‘Lost in Translation’

We live in a multicultural society. We speak different languages at home. Though we live in the same setting, we come from different backgrounds. We have dissimilar interests. English is deemed the national language but we all have varying levels of fluency. This could make for some awkward scenarios, where the message is lost in the process. The whole shebang is an extrapolation of one movie: Lost in Translation. The Oscar-winning flick follows one woman (Scarlett Johansson) as she navigates Tokyo with her new BFF, played by Bill Murray. The picture sees director Sofia Coppola at the height of her powers.

Once, I watched The Virgin Suicides on pay TV. I mentioned this to my ex-neighbour: my first look on Sofia’s debut effort. He then mentioned Lost, which I had already seen in bits.

‘It’s a gem,’ he reasoned.

‘What’s so great about it?’

‘Everything’, he admitted. ‘The Tokyo scenery, the humour, the fully realised characters, the unconventional plot.’

When I elbowed him about Bill Murray, he was effusive with praise. He’s done commendable work in the past but Coppola got the most out of him in this outing. He told me that this was probably a career effort coming from Bill.

‘Do you remember the stockings scene?’

‘How could I forget? That was very memorable.’

We agreed that the scene was hilarious. ‘Rip my stockings.’

However, he told me that ‘it seemed like the woman was role-playing sexual assault.’

In the scene, a woman was telling Murray to rip her stockings, but she loses it when Murray does as commanded. Even though her instructions were obvious, something was obviously erroneous in the encounter.


I’ve had a few of these mixups myself. Allow me to share a number of them.

Once, I went to the Asian area in uni to get some lunch. I pointed at the Hainan chicken and told them ‘two choices.’ One of the assistants (there were two) thought I had ordered chow mein and gave me a number. I proceeded with my rice and viands order and did not put much thought into it. After about fifteen minutes, the assistant called out the number. I did not collect it since I did not order said item. Until I finished my meal, she kept at it.

I realised that the rice was not enough. I went to the counter to get more rice. When I was about to pay, the Asian lady spoke no English. She did not understand that I only wanted rice and that the two choices had already been paid for. I tried to tell her that I can’t just leave my meal because it will get disposed. I was glad to get out of that situation.

Speaking of meals, there have been other similar instances. I sometimes order Bahn mi from the Viet stores. I often get frustrated when I order it with chilli. Quite a few times, I would say ‘just a little chilli’ and they would then fill the bun with the stuff. They cannot distinguish between a little and a lot. Once, the same thing happened when my dad came around.

Upon seeing the rolls filled chilli, he told me not to buy from them any more since they don’t understand. Mind you, it’s not just Vietnamese. There was also this other race who did the same thing. My eyes would water every time I ordered Bahn mi from them.

It’s not just chilli either. When you tell them, ‘no sauce’, they think you mean NO SALT. Once, I pointed out to the owner that we just don’t want the sauce. She didn’t get it and instead pointed at the three containers.

‘One, two, three.’

There is no point in being sarcastic if you’re the one who can’t comprehend. Let’s not be confused: we are not the issue; their lack of language skills is the problem.


In other examples, I was clocking this bakery once when an onlooker asked for gingerbread.

‘Jingle bells?’

‘No, gingerbread.’

The lady regarded him as if he’d requested caviar.

Another time, my mum was asking for jelly.

‘Cherry? Cherry?’


‘No, we no have jelly.’

Going back to order mix-ups, allow me to share a few other instances.

I’ve twice been given the wrong order at this fast food place. Once in Sydney’s southwest years ago and also in the inner west last month. You have to wonder how attentive they are, or maybe they’re playing dumb on purpose. Or perhaps they are following someone else’s orders. Considering you’re paying shekels for an inaccurate order and overrated meal, it’s a disappointment.

Also in the southwest, I ordered from a world famous fast food chain. I clearly said ‘two cheeseburger meals’. They ended up giving me two DOUBLE cheeseburger meals, I only realised their mistake when they served me the wrong order. I mean it’s pretty obvious: two cheeseburger meals is NOT two double cheese. This time I’m sure I was clear. There was no one waiting behind me.

In all of these instances, the issues were external. No salt, little chilli, JUST rice, two cheeseburgers…I couldn’t have been more specific. It’s either they don’t understand, they’re lousy workers, or they’re doing it on purpose. I’ll leave my readers to make sense of their mess.

Beware of suits
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