Did Japan's first lady pretend not to speak English to avoid talking to Trump?

Did Japan's first lady pretend not to speak English to avoid talking to Trump?
PHOTO: AFP

The first lady of Japan avoided speaking to Donald Trump for the entirety of an almost two-hour dinner, and everyone has been left wondering: did she pretend not to speak English to avoid talking to him?

Akie Abe, the wife of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was seated next to President Trump during a dinner on July 8 at the end of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Mirror reported.

But according to Trump, the Japanese first lady did not say a single word to him. 

He told New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman about their interactions: 

Photo: Screengrab of the New York Times' excerpted transcript of an interview with Trump.

However, the US president seemed to have had a good time.

He later added during the New York Times interview: "There was one interpreter for Japanese, 'cause otherwise it would have been even tougher. But I enjoyed the evening with her, and she's really a lovely woman, and I enjoyed - the whole thing was good."

But things started getting very confusing once US journalist Sam Thielman discovered a video of Mrs Abe speaking English just fine.

The internet quickly took it to mean that she had pretended not to speak English, all to avoid talking to Trump.

Many were impressed by her perceived dodging:

But before we assume Mrs Abe was deliberately snubbing Mr Trump, the video of her speaking really good English in front of the Ford Foundation might just be a one-time occasion. 

While the first lady of Japan had spoken eloquently in the clip, she was actually reading from a prepared speech. 

Other videos show her often with an interpreter, such as during the Rice Peace Project seminar that happened a year ago in New York City.

Another instance was at the Finding Balance Summit in 2015 that showed she may understand English, but is not proficient enough to respond without translation.

Netizens have caught on as well: 

But we shouldn't assume the Japanese first lady speaks no English either.

According to an article from the Washington Post, a little digging revealed that Mrs Abe attended Sacred Heart in Tokyo, an English-speaking international school. 

She was there from kindergarten through high school and later worked at Dentsu, an international public relations company. 

While it is not yet clear how much English Mrs Abe may speak, most people who have learned another language can relate to the fear of misspeaking in front of native speakers, even if one has studied the language well.

And if seated next to the US president, I'm not sure I would know what to say either.

thanhb@sph.com.sg

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