Look at me

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In his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, President Trump received contradictory instructions about where to look.

The video clip begins with Trump looking directly and steadfastly in the direction of the whirring and clicking cameras pointed at Abe and him.  At around 0:10, they are prompted to begin a handshake.   After that a voice is heard giving them instructions, and Trump asks Abe what they are saying.  Whereupon Abe says, "Please, look at me", and then gestures with his left hand for Trump to look at the cameras.  By that time Trump is already looking straight at Abe, so Trump redoubles the intensity of the handshake, including patting the top of Abe's right hand.

Although there is a weird echo effect, it sounds as though the Japanese press is saying Kochira onegaishimasu こちらお願いします ("Over here, please!").

A large part of the problem stems from the way Japanese handles reported speech, in contrast to how it is handled in English:

In Japanese, when repeating someone else's words, the norm is to handle the situation as a direct quotation and keep all the pronouns as they were originally said. Translated from Japanese into English, the reported speech would be "[They said] look at me" instead of changing it to "[They said] look at them."

Source of quotation:  NewsOnJapan (2/13/17).

To tell the truth, I cannot hear an explicit pronoun being uttered by the press, but when Abe says "Please, look at me", he is interpreting their "Over here, please" as "Over here [at me], please" and then reporting it to Trump in the Japanese way as "Please, look at me" rather than in the English way as "Please, look at them".

In any event, Trump recovers quickly, giving his famous thumbs-up sign and praising Abe for having "strong hands".

Source of video:  "Prime Minister Abe and President Donald Trump lock gazes in long, awkward handshake【Video】" (RocketNews24, 2/13/17).

A doctored version of the video, seen here, freezes on Abe leaning back and comically rolling his eyes upward, with the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" theme music playing.

[Thanks to Nathan Hopson and Tomoko Takami]


  1. PickeringPast said,

    February 13, 2017 @ 7:03 pm

    The look on Abe's face is priceless. I doubt even Larry David, a man with a genius for mining the foibles of the everyday, could come up with a sketch like this.

  2. BZ said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 1:01 pm

    If the question is "What are they saying" and the response is "Please look at me", it is ambiguous to me in English. By default I would assume a direct quote, but based on the gap between question and answer (which we don't have in the doctored video) as well as the tone of voice it can vary. In this case, based solely on tone of voice, I would assume the same thing Trump did.

  3. BZ said,

    February 14, 2017 @ 1:02 pm

    Also, I might add that if "they" are saying look at "me" (not "us"), the lack of number agreement would further imply "me" refers to Abe.

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