A few days ago I wrote about an upcoming meetup at the Kale (カレー) restaurant in Portland for the “Portland Japanese Language Exchange” group. It was 6pm-8pm today and I just got back, so I thought I would write a summary of how it was.
All in all, I had a really fun time, having conversations with at least 10-15 people out of approximately 30-35 that came. The organizer Dan had set up a system where we switched languages (English->Japanese or vice-versa) every 15 minutes, and every 30 minutes or so he would recommend we shift seats as well. At first I was a little hesitant about such a structured format for the meeting, though in retrospect I think it was good as it gave each of us enough time to speak with a good portion of the group, and also gave those wanting practice in either language enough time to brush up on their conversation skills.
There was good mix of both Japanese and Americans attending. Several of the Americans I spoke with had pretty good conversations skills, with one of the them studying 5 years and the other around 10. Some of the Japanese people I spoke to had only been here a handful of years of less, and others were here longer. Above all, it was a very friendly atmosphere, with everyone very kind and supportive when someone stumbled when speaking in their weaker language (including myself).
Having most of my Japanese conversation with the same people day-to-day, I was not that used to talking to strangers. This had impact on my Japanese both because of unfamiliar subjects, and also because of a bit of nervousness when speaking to someone for the first time. I made at least a few errors, some which were pretty embarrassingly basic, but that just goes to show I need more practice doing this kind of thing (:
The only minor disappointment was the restaurant, partially because I wasn’t in the mood for curry (though I generally like it) and there was’t that much on the menu. I assumed it was like a typical Izakaya, but besides Curry there was just a few small side dishes. Also, I think the alcohol available was pretty limited (I’m not a beer person), so I ended up neither drinking nor eating. The other reason for this was that, unlike a typical restaurant, you have you order at the front, so you loose precious conversation time walking up the front and staring at the menu. It sounds like they have been doing their event there for several months so I doubt they’ll change it, but if wouldn’t hurt to try another restaurant. Having said that, if you like Japanese-style curry I’m sure you’d enjoy their food (it looked delicious!).
I doubt I’ll have the free time to go back every week, but I would like to attend at least once in awhile. Conversations topics when you first meet someone are somewhat limited to things like “Why did you start studying Japanese?” or “How long have you been in the US?”, but as I interact with the same people again I think the dynamic would change a bit. Also, I’d imagine there will be some new people each time.