Mistaken Identity

My first vehicle in Japan was a grey van. I live in a small town and the van was great for escaping to go camping or on longer journeys, but if I was just popping down to the shops for a carton of milk or a couple of cans of beer I would often borrow my wife’s small, black, compact car. A kei-car they call it in Japan. On this occasion, however, my wife was using her own car and so I drove my big van down to the local convenience store.

I went into the shop and bought something to eat or a drink of some sort and came back outside, ready to drive home and enjoy my small purchases. When I left the shop, however, I saw a small, black, compact, car parked in the convenience store car-park. Habit compelled me to move towards the car and I opened the driver’s door, much to the alarm of a young teenage Japanese girl who was sitting in the back e-mailing friends on her cell phone. Our eyes met with mutual surprise and more than a little fear on her part, before I slammed the door shut and started to walk away. Then I began to panic. I thought that at any moment her parents would emerge from the convenience store and she would tell them about how a large foreigner had attempted to get into the car. As a tall caucasian in a small Japanese town I was very conspicuous. The police would be round in no time, I thought. With this realization, I thought it best to at least try to explain to the girl that it was a simple case of mistaken car identity.

I walked back to her car and opened the door again. She pulled her knees up to her chest on the seat and tried to squeeze herself further into the corner of the back seat. Her eyes were now wide with panic. I wanted to tell her that I was very sorry and that I had simply mistaken her car for my wife’s car which was exactly the same colour and model. Unfortunately, my skills in the Japanese language were less than spectacular, and the words for ‘wife’ and ‘mother’, whilst not particularly close in sound were near enough for someone with my linguistic skills and slight state of anxiety to confuse. I opened the door, and said, ‘I’m sorry. I think you are my mother. You’re the same colour.’

The poor girl looked more alarmed than ever. I closed the door and walked swiftly to my van, wheel-spinning out of the car-park before the girl’s parents returned to their distraught daughter.


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7 Responses to Mistaken Identity

  1. robert says:

    And that’s how you ensured the next generation of groundbreaking Japanese horror filmmakers.

    I can absolutely understand confusing 奥さん and お母さん in a moment of distress, though. It’s basically the same sound to an unexperienced westerner’s mind.

  2. Mr. S. says:

    You have surpassed two of my favourite errors:
    “Is there shit in these buns?”: ‘anko’ (red bean)/’unko’ confusion.
    “Does this have human in it?”: ‘ninjin’ (carrot)/’ningen’.
    Although I am still proud of this error to a bar-maid:
    “You’re a pretty virgin!”: ‘shojo’ (girl)/’shojjo’.
    I have not yet confused ‘omanju’ (bun) and another one of my very favourite things that sounds much the same, but I live in fear of doing so.

    It sounds like, in confusion, you forgot to use both the possessive (‘no’) and the noun for car (‘kuruma’). Either of which might have broken the confusion by coming out as, ‘I thought it was my wife’s (car).’

    You know, although what you said is wonderfully absurd (“I’m sorry. I think you are my mother. You’re the same colour.”), if you’d said the following it would have been funnier, unintentionally racist, and implied you were not choosy, and ready to get a leg up!

    ‘I’m sorry. I think you are my wife. You’re the same colour.’

    • We all make these mistakes when we’re learning, but to me “anko” and “unko” are much the same thing anyway! I once heard of a guy who wanted to ask someone, 何をしましたか?but got confused and said, オナニしましたか? Not sure if it is an urban myth or not, but would be a bad one!

  3. Jeffrey says:

    Mine was saying more than once in a not quiet voice to my wife’s former English teacher in line at a restaurant that I don’t like omanko (a patent lie!) rather than anko. As she spoke much better Japanese than I did, happened to be a woman and failed to react, I assume she wasn’t really listening to me (a not uncommon experience) or just really polite.

    • Mr.S. says:

      Jeffrey-sempai, just the error that I have fought hard to avoid. The problem is, as my wife brings home omanju several times a week, it gives me so much opportunity to screw up. This wouldn’t be a problem with the Japanese c-word (she is my wife, after all), except she is always serving these when we have guests making sure I always have c— on my mind, in a sense.

  4. judi(togainunochi) says:

    Since I’ve never been to Japan and don’t come close to even attempting the language, I can relate to mistaking one car for another. On several occasions, I’ve found myself standing at a car attempting to open it, only to realize it’s not mine. I’m embarrassed enough to look around and hope no one sees me. 😮
    I wonder what she said to her parents. Hopefully, she laughed later.

  5. David says:

    Hilarious… And what’s more convenient than a big grey van to “store” kidnapped teenage girls?

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