Lost in Gesture

I’ve heard the phrase “lost in translation” in the past, but I always thought that it referred to spoken or written language, actual words rather than gestures.

The other day I went to this buffet-like restaurant with a friend of mine. I say “buffet-like” because they did have a table where you pick whatever you want to eat, but instead of paying a flat fee and grabbing as much as you like, you get charged depending on what you pick. So I fill up my plate, walk up to the cash register, and the guy asks me if I want a small or a big bowl of rice. He then slides one the small bowls of rice that was already served towards me. While I stand on his right trying to get some money out of my pockets, this guy holds his right hand above the table with his fingers pointing towards the table and starts moving his hand really fast back and forth. To me, that gesture means “go away.” At this point I’m really confused; I have no idea why he’s telling me to leave, especially because I hadn’t paid yet. I freak out, grab my bowl of rice, and tried to pull money of my wallet and finish the transaction with one hand.

While I eat my meal, I keep observing the guy and I noticed he did the same thing for every customer. I thought, “Is he just that rude? Hm. Maybe he’s just very energetic and wants to keep the line moving fast. Or maybe that’s just a nervous tick…” At some point, there was no one standing in line, so he turns towards my friend and me and starts talking to us. He was actually very polite, and he asked us if we tried the soup and the crackers, which were included free as part of the meal.

I kept observing the guy and what he was doing, and by the time I finished my meal, I think I figured out what was going on. There was actually no cash register. He wasn’t even using a calculator. He… was using an IMAGINARY ABACUS! That was all that hand movement for every customer. Who needs all that fancy technology?? I’ll just use my imaginary abacus!