It’s Pretty, Isn’t It?

Natsume Soseki was once an English literature teacher, and a student attempted to render the phrase “I love you” into Japanese.

The scene: a starry, moonlit, romantic night, the man turns to his lover and says, “I love you”. The student plopped the clunky corresponding words, “as-for-me-I love you”, into the translated document.

“No no no,” said Soseki. “You must write this the way a Japanese author would write it: ‘The moon is beautiful tonight.‘”

‘A continental gentleman seeing a nice panorama may remark:

‘This view rather reminds me of Utrecht, where the peace treaty concluding the War of Spanish Succession was signed on the 11th April, 1713. The river there, however, recalls the Guadalquivir, which rises in the Sierra de Cazoria and flows south-west to the Atlantic Ocean and is 6^0 kilometres long. Oh, rivers. . . . What did Pascal say about them? “Les rivieres sont les chemins qui marchent. . . .” ‘

This pompous, showing-off way of speaking is not permissible in England. The Englishman is modest and simple. He uses but few words and expresses so much – but so much – with them. An Englishman looking at the same view would remain silent for two or three hours and think about how to put his profound feeling into words. Then he would remark: ‘It’s pretty, isn’t it?”

George Mikes, How to Be an Alien: A Handbook for Beginners and Advanced Pupils.


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