)
On this occasion, he was accompanied by several underlings, one of whom spoke very good English (henceforth referred to as "Ted" because, well, that's what it said on his business cards-- here's a picture of the three of us (75KB)). Which was a Good Thing, as I was too beat to really function in Japanese, and Takahashi-san's English wasn't that great...
Takahashi-san started asking me what I thought about Japanese women (actually, "pretty girls," but we'll re-cast this for Amurrican sensibilities), and specifically, whether I was having great success in meeting lots of "pretty girls" in the Tokyo bar scene.
I explained to Ted, with great care and diplomacy, that I wasn't really doing a whole lot of bar cruising, as I find it frustrating and exhausting to have to make small talk in an awkward mix of broken English, mangled Japanese, and improvised sign language. Let alone to try to pick up women using such a mix of broken English and mangled Japanese (and nobody wants to see me use sign language for those purposes...).
(A fair, if not completely accurate statement. The primary reason I hadn't done much bar-hopping in Tokyo is that jet lag had my internal clock so far out of whack that I tended to completely run out of energy at about 10:00- 7 or 8:00 if I'd spent the afternoon wandering around museums and shrines, and whatnot. More importantly, I had a girlfriend back in the US.)
After listening to this explanation, Ted delivered his translation of my statements to Takahashi-san. I took this opportunity to sip my beer.
Having finished his translation, Ted turned back to me, and explained "I told the president that you find intercourse with Japanese women to be very tiring."
I'm not sure I ever successfully explained to him why that statement made me snarf my beer all over myself...
"Ideally, it would be, but, see, that's not the point..."