The morning I left Japan, I pieced together a conversation in Japanese with an older gentleman while I waited for the bus. He asked me where I was going and when I told him America, he then told me of a time when he went to Kentucky for 2 weeks for company work. I shared with him that I had lived there and was from Cincinnati. I was enjoying his presence and interest in speaking with me. I was enjoying the relative lack of fear I had during the encounter, trying to work with the language, to understand and communicate with him.
At one point he mentioned Japanese and American food. I assumed he was comparing them and I said how delicious Japanese food was. He seemed a little confused and then started mentioning tips and I realized that he hadn't been comparing the food but the dining experience. I had guessed wrong in the fill-in-the-blank that foreign communication necessitates. And yet it was ok. He still wanted to help me with my luggage. He still wanted to talk to me.
And now I'm in America and talking is so easy to do with everyone. Words are so cheap here. And yet the patience I've had to learn in communication in Japan has slowed my speech, and words come to have a different value. Right now, they are still worth a lot to me. In Japan, it is possible to live without saying very much. And even what I do say doesn't have to be correct, it just has to convey a certain meaning, be that of intention or will. What words do we choose to use? In what tone and with what intention do we use them? How can we give them more value, even in our most familiar languages?