Knowing several European languages is no help in Japan. In Osaka in particular, there is a decided lack of English speakers, even in the main tourist destinations, and I was surprised that locals were happy to repeat one English word when I said it such as “nice.” They would repeat it and then laugh happily that they had heard it from a native speaker. It was all quite endearing.
This lack of ability to communicate effectively sometimes made it difficult to get what I wanted. As I was traveling with a friend from the U.K., stories of the past glory days of the “empire” would necessarily be accompanied by hot tea with milk, either English Breakfast or Earl Grey. While we were on our way to get a tea [I hoped to get a proper latte] she had already recounted a story from the prior day when she had ordered a hot tea with milk and got a cup of hot tea and a glass of cold milk. Not the end of the world, until she got the bill and realized she had been charged ¥830 [approximately U.S. $9] for the glass of milk. At that point all you can do is laugh, pay it, and hope you do not repeat it.
When we arrived at another coffee shop [called Cafe Relaxation], we sat down and watched patrons puffing away on their cigarettes in the cafe; something now foreign in both London and New York. After several minutes of negotiating with the waiter in a combination of guttural sounds and sign language, my friend again ordered hot tea with milk. We were both confident that this time she would get what she wanted, despite the fact that it probably looked like we were having a seizure in our attempts to explain the order. When the tea arrived, she received a cup of hot tea and a glass of cold milk. The good news was that this glass of cold milk only cost ¥450 [approximately U.S. $5].
Laughing all the way back to the hotel, we decided to get some laundry done. The hotel had a service, but the laundry form was only written in Japanese,therefore we had to guestimate what the costs would be. The front desk gave us some idea, and it didn’t seem so expensive. That night when the clothes arrived back they were impeccably laundered, each item in its own plastic bag and even t-shirts had a piece of cardboard with them to ensure they did not wrinkle.
When my friend asked to pay, her bill was ¥7000 which she paid by card. Only later in the room did we do the math and discover that the small bag of laundry had cost her U.S. $72.00. She then shrieked in her Eliza Doolittle-esque English accent “whot? Oy paid 52 quid foh me laowndree?!” I replied in perfect American English, “and you thought the glass of milk was expensive.”