When Even a Japanese Thinks My English Sucks

The airport is such an interesting place.

Yesterday, as I approached the check-in counter at Haneda and handed my passport to the ground staff donning the ANA uniform, she noticed my passport was a Singapore passport and proceeded to speak with me in English. After checking my details, she asked if I was registered for any mileage programs. I told her yes. She asked if it was ANA mileage program and I replied no and that it was Krisflyer’s. She went, “Kris what?”

“Krisflyer,” I repeated. Seeing her confused look, I went on, “SIA.” But still, she looked lost, and I said, “Singapore Airlines.” Her face lit up and she said, “Ah! Singapore Airlines!” I gave her my Krisflyer membership number and she helped register it to my reservation.

Following that, she told me that the flight was quite full and only two middle seats were left. I hesitated, thinking I don’t want to be trapped between strangers. To digress a little, I always choose aisle seats on the plane so that my toilet break is not dependent on whether the person on the aisle is awake or not; dining or not. I thought about it for a while and asked, “Do you have no other seats?” half hoping that she might bump me up to business. To my surprise, she said, “Actually, there is one seat at the emergency exit available, but it’s only for speakers of Korean or English.”

I was confused. Weren’t we conversing in English? Did she think my English is not good enough to qualify for the emergency exit seat? I pointed at myself with my thumb and said half-jokingly, “English speaker!” She laughed and responded, “Oh, really?”

I think I may have to dispose of my Cambridge teaching cert and question the full marks I got for TOEIC. Maybe before I continue Korean lessons again, it’s time to take some English classes.


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