Friday, January 21, 2011

The World is my Textbook

How many foreigners does it take to order a pizza in Japan?


One uninhibited beginner eager to practice her Japanese places the order.
One patient and willing foreigner with advanced language skills helps the beginner translate what the pizza lady says.
One enthusiastic foreigner gives moral support and reminds the beginner what her address is.

*            *            *

Every other day I get a new ad for pizza delivery. It’s all in Japanese, of course, but when it comes to pizza deliciousness is universal. I’ve been looking at these ads pile up on my fridge door for weeks. The magnet can’t contain them anymore.

Macro images of eggplants, mushrooms, and onions with cheese browned to perfection. Japanese pizza ads have a way of making one miniscule piece of pizza look like a huge mouthwatering pie.

I’ve been craving pizza. I’ve been wanting pizza more than I’ve ever wanted pizza before. It’s crept into my dreams. It’s wormed its way into my lessons.

“Okay, let’s review the food unit…uh…again…”

No need for review. Even three-year-olds know the word for pizza.

“So what’s your favorite type of pizza?” I ask as part of a warm-up Q & A. And we go around naming all the varieties. Then I come home, look at the ads on my fridge and start drooling.

I spent my Japanese lesson last week constructing a dialog for ordering pizza over the phone. I can barely say how are you in Japanese, but my gustatory impulses bludgeoned me through all the complicated grammatical constructions one needs a grasp of for ordering pizza over the phone in Japanese.

Armed with my dialog and a few other pizza-craving foreigners, I call.

“Ring, Ring.”

Right off the bat, the pizza lady doesn’t say what I want her to say. According to my dialog, she asks all the wrong questions in precisely the wrong order. I have to ask her to speak more slowly please, to say that once more. I apologize profusely all the while asking myself: Does she understand me? Did she get my name and phone number right?

Silence…and then…

An unintelligible question…

“Crispy,” I answer.

Silence again…

I think she understood?

As the conversation continues I press my ear more firmly to the phone, as if this action will somehow make it easier for me to decode the voice at the other end of the line. More than once when the Japanese equivalent of “can you repeat that please?” doesn’t cut it, I have my nearly fluent friend translate, but I never hand her the phone. Determined, I stick with the ordering until the end. I grip that phone like it’s my survival weapon.

Then suddenly…“Arigato gozaimasu.”


It’s over.

I have no idea if we’ll ever see that basil spice pizza or the seafood delight. It was a good try, I tell myself. And my friends pat me on the back.

Even if the pizza never comes, I’m in good spirits. How cool is it that my Japanese lesson consisted of ordering pizza?? No dry memorization from the books because the world is my textbook.

We settle into a movie and wait for the pizza to come… or not to come…

*            *            *

The clock tick-tocks. It’s round like a pizza. I feel like I’m waiting for the results of a very important examination. Silence. The anticipation escalates.

Suddenly our movie is punctured with a…


I excitedly answer the door. To my utter amazement, there he stands, three little pizzas in hand, warm and crispy. I receive them with a smile, pay, and pop off the cardboard covers before the door clicks shut.

We proceed to indulge in the tastiest homework ever!

After the first scrumptious bite, I sit back and let my salivary glands take over.

With this lesson under my belt, I think I’m all set for winter.


  1. Congratulations! Truly a slice of life. Hmmm, now that you mention it, pizza sounds mighty good! Love you...

  2. So funny! I had a similar experience right after moving to Costa Rica! Isn't pizza the BEST?!

  3. That is so awesome! Congrats, you passed with flying colors =) You know at first when I saw this post on facebook I thought it said I'd be "ticked" if you read this blog, and I thought to myself, "Brenna would never say that?!" I was cracking up and then realized you said "tickled" haha. I am having wood fired pizza and beer tonight to celebrate my 30th! I am hungry just thinking about it. Take care.

  4. Thank you all for reading and contributing your thoughts. It's wonderful to have a pizza-loving audience for this understand my cravings...

  5. When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie - that's Brenna in Japan.

    Great post, Brenna!

  6. Well done! Now I want a pizza!

  7. I love that pizza has finally crept into your dreams! I'm so proud you managed to order it!

  8. Substitute pizza for the word Christmas in the old Christmas tune "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas" and you'll get how I feel : )

  9. So belated in getting to this. I'm moving around the corner from Pizzaria Defina, a renowned joint some have declared to be one of the best in the US. Your tale has prompted me to eat there tomorrow. Yes, I will have to somewhat renounce my relatively gluten-free commitment...oh, who am I kidding--it's been nigh impossible to be remotely gluten-free in quality-bread-product-adoring SF. Btw, I'm also going to attempt to order in Japanese (except, in person!). I'll deal with the consequences somehow.