At the end of a morning meeting with two clients in their New York City club, they invited me to stay for lunch. They had a lunch and afternoon meeting with a Japanese executive and his American contact. I will rarely pass up a free lunch and a chance to show off my Japanese, so I accepted.
The two visitors were investigating several American companies. The Japanese executive spoke fair English; his minder had no Japanese. Once we had all bowed, introduced ourselves, and exchanged business cards, we sat down at a dining table in a private room. In the small talk over drinks, the Japanese executive remarked politely that my Japanese was the best he'd met on this trip. The visitors added that they'd just come from visiting a company in Philadelphia.
One of my clients joked, "Well, as it says on W.C. Fields' tombstone, 'All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia.'"
At the guest's blank look, he turned to me. "Translate that."
Aside from not knowing the Japanese for "tombstone," I didn't know how to describe W.C. Fields or the significance of the words allegedly on the stone.
So I said in Japanese, "The president has just made a joke. Please laugh." Which he did, and we all had a pleasant lunch.