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Maciamo
Apr 4, 2005, 22:17
I will say however that to only criticize and not offering valid options on how it should be corrected really does little good. It is very easy to point out that something is wrong, but quite another when you offer valid advise on how to smoothly transition into a better situation.

In consideration to CC1's above feedback from this thread (http://www.wa-pedia.com/forum/showthread.php?t=15958), I'd like to provide some advise to our Japanese readers as how to better address Westerners so as not to shock them, in relation to my article Common Japanese misconceptions regarding foreigners and foreign countries (http://www.wa-pedia.com/culture/misconceptions_prejudices.shtml). I understand that not all Westerners feel the way I feel about these issues, but I also know that a considerable number of people do.

1. Questions about food

Do not ask someone "can you eat (something)", but "do you like (something)". We can only say that somebody cannot eat something when they are allergic to it, cannot eat it for religious or ideologic reasons or because they dislike it so much that it makes them throw up. It doesn't matter in what language you ask this question (even in Japanese), it is not a matter of cultural difference about the meaning of "can" (dekiru, taberareru...), but just a matter of accuracy of vocabulary. So please say "what kind of food don't you like ?" and not "What kind of food can/can't you eat ?". If someone ask me if I can eat something, my answer will be "yes", even if I don't like it, as I have no allergies or religious restrictions.
There is also food which I can it, like, but don't want to eat, because they may be unhealthy or I may be afraid to eat (e.g. beef because of BSE).

2. Questions about the weather & seasons

Avoid asking if a temperate country has four seasons like Japan, as it may be shocking for a Westerners to hear such nonsense. The reasons are that
1) you should know about basic world geography
2) some countries like the US or Australia are so big that the climate can be very different depending on the region
3) it sounds like the Japanese are proud of having 4 seasons (why would it matter?) and are stupid enough to think that many Western countries don't.

To avoid such reactions, ask instead :

- "How is the climate in your country/state/region/hometown ?"
- "How is the weather at the moment in your country/hometown ?
- "Is the weather in Japan very different than where you come from ?"
- etc.

If the person has stayed in Japan for at least a year and experienced all the seasons in Japan, you can ask :

- "Do the seasons start and end at different times of the year where you come from ?"
- "How would you compare the climate in your country/hometown and Japan/(place where you live in Japan) ?
- etc.

From my experience, the problem of many Japanese is asking too simple questions, which sound both naive and stupid, and may be offending if the person who is asked think that the person who ask is only feigning to be naive/stupid. Anyway, it's either one or the other. Interestingly, I did not notice any difference when the question was asked in Japanese, so it's not a matter of linguistic abilities. In fact, even Japanese people who are very fluent in English ask those questions the same way. If they have lived abroad or have (had) a Western partner, they are less likely to ask those questions though.

3. Questions regarding general abilities

Just don't ask a foreigner if they can use chopsticks, sleep on a futon, sit in seiza, or whatever.

If they have been in Japan for some time, your asking will be offensive because you are supposing that they cannot do it just because they are foreigners. This sounds racist and is bound to anger many people you ask (not all though).

If they have just arrived in Japan, are visitors, or if you ask the questions while abroad to people who have never been to Japan, it will sound like you are proud of being able to do these things while they probably can't because they are not used to them. If people are not offended, they will think you are vain. So just don't ask.

If you really need to know for example if a short-term visitor can sit in seiza and use chopsticks because you want to take them to a restaurant where they have to sit on a tatami then ask it more tactfully like :

- "I hope you don't mind if we go to a restaurant where we have to sit on a tatami".
- "This restaurant doesn't have chairs; is it a problem for you ?"
- etc.

In my experience, Japanese people tend to be abrupt when asking such questions to foreigners, even when asking in Japanese. It's usually like "Can you sit in seiza ?" with a tone of voice expecting a negative answer. It's for the least surprising for a culture said to be so indirect, polite and careful of other people's feelings. Or maybe is it a special treatment for foreigners, who cannot possibly need to be asked tactfully (as they don't feel the same way as the Japanese) ?

4. Addressing a Westerner in a public place

There are a few rules that should be followed here if you don't want to appear impolite, abrupt, shameless or just weird.

a) Don't assume that all Westerners are native speakers of English

b) Don't assume that foreigners can't speak Japanese

c) Don't talk to a foreigners in a public place just to practice your English, especially if there is no eye-contact before that invite you to do so (e.g.don't do it if they are reading a book, resting, thinking, talking to someone else, walking, etc.). It happened several times to me (and many other Westerners in Japan) to be suddenly approached by some people in the street who apparently just want to speak English (e.g. asking where I am from, etc.). This happened when I was riding my bicycle (waiting at the traffic light), when I was reading in a cafe, walking to work, and even when I was shopping with my wife. This is just rude and should be avoided. Acceptable situations would be at a party, or when your are both sitting in a cafe and make some eye to show that you are interested in communicating.

d) Don't answer with gestures or think 2min about an answer in English if a Westerner ask you something (e.g. if you work in a shop) in Japanese. Just answer in Japanese. The reasons are that 1) they may not speak English (over half of all Westerners are not native English-speakers), and 2) it can be very annoying to be answered in incomprehensible English or by gestures when one is trying to communicate in the local language. They may also think that you just don't want to talk to them because they are foreigners, as no Japanese would reply like this to another Japanese. So only reply in English if you are confident enough and are sure that the person asking speaks English (e.g. if they have a strong English accent in Japanese or you heard them speak English to someone else).

5. If addressed by a Westerner in Japanese

Many Westerners in Japan complain that when they ask something in Japanese to a Japanese person, they will almost always reply to an accompanying Japanese person if there is one. For example, if I am with my wife or another Japanese person and I ask some information to a shop attendant, real estate agent, metro staff, government official, etc., they will ignore me and reply to the Japanese person with me. This is not just annoying, it's plain rude and disrespectful. This situation even happened to me when I was with a Korean friend who didn't speak much Japanese, juts because she looked Japanese.

The problem is that it happens almost all the time. And even when I continue asking more questions in Japanese (which they always understand easily, so they can see I can speak Japanese), they still don't look at me and insist on talking back to my wife or Japanese friend. This should be avoided at all cost if you don't want to give the image that the Japanese are disrepectful (even insulting) to foreigners and thus maybe racists.

So don't reply to an accompanying Japanese (or someone who looks Japanese) if a Westerner ask you a question in Japanese. Reply to the person who asked the question.

Secondly, never reply with gestures (e.g. pointing at the price on the cash register) if a foreigner address you in Japanese (except if you want to appear unfriendly or scornful on purpose). This usually happens to people who do not speak English at all and presume that Westerners can't understand Japanese. So responding with gestures with make you look prejudiced and ignorant. Just answer normally in Japanese.

misa.j
Apr 5, 2005, 13:36
I think those are pretty good suggestions, particularly if you write one in Japanese as well and get it out in schools and such. I think they will help Japanese to have more consideration when they meet foreigners.


c) Don't talk to a foreigners in a public place just to practice your English, especially if there is no eye-contact before that invite you to do so
That reminded me of the time I was at a restaurant with my mother and my aunt in Japan. A couple seated next to us was talking in English, and both of my mother and my aunt tried to get me talk to them just because I had just gone back from the US. I was like, "They are trying to have lunch here. I'm not bothering them just because you want to hear me speak English."
Oh, dear...

Index
Apr 5, 2005, 15:21
Actually point 4 is important I think. When I was admitted to hospital in Japan, some of the nurses kept speaking to me in English, even though I could speak Japanese better than they could English. One nurse in particular seemed to want to practice her English on me, which is fair enough until you realize that this was a hospital and mistakes could be quite costly. I remember a few instances when she got things completely wrong and it was only because I spoke Japanese that I didn't get a kidney transplant instead of a blood transfusion :okashii: Finally one of the doctors pulled her into line by asking her why she was speaking exclusively English to someone from Poland :banghead:

Ma Cherie
Apr 5, 2005, 15:32
Nice thread. But how many Japanese people you think will read this? :? Well, at any rate this should make some difference. :-)

DoctorP
Apr 5, 2005, 17:41
Maciamo...much better when you complain in this manner. Constructive criticism can go a long way, but now you just have to get the Japanese people who are giving you these problems to read this!

Brooker
Apr 6, 2005, 05:56
From my experience, the problem of many Japanese is asking too simple questions, which sound both naive and stupid, and may be offending
People do this everywhere. An (East) Indian American friend of mine who was born in Chicago and moved to Idaho (not known for being racially diverse) would get stupid questions like, "Do you worship cows?" OR "What tribe are you from?"

When I was in Japan, I found the silly questions I heard to be kind of cute, funny, and charming, but that's because I wasn't in Japan long enough to be annoyed by it. @Maciamo... You've been in Japan long enough that these things bother you. I'd say just answer, "Yes, we do have four seasons where I come from," and move on. It's all part of being a foreigner in any foreign land. And as a diplomat to your home country(ies), it's best to take such questions in stride rather than to get upset about them, because it's not going to change no matter how long you live in Japan (or anywhere else).

Mycernius
Apr 6, 2005, 06:11
People do this everywhere. An (East) Indian American friend of mine who was born in Chicago and moved to Idaho (not known for being racially diverse) would get stupid questions like, "Do you worship cows?" OR "What tribe are you from?"

Every time I have been to Canada I have been asked 'oh you drink tea don't you, not coffee'. They get a bit of a shock when I tell them that I drink neither. My cousin, whose Canadian, visited Europe. She got 'Canada? That the north part of the US isn't it?' She was not amused :okashii: I do it to her on ocassion to wind her up. She just calls me a limey after that :D

Brooker
Apr 6, 2005, 06:14
She got 'Canada? That the north part of the US isn't it?' She was not amused :okashii: I do it to her on ocassion to wind her up. :D Yeah, they're usually pretty touchy about that. But Canadians can be pretty easy to wind up.

She just calls me a limey after that :D Clever come back on her part *insert sarcasm*. :-)

Tim33
May 1, 2005, 05:23
Maciamo...much better when you complain in this manner. Constructive criticism can go a long way, but now you just have to get the Japanese people who are giving you these problems to read this!

Maybe he could hand out little cards with this weblink on to all japanese people that break the rules?

I have generally found the seasons and chopstick problem alot and i have not been to japan yet, i get this all the time from japanese people on the net and even my gf's family.

Im really dreading this point when i go over there and hope they dont get to offended at my answers.

eien23
May 1, 2005, 06:16
Hi, I think that these tips would be overall very helpful. There are a couple tips that I don't agree with and would either modify or take out. First, I guess I don't really understand why someone would be offended if you asked them if they could use chopsticks. They aren't widely used in the west and a lot of people really can't use them well. For the part about coming up to someone and trying to practice English on them I would modify it a bit. I think it is perfectly fine to try to start a conversation with someone who is just sitting there "resting". If they seem disinterested, then you can just wrap it up real quick and move on. I do agree that if someone is reading than you probably shouldn't interrupt though. Anyway, great idea and tips!

Mike Cash
May 1, 2005, 09:40
Being asked about chopsticks isn't offensive...it's baffling, irritating, odd, and lots of other things....but it isn't offensive.

The reason it's odd is because 90% of the time you get asked this question is outside of dining situations and is therefore not relevant to anything. If it were during a meal, then the message of the question would be "I am asking out of kindness and trying to help you enjoy your meal." But when just asked out of the blue the message is "I consider you an oddity and am asking you questions to safisfy my own morbid curiosity."

I also think it is perfectly fine to strike up a conversation with a random stranger....if you have something to say. Where so many people make their social faux pas is by prefacing their conversation with "Can I practice my English on you?"

Maciamo
May 1, 2005, 10:38
Being asked about chopsticks isn't offensive...it's baffling, irritating, odd, and lots of other things....but it isn't offensive.

The reason it's odd is because 90% of the time you get asked this question is outside of dining situations and is therefore not relevant to anything. If it were during a meal, then the message of the question would be "I am asking out of kindness and trying to help you enjoy your meal." But when just asked out of the blue the message is "I consider you an oddity and am asking you questions to safisfy my own morbid curiosity."

That is justly because it is asked so often when it's not relevant to anything that it makes it (slightly) offensive. The first few times you find it baffling or odd, but once you expect it because most Japanese ask this to foreigners sooner or later, you come to think of it as annoying, irritating or even offensive, especially when it is followed by "oh really, you are not Japanese and you can use chopsticks ! sugooooii neee !" (=> that is really offensive and I have heard it dozens of times).

Mike Cash
May 1, 2005, 12:18
I guess different people are offended by different things, or at least take them in different ways.

I think one of the main differences is that you probably get out and about a lot more than I do in social settings, and meet new people more often than I do.

I must say, I almost never have these sorts of encounters anymore. But I don't get around much anymore either. These days they're so rare that rather than feeling offended I tend to feel wistfully nostalgic.

deadhippo
May 1, 2005, 19:12
depending on how you look at it i thnk its offensive
im not easily offended but i can see how people would be offended by this

Brooker
May 2, 2005, 05:39
When I got the chopstick question I was usually proud to show them how well I could use them. I never got tired of people complimenting me on that. I was even told my technique is better than many Japanese people. :smug:

Maciamo
May 2, 2005, 12:12
When I got the chopstick question I was usually proud to show them how well I could use them. I never got tired of people complimenting me on that.

I reacted the same way in my first year in Japan. It slowly got irritating in the second year. Now it's almost 4 years, and as Mikecash pointed out I do meet lot's of new people all the time. So I get this chopstick question at least once a month (sometimes as much as 10x a month). That's about 45 months I have been in Japan. I suppose I have been asked this question (and many others) between 50 and 100x out of about 200-300 people I have met. That's a pretty high ratio.


I was even told my technique is better than many Japanese people. :smug:

Me too. I have been wondering if it was just so hypocritical compliments, or if so many Japanese really have problems using their chopsticks. However, my wife and her mother visibly cannot use their chopsticks with the same dexterity as I do, and they were the first to compliment me on my skills - something I do not feel proud of anyway, as it just came naturally, without hard practice. I wouldn't feel particularly happy/proud if someone told me that I can turn the pages of a book or put on my choose with great dexterity - well I do feel the same way about chopsticks.

Now the question is, why do many Japanese have trouble using their chopsticks, and why do they make such a big deal of it. I would never think of complimenting them on being able to use a fork and knife, riding a bicyle or being able to go up a ladder. So why these questions about chopsticks ? The only reason I can think of are :

- they believe that using chopsticks is a particularly difficult task that merits praise, because they have trouble using it themselves. (they are chopstickly challenged ;-) )
- they don't think that using chopstick is difficult. They are just making fun of foreigners by seeing how they react to hypocritical compliments of no value. (veiled hostility, unfriendliness)
- they don't think that using chopstick is difficult for them, but they believe that foreigners are intrinsicly inferior to Japanese and therefore cannot learn how to use chopsticks. (racism)

Can anyone think of another reason why they would ask this question (especially out of context) with such regularity, nationwide, regardless of their gender, age or socio-economic background ?

In any case, I believe that the first reason is the most likely.

Glenn
May 2, 2005, 15:22
Can anyone think of another reason why they would ask this question (especially out of context) with such regularity, nationwide, regardless of their gender, age or socio-economic background ?

This brings up some questions for me. First, if they're bringing it up out of context I would assume that it's someone that you're meeting for the first time and they are just using it as an ice breaker, or something to keep the conversation going to avoid awkward silence. Am I right? It seems to me that the key here is "out of context."

In context it seems that the reason could be the same as out of context, or it could be a combination of that and all of the reasons you gave. I don't know how often they see foreigners* using chopsticks well, so it's hard for me to say. I also don't know how often they see foreigners using chopsticks poorly, or how often they see Japanese people using chopsticks poorly.



*Excluding foreigners to whom chopsticks are a cultural phenomenon, like China, Korea, Vietnam (I would guess), etc.

TheKansaiKid
May 2, 2005, 15:45
I think most of the oft repeated questions that grow old come from a desire to make small talk. zatsudan requires something in common and often Japanese who haven't been around foreigners are baffled about what to talk about in social situations.

I'm on the record elsewhere as saying I think many of the complaints listed above that bother foreigners are in no way offensive to me. I think these overly sensitive gaijintachi should relax. Since I brought it up before I won't do it again...oops I already did.

Perhaps a good follow up to the lead post would be appropriate things to talk about in a social or informal situation.

Maciamo
May 2, 2005, 16:00
This brings up some questions for me. First, if they're bringing it up out of context I would assume that it's someone that you're meeting for the first time and they are just using it as an ice breaker, or something to keep the conversation going to avoid awkward silence. Am I right? It seems to me that the key here is "out of context."

No, no. I can't remember anyone using as an icebreaker or to break an awkward silence. It usually comes well in the middle of a conversation, and not usually at the first meeting (sometimes after I have met the person over 10 or 30 times, but sooner or later this question comes for 80% of the people I have met). I know it may sound unbelievable if you haven't stayed in Japan for some time (a few years) and met lots of people there. But that's how it is.

How would you explain that even my wife or her family complimented me on my chopstick skills ? It's definitely not an icebreaker, it's not because they don't know me, it's also not for reasons #2 and #3. In that case I know it's because of reason #1 (they have trouble using chopsticks themselves). But I can't believe that 80% or so of the Japanese have problems using chopsticks, although they grew up with it, like Westerners grew up using a fork and knife. I have never felt it was more difficult to use chopsticks. In fact, I sometimes refuse to eat some dishes with a fork/knive/spoon instead of chopsticks. It really depends on the dish itself (can't eat sushi or ramen with a fork, can you ?)

Glenn
May 2, 2005, 16:17
Well, that was all I had. I can't think of any other reasons than the ones you listed, given the evidence. :?

Maciamo
May 2, 2005, 16:53
I think most of the oft repeated questions that grow old come from a desire to make small talk. zatsudan requires something in common and often Japanese who haven't been around foreigners are baffled about what to talk about in social situations.

It very rarely happens to me not to be able to find a topic of conversation. Remember that there are two aspects about the chopsticks issue :

1) questions about one's ability to use chopsticks
2) compliment on one's ability to use chopsticks

The second one is never out of curiosity and usually not because of a lack of topic for discussion.

In any case, when I was asked the questioned or complimented, it was when we were already discussing other issues and it came as something like "by the way, talking about food, can you use chopsticks". So it was often already part of small talks, and often in an already 'lively' conversation (not an awkward situation where one doesn't know what to talk about).

I know it feels insistent on me to repeat this, but I really can't understand what this obsession with the gaijin's abilities to do banal things (chopsticks, futon...) is about. From my experience, after being asked these questions maybe between 50 and 100 times, I can say that most of the time it was not to break the ice, not to make small talks, mostly out of the blue, and the questioners' reaction was typically a great surprise when I told them that yes I could use chopsticks like everybody.

This surprise at the fact that I could use chopsticks (after answering the question, or when they see me using chopsticks) has made me wondered over the years why they attach so much importance to so such an ordinary thing - while they are not surprised that I can use a bicycle, open a window, switch on a TV, etc. Unfortunately, this was combined with the same disproportionate surprise at the fact that, in spite of being a gaijin, I can eat sushi (yes, even unagi, ikura and kai), sleep on a futon, that my country has 4 seasons, etc.

From the sushi and natto questions, I have understood that often they ask these questions because many Japanese do not like them. I could understand that some people may not feel comfortable sleeping on a futon or sitting in seiza. I don't mind these questions so much.

I have recently inquried toward a few Japanese friends, and some of my wife's friends, about the four season issue. I explained to my wife why I feel irritated at this question, and she also knows that most Western countries have four seasons. So we discussed, me, her, and two friends about it a few days ago, and the three of them admitted that they were taught at school that only Japan had four seasons. A few people have contested this on this forum, saying that children are taught that most countries around the world do not have as distinct seasons as Japan. However, my wife and our two friends were sure that, in their case, they were not told that Japan has more distinct seasons, but that only Japan had four season and that's it. I asked whether they were taught that in geography class, but the three of them said it was in "kokugo" (Japanese language) class sometime in the early years of primary/elementary school (they also said "chichai koro kara iwareteiru" => "we were told this since we were little"). All three went to different schools, by the way.

This has helped me confirmed what I had already asked dozens of people with whom I was less intimate. Japanese people (at least those I have asked) are taught at school that only Japan has four seasons. I admit that the people I questioned were almost only in their 20's and 30's, so it might have been different for older or younger generations.

The same can be said about blood groups. From my inquiries, the Japanese are taught that they are mostly "A", why Westerners are mostly "O" (partially true, but a gross overgeneralisation as there are as many "O" as "A" in Western European countries). What is more annoying is that they are also taught (from my personal surveys) that these differences exist because the Japanese were farmers in "old times", while Europeans were hunters. As I explained here (http://www.wa-pedia.com/culture/misconceptions_prejudices.shtml#Farmers), it is a blatant lie and completely wrong historically. I was shocked to see that even well-read, intelligent people having studied abroad believe in this, because they have never questioned it since the school days.

Knowing this, we could wonder why they are taught such blatant lies as part of the national education system - not in one school, but apparently most if not all of them.

That is where it dawned on me that it could be some sort of nationalistic propaganda known as "nihonjinron". I have explained this here (http://www.wa-pedia.com/culture/misconceptions_prejudices.shtml#Nihonjinron)

I may be one of the few foreigners sensitive enough to feel that Japanese were indoctrinated to believe that foreigners can't do this and that, that only Japan has for seasons, etc. I may be one of the rare persons to take this seriously, but I believe that I am right to think that we are dealing with nation-wide indoctrination based on the "nihonjinron". Japanese people of course do not realise that, and few foreigners have the necessary knowledge of Japanese culture, world history/geography, and psychology of education. I happen to be extremely interested in all these fields, and have the adequate experience of living in Japan for a few years, meeting lots of people. Other people in the same situation as me (as rare as they may be), may lack the sharp critical sense and questioning of the causes and reasons why things are the way they are. People who have spent some time on this forum will know that I am sometimes (often?) overcritical and analytic of things I take at heart.

I may sound absurd to argue about "chopsticks". But people need to see the big picture. I know it's difficult for someone who hasn't experienced all these weird questions, or hasn't given it a second thought. Maybe it is time for all of you to pay attention to the people who ask you the chopsticks, blood group, 4 seasons or sushi questions. Try to feel how they feel. Try to see through their mind, guess their thoughts, and even better, ask them why they ask these questions, see their reaction and hope they explain their preconceptions. If they don't, ask them whether they think that your country has four season or not. Ask them what they were taught at school. Ask them why it is surprising that a Westerner living in Japan can use chopsticks. Ask them about their blood group and hope they tell you about the "farmer" vs "hunter" theory they were taught. Do it with as many people as you can, then give me your feedbacks here and let's compare the results.

Please understand that I do not blame the Japanese who ask these questions or hold these beliefs. I blame the people who taught them, and ultimately the Ministry of Education that ordered/advised the teachers to tell those lies or inculcate those misconceptions.

DoctorP
May 2, 2005, 17:12
First, if they're bringing it up out of context I would assume that it's someone that you're meeting for the first time and they are just using it as an ice breaker, or something to keep the conversation going to avoid awkward silence. Am I right?


I don't think that this applies...Japanese (unlike most Westerners) are comfortable around periods of silence and don't feel the need for trivial talk...at least in my observations.

On the topic of chopsticks being difficult? Even though I can eat with them quite well, I would say yes it should be considered quite a difficult task...at least much harder than just stabbing your prey with a fork!

pipokun
May 2, 2005, 21:28
I have recently inquried toward a few Japanese friends, and some of my wife's friends, about the four season issue. I explained to my wife why I feel irritated at this question, and she also knows that most Western countries have four seasons. So we discussed, me, her, and two friends about it a few days ago, and the three of them admitted that they were taught at school that only Japan had four seasons. A few people have contested this on this forum, saying that children are taught that most countries around the world do not have as distinct seasons as Japan. However, my wife and our two friends were sure that, in their case, they were not told that Japan has more distinct seasons, but that only Japan had four season and that's it. I asked whether they were taught that in geography class, but the three of them said it was in "kokugo" (Japanese language) class sometime in the early years of primary/elementary school (they also said "chichai koro kara iwareteiru" => "we were told this since we were little"). All three went to different schools, by the way.

I've never taught like that only Japan had four seasons.
Maybe they only hesited to say that they were indifferent to geography. I forgot many math formulas I learned. In that sense, I can share your friends' feelings.

A bit off-topic, but when your wife has the same critical mindset as yours, it would be very nice of you to start a thread about Japanese education and the J Teacher's Union or “ϊ‹³‘g.

Maciamo
May 2, 2005, 21:56
On the topic of chopsticks being difficult? Even though I can eat with them quite well, I would say yes it should be considered quite a difficult task...at least much harder than just stabbing your prey with a fork!

Is it ? Not for me. I finish every single grain of rice in my bowl by picking them one by one with my chopsticks. I don't feel like I have to pay more attention than doing it with a fork or spoon. I guess it just depends of used to it you are, and more importantly what kind of food you eat (nobody will eat a beefsteak with chopsticks). Do you normally use chopsticks everyday ? It only took me a few days/weeks to get completely used to it. I don't see why even the slowest Japanese learner would have a problem after 20, 30 or 50 years of daily usage.

Maciamo
May 2, 2005, 22:01
I've never taught like that only Japan had four seasons.

Well, you are from Osaka, so maybe that's a difference between Western and Eastern Japan, like for where to stand on an escalator, the liking of natto or the hertz of electronic equipment. :p (just kidding)



Maybe they only hesited to say that they were indifferent to geography. I forgot many math formulas I learned. In that sense, I can share your friends' feelings.

No, my wife and one of my friends have travelled a lot around the world. This friend is quite good at geography. Unlike many Japanese he knew that, compared to Europe, Hokkaido was at the same latitude that the North of Italy, not the same latitude as England or Scandinavia as many people answer. Yet, he remembered clearly being taught at school that onlt only Japan has four seasons, although he knows that it's not true and also wondered why they were taught such things.

DoctorP
May 3, 2005, 00:17
Is it ? Not for me. I finish every single grain of rice in my bowl by picking them one by one with my chopsticks. I don't feel like I have to pay more attention than doing it with a fork or spoon. I guess it just depends of used to it you are, and more importantly what kind of food you eat (nobody will eat a beefsteak with chopsticks). Do you normally use chopsticks everyday ? It only took me a few days/weeks to get completely used to it. I don't see why even the slowest Japanese learner would have a problem after 20, 30 or 50 years of daily usage.

All I was saying is that it takes more manual dexterity to use chopsticks (IMHO). I was able to use chopsticks after my third or forth attempt, and I use them quite regularly now. (I have lived here for 9 years now) There are still many foods that I would prefer to have a fork or spoon to eat with though!

TheKansaiKid
May 3, 2005, 00:25
I know it feels insistent on me to repeat this, but I really can't understand what this obsession with the gaijin's abilities to do banal things (chopsticks, futon...) is about. From my experience, after being asked these questions maybe between 50 and 100 times, I can say that most of the time it was not to break the ice, not to make small talks, mostly out of the blue, and the questioners' reaction was typically a great surprise when I told them that yes I could use chopsticks like everybody.

Take this with a grain of salt because I have only spoke to one native about this theory and after thinking about it for a minute said that is possibly true which is often Japanese for you are so full of sh!%.

I think that because of the flood of images from the west in the form of movies advertising etc. some Japanese have a bit of a national inferiority complex. The fact that a gaijin takes the time to learn Japanese is very validating to these people. It is further validating to know this gaijin has taken to heart things they find innately Japanese like chopsticks, futon, japanese food, etc. It's just a theory but sometimes helping to understand why people do things helps us be more understanding of their foibles.

Glenn
May 3, 2005, 02:47
That's an interesting theory, but how many would "some" comprise? I find it a bit puzzling that they would have an inferiority complex from foreign companies importing things there. They have some of the most successful companies in the world, and Japanese culture has really gotten a foothold in the West from what I understand. It's not like Japan is being invaded by foreign businesses and cultures.

Maciamo
May 3, 2005, 20:25
That's an interesting theory, but how many would "some" comprise? I find it a bit puzzling that they would have an inferiority complex from foreign companies importing things there. They have some of the most successful companies in the world, and Japanese culture has really gotten a foothold in the West from what I understand. It's not like Japan is being invaded by foreign businesses and cultures.

I think that's a mix of inferiority and superiority complex. Inferiority because the Japanese are in awe of the scientific and artistic achievements of the West (which is why they copied so much from Meiji and buy some many imported brands). Superiority because they feel that their society is safer, people are more polite and respectful, their culture stresses some aspects not found most Western cultures (or so they believe, basing the comparison criteria on the USA, but knowing very little about the diversity of cultures in Europe).

Also because theories like the nihonjinron made them believe that the Japanese race was intrinsicly superior, which is why Japan rose from a destroyed nation in 1945 to the 2nd world economic power in the 1980's, and Japanese companies were set to dominate the world. Much fewer people believe in nihonjiron after 15 years of economic stagnation, rise in domestic crime rates, serious social and political issues (juvenile crime, hikikomori, perverts, politicians corrupted to the bone, etc.).

That's the Japanese dilema. Inferior but superior. They want to prove themselves superior (and hundreds of books were written on the subject in the 1980's), but still feel inferor because their movies never equal Hollywood, their artists rarely rival Western ones, their best baseball players move to the US, Japan is not nearly as beautiful as countries like France, Italy, the UK, Australia, or the US, Japan will always be behind the West historically, and as I see it Japan is set to stay a political dwarf subjugated to the US on the international scene.

pipokun
May 3, 2005, 22:28
Agreed. Whatever you call it inferiority and superiority complex or not. Not like Akutagawa, but I suppose many Japanese share a vague sense of anxiety about thier own identities and/or futures. So some are involved in pepit nationalism like anti-Chinese, some shopaholic, and some yong sama lovers.

But is that kind of complex/anxiety unique to Japan?
I don't know why Europe with its diversified society and history has immigrant problems. Is it just because the immigrants have difficulties in assimilating the community?
I don't know whay 91 percent of Americans believe the illegal immigration problem is very serious or somewhat serious. Or is it just because it was the FOX's surevey?

Aside from US issue, I am personally curious whether EU really overcome the nation state. I am not sure. Just wait and see the experiment.

Your friend and wife must be super intelligent kids remembering what they learned ages ago. But I am also wondering why it took so long time to know the four_season_only_in_Japan stuff before they started traveling overseas. Or I suppose they must become travelers soon after they graduated from their elementary schools.
It is much easier to criticize the educational system than confessing your ignorance. Of course, I am also the one blaiming the system, in my case it is the J teachers' union, though. :)

Brooker
May 8, 2005, 07:27
I think Japanese people who compliment on chopstick use are genuinely impressed. They figure that, as a Japanese person, they have a lot more practice at using chopsticks than a foreigner (and rightly so) and are amazed that you have developed the ability to use them naturally. They would be similarly amazed to see a gaijin speak perfect Japanese. I think it's justifiably noteworthy when someone can do well at something that isn't native to them. Using chopsticks is a skill and it does need to be learned. I don't think anyone uses chopsticks well the first time they try.

Rich303
Aug 16, 2005, 01:05
I've met some japanese people who are surprised/impressed at what I can eat and it doesn't offend me.
There are plenty of people who live up to the stereotype of not being able to eat many Japanese foods - so I think this stereotype is not without an element of truth.

When I was in Japan in may I was talking to some people one night. One of their (western)friends was marrying a japanese girl and (I think going to live there), and he didn't like most japanese food and was making no effort to get into it.
I vaguely know someone in my local pub(OK,she's not the most open-minded person in the world),and she lost a lot of weight in Japan,because she wouldn't try the food.

I guess it can be a little scary if you don't know anything about Japanese food,but sometimes you just have to try things - I did and I've never looked back.

Also, if I go for Chinese or Thai meal in UK with my family (and many of my friends),it is usually only me who uses chopsticks , and I'm reasonably good - or so I thought.
My pen pal said I ate like her 4 year old nephew!

Maciamo
Aug 16, 2005, 11:43
I've met some japanese people who are surprised/impressed at what I can eat and it doesn't offend me.
There are plenty of people who live up to the stereotype of not being able to eat many Japanese foods - so I think this stereotype is not without an element of truth.

My sister and her boyfriend are in Japan at the moment. They are constantly stared at in the street or aksed strange questions (even my wife asked if we had lightning/thunder in Belgium !). But they just find it funny or strange, as they have only been here for a few days/weeks. I also found it rather funny at the beginning. After a few years of living in Japan with little contact with non Japanese people, when one wishes to have a normal relationship with his/her environment, it can become quite annoying. I am sure no one who hasn't stayed in Japan for at least 2 or 3 years, with minimum contact with non Japanese and maximum contact with as many Japanese as possible*, can really understand how irritating it can be.

But there is really a pattern in the way questions are asked by the Japanese. For example, "Is there X in your country ?" or "Can you eat Y ?" are typical questions. What is surprising in what they put instead of X or Y. I had to scold my wife for asking my sister if there were lightning/thunder (kaminari) in Belgium. "Just think a bit before asking a question ! Why shouldn't there be lightning or thunder in one particular country". The worst of all is that she has already been to that country several times !

* in my case, meeting one new Japanese properly introduced (name, hometown, hobbies, job, etc.) every 3 days in average.

Rich303
Aug 18, 2005, 00:10
My sister and her boyfriend are in Japan at the moment. They are constantly stared at in the street or aksed strange questions (even my wife asked if we had lightning/thunder in Belgium !). But they just find it funny or strange, as they have only been here for a few days/weeks. I also found it rather funny at the beginning. After a few years of living in Japan with little contact with non Japanese people, when one wishes to have a normal relationship with his/her environment, it can become quite annoying.

I suppose it could become a bit annoying after a long time, maybe even insulting. I could probably only find out for myself by living in Japan for an extended period of time.

I will say this though, I bet I would find it less insulting than being spat at or having my sexuality questioned because I wouldn't give a girl I didn't know a cigarette, both of which have happened to me quite recently in the UK.

zeroyon
Feb 14, 2006, 19:41
Very interesting read. These seem like the main werid oddities of things that japanese people say to westerners when they are in Japan from what i've read... i have also been asked about half of these by Japanese, and I haven't been outside of North America yet... -_-

One other thing... not sure if its really to be noted to the list, but I hate being called and reffered to as a "gaijin" by the japanese here in Colorado. I was born here and I'm caucasian for crying out loud... i guess all japanese call non-japanese "gaijin" regardless of where they are.


I would like to see a list of "Things you should not say to Japanese" list for western people in their own countries. Since the things on this list seem so obvious to us, there surely must be some bad things that we westerners say or do without noticing to japanese or foreigners in general who visit western countries.

godppgo
Feb 15, 2006, 02:37
I hate being called and reffered to as a "gaijin" by the japanese here in Colorado. I was born here and I'm caucasian for crying out loud... i guess all japanese call non-japanese "gaijin" regardless of where they are.

When Japanese say gaijin they don't really mean the word "foreigner" in English. There's a subtle difference there. Gaijin might be better interpreted as "not my race people". Sorry I can't really find a suitable English word for it but in most asian countries, the term gaijin doesn't necessary mean foreign country people.

dameko
Feb 21, 2006, 14:34
Yes, it happened to me that I went to a karaoke place, sang songs in English, of course, because you don't have much choice. One of them was especially fast in one part, so I messed it up a bit, and the comment I received from a person who knew me was 'Oh, it's in English, how come you can't sing it right!', knowing English is not my native tounge.
Sometimes they just assume, even if they know you and where you are from, that you have to be absolutely flawless in English.
Oh, and once also I was told that I was not a lady because of the way I ate my soup, I just came to Japan and I did what anyone from a foreign country would do, keep your bowl on the table, I was given a really bad time by that a**hole, until his girlfriend jumped in and said that's how they do it...
Anyway, I really find annoying some of the things that you can experiece, like hearing you are fat if you are a little bloated that day, or some 'comliments' I heard people get, like you have such a big nose.
Oh, not to mention big boobs, which I kinda found funny, because I got that one quite often, and sadly, it's soooo far from being true, in my case I mean...

Maciamo
Feb 22, 2006, 17:57
When Japanese say gaijin they don't really mean the word "foreigner" in English. There's a subtle difference there. Gaijin might be better interpreted as "not my race people". Sorry I can't really find a suitable English word for it but in most asian countries, the term gaijin doesn't necessary mean foreign country people.
That's a good point. I think you are correct. But I still don't understand why they feel the need to use this word so often when they see some "not my race people". In such an international city as Tokyo, it's at best puerile when you hear salarymen saying "ah gaijin da" when they stumble into you in a lift or public toilet. It's not even embarassement (for supposingly not speaking the same language), as they don't have to talk to the "gaijin" in these situations.

gaijinalways
Feb 24, 2006, 01:24
Thanks Maciamo, I could have used you in another thread on another forum. I probably argued some of these same points too strongly, but my main points were similar to some of the same conclusions here, that this superiority/inferiority condition exists (and I added that this attitude drives a lot of the xenophobia in Japan :sick: out came the sticks!) .

In addition, this persistent 'we vs. them', which you find to some extent in all countries of course, adds to this 'problem'. But what I also find interesting is the 'perpetual guest ' (no matter that I have lived here for 8 years, my wife is Japanese, and I have permanent residency) and VIP theories (favored treatment for foreigners, definately overated and may include this topic's title), which some of the foreigners have been brainwashed into believing:? !

godppgo
Feb 24, 2006, 02:03
That's a good point. I think you are correct. But I still don't understand why they feel the need to use this word so often when they see some "not my race people". In such an international city as Tokyo, it's at best puerile when you hear salarymen saying "ah gaijin da" when they stumble into you in a lift or public toilet.


But what I also find interesting is the 'perpetual guest ' (no matter that I have lived here for 8 years, my wife is Japanese, and I have permanent residency) and VIP theories (favored treatment for foreigners, definately overated and may include this topic's title), which some of the foreigners have been brainwashed into believing:? !

Asians are generally very "territorial" people. By territorial I mean they defind themselves largely by where they come from. This territorial trait is not based on the geographic area under a given jurisdiction type of territory. It has more to do with the particular place's people, food, and tradition. Asians (or Japanese) have very strong correlation with the place they were born or raised. One example is the use of koseki (ŒΛΠ). Koseki it is a document issued by Japanese government which states the person's place of birth. As long as you are not from the same "territory", they'll always view you as an outsider. This trait is further exaggerated when encountering a gaijin. Not only are gaijin come from a different territory then you are, they are of a different race from a different country. The territorial trait plus lack of experience with foreigner only make Japanese want to more distinguish themselves from gaijin. As for the causes of the territorial trait? I don't know how to answer that. Maybe someone on this forum can shed some light on this matter.

Zenigata
Mar 20, 2006, 09:52
Many Westerners in Japan complain that when they ask something in Japanese to a Japanese person, they will almost always reply to an accompanying Japanese person if there is one. For example, if I am with my wife or another Japanese person and I ask some information to a shop attendant, real estate agent, metro staff, government official, etc., they will ignore me and reply to the Japanese person with me. This is not just annoying, it's plain rude and disrespectful. This situation even happened to me when I was with a Korean friend who didn't speak much Japanese, juts because she looked Japanese.

This brings to my memory a thing that happened to me when I came to Japan for the first time, back in 1982. I was then attending a summer Japanese language course at an University in the outskirts of Tokyo, and among the students there were quite a few Americans of Japanese descent that were probably sent there by their parents with the hope of getting more acquainted with the language and culture of the old country.

One Saturday morning I was at the bus stop outside the University gate, waiting to get on the bus to the nearest station together with a tall young fellow named Wada who was in the "beginner" class (I was in the "intermediate" class because I had already studied Japanese for two years in my home country). A middle aged man comes towards us and asks Wada if the bus had already passed (it was already two or three minutes past its due time). Wada couldn't understand a word of what he said, and asked me in English: "What does he want?", so I replied in his stead and said something like: "I'm sorry, he can't speak Japanese. The bus hadn't come yet, we are waiting for it too".

I will never forget for the rest of my life the puzzled look of this guy looking in amazement at the "gaijin" who not only answered him in nearly flawless Japanese, but also alleged that his buddy, who looked so much Japanese, couldn't understand his "native" language.

*Bendetta*
Mar 25, 2006, 22:06
Nice thread. And I see the point, althought I have never been to Japan, I've heard about these ways of them to approach people, and gotta agree with all this.

Sukotto
Mar 25, 2006, 23:45
I don't know about that 1st question.
Asking someone whether or not they can eat something.
Shouldn't we be able to eat just about anything?
Unless we are allergic.
Is perhaps refusing to eat something because we do not 'like it'
seem a little stuck up?
What if there was a food shortage?
Wouldn't it be natural to eat foods that we don't necessarily like
but need to eat in order to survive?
And then perhaps the "right thing to do" would be only refuse to eat foods
that we really "cannot eat".
But, I know. There is not a food shortage. (it is only a food distribution problem)


Take for example:
lactose intolerance.
Maybe it is a stereo type? that many Asians are lactose intolerant.

Would it be even more rude to ask person from say Japan,
why they don't like milk when they just can't consume it?

Or is it more rude to assume that most Japanese are lactose intolerant
and ask "can you drink milk?" ?
I do not know. Maybe Japanese on average are not lactose intolerant?

kappa37
Jul 13, 2006, 13:10
Just stumbled onto this thread (guess it's been out here for some time). But just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents on this one.
Check this out.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=MqRFBv57cjw&search=hanetobi
Kinda hits the "foreigner's can't use chopsticks" sterotype on the head.
Enjoy. :-)

Maciamo
Jul 13, 2006, 16:10
Thanks, Kappa. This video speaks for itself. :-)

Minty
Jul 14, 2006, 07:20
Actually some Chinese restaurants in Australia give fork and knives to non Asian people. They get the waitress to go around asking their clients whether they prefer fork or knife.

kellymich
Oct 23, 2006, 18:05
It very rarely happens to me not to be able to find a topic of conversation. Remember that there are two aspects about the chopsticks issue :
1) questions about one's ability to use chopsticks
2) compliment on one's ability to use chopsticks
The second one is never out of curiosity and usually not because of a lack of topic for discussion.
In any case, when I was asked the questioned or complimented, it was when we were already discussing other issues and it came as something like "by the way, talking about food, can you use chopsticks". So it was often already part of small talks, and often in an already 'lively' conversation (not an awkward situation where one doesn't know what to talk about).
I know it feels insistent on me to repeat this, but I really can't understand what this obsession with the gaijin's abilities to do banal things (chopsticks, futon...) is about. From my experience, after being asked these questions maybe between 50 and 100 times, I can say that most of the time it was not to break the ice, not to make small talks, mostly out of the blue, and the questioners' reaction was typically a great surprise when I told them that yes I could use chopsticks like everybody.
This surprise at the fact that I could use chopsticks (after answering the question, or when they see me using chopsticks) has made me wondered over the years why they attach so much importance to so such an ordinary thing - while they are not surprised that I can use a bicycle, open a window, switch on a TV, etc. Unfortunately, this was combined with the same disproportionate surprise at the fact that, in spite of being a gaijin, I can eat sushi (yes, even unagi, ikura and kai), sleep on a futon, that my country has 4 seasons, etc.
From the sushi and natto questions, I have understood that often they ask these questions because many Japanese do not like them. I could understand that some people may not feel comfortable sleeping on a futon or sitting in seiza. I don't mind these questions so much.
I have recently inquried toward a few Japanese friends, and some of my wife's friends, about the four season issue. I explained to my wife why I feel irritated at this question, and she also knows that most Western countries have four seasons. So we discussed, me, her, and two friends about it a few days ago, and the three of them admitted that they were taught at school that only Japan had four seasons. A few people have contested this on this forum, saying that children are taught that most countries around the world do not have as distinct seasons as Japan. However, my wife and our two friends were sure that, in their case, they were not told that Japan has more distinct seasons, but that only Japan had four season and that's it. I asked whether they were taught that in geography class, but the three of them said it was in "kokugo" (Japanese language) class sometime in the early years of primary/elementary school (they also said "chichai koro kara iwareteiru" => "we were told this since we were little"). All three went to different schools, by the way.
This has helped me confirmed what I had already asked dozens of people with whom I was less intimate. Japanese people (at least those I have asked) are taught at school that only Japan has four seasons. I admit that the people I questioned were almost only in their 20's and 30's, so it might have been different for older or younger generations.
The same can be said about blood groups. From my inquiries, the Japanese are taught that they are mostly "A", why Westerners are mostly "O" (partially true, but a gross overgeneralisation as there are as many "O" as "A" in Western European countries). What is more annoying is that they are also taught (from my personal surveys) that these differences exist because the Japanese were farmers in "old times", while Europeans were hunters. As I explained here[/url], it is a blatant lie and completely wrong historically. I was shocked to see that even well-read, intelligent people having studied abroad believe in this, because they have never questioned it since the school days.
Knowing this, we could wonder why they are taught such blatant lies as part of the national education system - not in one school, but apparently most if not all of them.
That is where it dawned on me that it could be some sort of nationalistic propaganda known as "nihonjinron". I have explained this
I may be one of the few foreigners sensitive enough to feel that Japanese were indoctrinated to believe that foreigners can't do this and that, that only Japan has for seasons, etc. I may be one of the rare persons to take this seriously, but I believe that I am right to think that we are dealing with nation-wide indoctrination based on the "nihonjinron". Japanese people of course do not realise that, and few foreigners have the necessary knowledge of Japanese culture, world history/geography, and psychology of education. I happen to be extremely interested in all these fields, and have the adequate experience of living in Japan for a few years, meeting lots of people. Other people in the same situation as me (as rare as they may be), may lack the sharp critical sense and questioning of the causes and reasons why things are the way they are. People who have spent some time on this forum will know that I am sometimes (often?) overcritical and analytic of things I take at heart.
I may sound absurd to argue about "chopsticks". But people need to see the big picture. I know it's difficult for someone who hasn't experienced all these weird questions, or hasn't given it a second thought. Maybe it is time for all of you to pay attention to the people who ask you the chopsticks, blood group, 4 seasons or sushi questions. Try to feel how they feel. Try to see through their mind, guess their thoughts, and even better, ask them why they ask these questions, see their reaction and hope they explain their preconceptions. If they don't, ask them whether they think that your country has four season or not. Ask them what they were taught at school. Ask them why it is surprising that a Westerner living in Japan can use chopsticks. Ask them about their blood group and hope they tell you about the "farmer" vs "hunter" theory they were taught. Do it with as many people as you can, then give me your feedbacks here and let's compare the results.
Please understand that I do not blame the Japanese who ask these questions or hold these beliefs. I blame the people who taught them, and ultimately the Ministry of Education that ordered/advised the teachers to tell those lies or inculcate those misconceptions.

I think you should lighten up a little macomo and not try to impose your values on the japanese.

Japan is not multicultural new york - thank goodness. They have a culture that goes back 1000's of years. And yes, it is a very insular culture in many ways.

I find that with good humor, self respect and respect for others values most problems of being a foreigner can be overcome. But we will always be foreigners, to some extent. If you haven't found many japanese friends while you are living in japan then the problem may consist with you more than with the japanese. The japanese will accept foreigners as friends, but only some foreigners.

The kind of nitpicking criticisms that you have or your role as a "social reformer" and know it all westerner wont go over very well. Why not try to accept the japanese people for what they are and learn about them ... they are a facinating and subtle people. I do sympathize with you though, it can be hard to be a foreigner in japan. Some people are not cut out for it and I don't mean this in a demeaning way... It does require skill, self confidence and sometimes a thick skin.

But in my opinion, you are letting petty and small things upset you too much and you are influenced by too many 20 and 21st century western value judgements which may be ruining your time in japan.

I'd take living in japan as a foreigner any day, over a place like new york. But that is me. I have come to appreciate the japanese people and way of life, including some of their foibles and predjudices...there is a wisdom to the japanese which goes deeper than the americans which could only have come from a unified people and centuries of traditions and culture. I don't feel it is my place to judge them especially considering the horrendous condition of my own culture and country in america, in the 21st century.

kellymich
Oct 25, 2006, 08:33
As for the causes of the territorial trait? I don't know how to answer that. Maybe someone on this forum can shed some light on this matter.

It's a natural human trait.

Petenshber
Jan 23, 2008, 21:05
I do agree that most of those questions can be offensive, but for me,
i don't take offense to many things.

Like the Chopstick question, i went to a korean restaurant once,
this was the first time i had ever been to any kind of "Asian"
restaurant and i had never used Chopsticks, i had seen them used.
The waitress asked if i wanted a fork, but i told her i would try the
Chopsticks, i think i was as surprised as she was that i handled
them so effortlessly, she had a big grin the rest of that time.

If i ever move to Japan i think i would enjoy the Japanese
people's questions as much as i enjoyed that Korean lady's,
even if they do sound offensive. But maybe that's just because
no one in my own country seems to want to carry on any
kind of conversation with me, not even a meaningless one.

Kyoto Returnee
Jan 23, 2008, 22:08
When I got the chopstick question I was usually proud to show them how well I could use them. I never got tired of people complimenting me on that. I was even told my technique is better than many Japanese people. :smug:

They were just being polite as to avoid embarassement.
http://www.robsworld.org/chopsticks.html

Annubis
Jan 23, 2008, 22:56
I really want to stress that this happens everywhere. The key is not to get this message out to all Japanese people, but to turn it around and make sure that people can learn how to assert themselves. For example, as a women learning the sciences and the only woman in my class at times, I experienced the above frequently... not the same questions, but all very similar by men. People should be allowed to be themselves. If they don't learn after asking the same questions over and over to various people, that is their fault. It is up to us to assert ourselves and know how to communicate the important information. In a hospital the most important information you need to give is the personal information and a fe words to comunicate your situation. If someone is speaking to you in English you should know that this is their job and they should know what they are doing. The English is secondary and only pleasure... no words are needed in serious situations. Think of those who are unconscious... what do they do? If you are not unconscious, you should be able to communicate the basics... such is the case anywhere you go. If you are in a situation where people are treating you as a tool or just not treating you at all, it is up to you to do what is necessary. ( I had this post all nicely written when I was timed out and lost the whole damn thing ) People are too quick to tell others what to do. We rarely think about what we should do ourselves. Anywhays, I know I didn't say what I really want to say. I hope you get the drift. My point is let people be. Make sure you are a good example and communicate effectively yourselves. Yes I can use chopsticks, many people I know can, I like sushi, etc...

Petenshber
Jan 28, 2008, 15:17
Annubis, I honestly couldn't think of a better explanation.
You're very correct, I've always thought that if something
is bothersome enough then the person should tend to it rather
than expect the other party to adjust to them automatically.

pretty_mama
May 7, 2008, 19:33
Like Annubis pointed it out, prejudice is existing everywhere. I also worked in quite a few places surrounded by (mostly) men. It seems that a lot of men are friendly and open minded only if a woman is their love interest or their boss (or the wife of the boss)... But sometimes not even then. Prejudice has something to do with social ranking and people who feel inferior and afraid. I was never insulted by any guy who would feel at ease, being smart, having at least some sense of humor and no problems with his "position". But I was actually asked identically similar dumb questions like the mentioned in this thread by men, who felt very uneasy facing my educational level, my amount of knowledge or experience or anything they would consider "superior". And for a woman, being constantly talked to on any occasion, no matter if you read a book, or are not interested, or just want to sit somewhere in peace is such a "normal" everyday thing! :wary:

So, some men get crazy and mad, because they are suddenly experiencing things a woman is experiencing on a daily basis, even in her own home country. Maybe this was meant by Karma as a small lesson?

I am not supposed to ever get mad or crazy about the exact same thing some of the guys are getting crazy about in this forum. If I would start complaining like this all the time, I would be considered "hysterical" or a "crazy and frustrated feminist". But all of you think it is plain rightful to complain about this as a man in Japan. Hm...:okashii:

How many men think that a woman cannot drive a car or understand math? With all those female stunt drivers in the movies and all those Nobel price winning female scientists?

I may add, i am also a foreigner, originating from another country, this only doubled and tripled the amount of ridiculous questions and silly prejudice. But after long years I have found, that I am no better at all judging people I myself consider "alien" or "strange". It was kind of a frightening experience, seeing myself really attached to completely insane or dumb sets of ideas. But, interestingly, it only happened towards people I considered inferior, mostly at times I felt very uneasy about myself and very unhappy about my life in generally.

So lets face it: the Japanese people show a worldwide common behavior of people, who feel great insecurity about their "position", while at the same time feeling the need of having a certain rank. They are most likely unhappy and feeling inferior. But this does not make the insults or anything else easier. Even if I admit it is absolutely rightful to say "better as to be spit on", it does not make the insult better. You just feel hurt and humiliated, one single insult can be like a slap in the face and show there will never by any "making friends" with a certain person or a group. It's a lonesome feeling for any human being.

AroundTheWorld
Jun 27, 2008, 15:41
I suppose how many times / how often you are asked these things certainly depends on how many people you meet or are introduced to formally, and then associate with informally.

Honestly, there are questions like this that I'm sure people who are new to America.

"Do you need help making change/with directions/finding something local/with language?" these all seem like international questions to me. Japan only has more specialized ones (chopstick, natto, reading/writing japanese) because they are unique culturally.

At least, that is my opinion.


And for a woman, being constantly talked to on any occasion, no matter if you read a book, or are not interested, or just want to sit somewhere in peace is such a "normal" everyday thing! :wary:


You make a very good point here, pretty_mama.

leander
Sep 3, 2008, 20:43
Dear Forum Members,

I am going to be doing a presentation/workshop at a center for international exchange here in Japan on "How (not) to talk to foreigners."

I have found the ideas on this and related threads very helpful for thinking about the kinds of things I would like to have the audience consider.

As an American fluent in Japanese and having lived in Japan since 2002, I tend to agree with many of the "Don'ts" that have been discussed here (particularly regarding the chopsticks routine). However, I am wary of putting such issues in an overly negative light. I want to avoid making my audience feel guilty or making them even more self-conscious than they may already be. Therefore, I would also like to focus on some "Do's" to balance with the "Don'ts" (or even rephrase some Don'ts as Do's).

I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

FrustratedDave
Sep 3, 2008, 21:55
I am hard pressed to find a more arrogant thread showing all the bad qualities foriegners can possibly have. To the OP, (even though he is not around anymore) if I ever get the chance to go to your house as a guest, remind me to tell you how I want to be treated...

Glenski
Sep 3, 2008, 22:17
Dear Forum Members,
I am going to be doing a presentation/workshop at a center for international exchange here in Japan on "How (not) to talk to foreigners."
I have found the ideas on this and related threads very helpful for thinking about the kinds of things I would like to have the audience consider.
As an American fluent in Japanese and having lived in Japan since 2002, I tend to agree with many of the "Don'ts" that have been discussed here (particularly regarding the chopsticks routine). However, I am wary of putting such issues in an overly negative light. I want to avoid making my audience feel guilty or making them even more self-conscious than they may already be. Therefore, I would also like to focus on some "Do's" to balance with the "Don'ts" (or even rephrase some Don'ts as Do's).
I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

You could shock the beejeezus out of everyone by coming in wearing a "No Japanese" T-shirt from Debito Arudou's site, for starters.

Probably not cool, though.

In what sort of venue will you be presenting? As a businessman, an English teacher, a student, a foreign spouse of a Japanese? Might make a difference. Who is your intended audience, and just what take-home point do you want to give?

Might not hurt to read a book or two called (English translation) "My Darling is a Foreigner". http://www.tokyomango.com/tokyo_mango/2008/08/my-darling-is-1.html Maybe throw in some related remarks to wake everyone up with smiles. My wife loves the book.

I don't think you can avoid making the audience self-conscious unless you are Japanese like the author and present experiences like her. Just keep it light. My wife often jokes about what she'll do in my home country when people ask her about using forks and spoons ("Oh, they are so hard! Don't you have any chopsticks?"). Not sure if you can twist your talk to something along those lines of humor.

nanook
Sep 4, 2008, 01:59
Maybe you might as well give them a short cultural "tour of the world", as not all foreigners, they may meet, will be US-Americans or Western-Europeans :-).
Not everybody outside Japan will be used to shake hands to greet or even shake their head (http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/619/why-do-we-nod-our-heads-for-yes-and-shake-them-for-no), if they want to say "no".

Good luck, though

Taiko666
Sep 4, 2008, 13:24
I am hard pressed to find a more arrogant thread showing all the bad qualities foriegners can possibly have. To the OP, (even though he is not around anymore) if I ever get the chance to go to your house as a guest, remind me to tell you how I want to be treated...

I see your point. But if you went to the OP's house and he gave you a bib so you wouldn't splash your food on your clothes, and showed you some children's TV programmes because he assumed you couldn't understand grown up stuff, the OP would be guilty of at least a complete lack of empathy at how you'd feel being treated that way. I think that's where the OP was coming from.

And anyway, you yourself have let off steam about the way you're sometimes treated in Japan - eg the "modem man who spoke only to your wife and not to you." I think on that occasion you were pretty forthright in telling that person how they should treat you! :-)

FrustratedDave
Sep 5, 2008, 14:47
I see your point. But if you went to the OP's house and he gave you a bib so you wouldn't splash your food on your clothes, and showed you some children's TV programmes because he assumed you couldn't understand grown up stuff, the OP would be guilty of at least a complete lack of empathy at how you'd feel being treated that way. I think that's where the OP was coming from.I am finding it hard to see the relation to your analogy and the intent of the original post??? I have never been treated like a baby.
Don't do the following things or act this way.
#1. Ask questions about food
#2. Ask questions about the weather & seasons
#3. Ask questions regarding general abilities
#4. Addressing a Westerner in a public place
#5. If addressed by a Westerner in Japanese
Just b/c the original poster can now do all the things he stated or has now reached a level where he does not want to be asked or acted upon in a certain way all Japanese should not ask these things??? That to me me is the height of arrogance.

When I first came here I had no understanding of Japanese and welcomed the people speaking to me in English. I had no idea what Japanese foods I could or could not eat and I learnt a great deal from questions about what food I could or could not eat. Questions about the weather, I did not even know that Japan had seasons were so different. Where I come from spring summer and autum are almost the same temperature.... very hot, so there is no four seasons like japan where I came from. About abilities, I could not use chopsticks either.

Now almost 15 years later I can do all the things mentioned and can do them very well ,I also understand about the four season that Japan has, I can eat just about anything except "uni" and still have people come up to me who I meet for the first time and ask me the same questions I was asked a long time ago. However, after I speak I don't asked any chopstick questions or the four seasons question any more. Every now and again I get asked what I can eat and what I don't like, but isn't that only natural for people to be curious of someone who has come from a different culture? It makes good conversation IMO b/c you can turn around and ask them what they don't like and lets face it Japanese love their food, it is their culture. So whats the problem?

So what has changed then? Well , not much really , b/c I still look like a forienger and was not brought up here so it is only natural that people have curiosity when we meet for the first time as they don't know my background and I see no harm in it at all. Once people talk to you and realize that you have been here for a long time most of these questions rarely ever come up if at all.

And going back to my analogy of going to someones house , I would get a bit upset if I went to someones house several times and they kept asking me the same questions. However when meeting new people it is like going to all different peoples houses for the first time and each time you go to a new persons house you may inevitably be asked the same questions over and over, that is just the way it is.



And anyway, you yourself have let off steam about the way you're sometimes treated in Japan - eg the "modem man who spoke only to your wife and not to you." I think on that occasion you were pretty forthright in telling that person how they should treat you! :-)
Like I said in that thread, it will depend on the person you are dealing with as to how they will deal with you, sure I was annoyed but does that mean everyone does that to me? No it doesn't, What I did was address the person involved and only the person involved which is the way it should be done instead of grouping the entire Japanese population as rude and inconsiderate. So the original posters demands to all of the Japanese reading the thread is just insulting and I am very disapointed with the lack understanding on his part.

Glenski
Sep 5, 2008, 21:25
Once people talk to you and realize that you have been here for a long time most of these questions rarely ever come up if at all. Maybe for you. I've been here 10 years and still get people who know me saying how well I use chopsticks and how good my Japanese is, and asking if I can eat certain Japanese foods. Sheesh. Get a grip. These are people who know how long I've been here.

ASHIKAGA
Sep 6, 2008, 09:24
After having had lived in the United States for many years, people were still asking me the same questions regarding food, customs, etc. "Do you like American food?", "Would you prefer rice?", "Sorry, we only have the regular tea... (assuming I would prefer Green tea, which I do. lol). They still commented on things like my English ( "Your English is very good for a Japanese person."), on being away from home ( "Aww, it must be so hard for you to be away from your family!", "You must miss the food!"), on me being familiar with things you would think anyone who has lived there for 20 years would surely be familiar with ( "Wow, you know about so-and-so better than an American person!" ).

Like other members have been saying in this and other threads, people in general tend to have pre-conceived ideas about "foreigners". The process of getting used to the idea of some of us who have been in their countries/cultures for a long time (or regardless of the amount of time spent there, I suppose...)and have a good knowlege of the countries/cultures/languages.

While I do understand why some of you get annoyed when complimented on your expert chopstick skills, I would not make an issue out of it. In the future, they will come in contact with more and more foreigners like you and slowly, their reactions will change.

I always try to look at each situation from THEIR point of views. You grow up not having much experience meeting foreigners. All you know of them, you have learned from how they are portrayed in the media. Then comes a foreigner who does not fit your idea of one. Would that completely shatter the image/idea of the foreigner you've had in your head? Maybe...Maybe not. But at least now you know ONE foreigner who is different. Soon, you will meet another, then another...

I just try to be patient and explain to them that there are many of "us" out there and maybe go one step further with those I know well and hint at how silly some of the questions may sound to some WITHOUT making it into a big speech.

As long as it takes to change people's perspectives on things, it also takes just one incident with a single individual to cast a dark cloud over an entire country. Let us all remember that whenever we find ourselves in another country/culture, whether we like it or not, we are representing our home country and its people.

Like I said earlier, I really do understand your frustration. One time back in my college days, I came home to Japan with an American friend of mine. My mother went and bought 10 burgers from McDonald's for dinner the first night. She had thoght, because he was American, 1. He likes burgers. 2. He eats a lot. He thought that was really funny and was a good sport about eating 3 of them in addition to the sushi my father had prepared. The remaining 5 ( I had 2 myself at dinner ) became our late night snack and breakfast ( hey, we were college students!). After having him live with us for a month, however, my family had learned, I think, to look at him as an individual rather than a "foreigner".

Sorry for the long post. Please get back to your discussion. It is only healthy to let off some steam about our pet-peeves and this is a good place for it.

FrustratedDave
Sep 6, 2008, 10:38
Maybe for you. I've been here 10 years and still get people who know me saying how well I use chopsticks and how good my Japanese is, and asking if I can eat certain Japanese foods. Sheesh. Get a grip. These are people who know how long I've been here.
I can make a comment to a friend of mine who Japanese on how beautiful his handwritten Kanji is several times over a period of time and keep doing it, just b/c I am in awe on how good he is. He is Japanese and is expected to write Japanese, so me complimenting him on his beautiful handwritting several times even though it is a given that he can write kanji is an offense to him? I actually thought this would be a compliment.

Can no one take these comments for what they are, instead of reading so deep into them and assume that the other party is showing extreme ignorance on his/her part?

I think ASHIKAGA again made some really good points about this. People should listen to his experiences more as he is on the other side of the coin. People just fail to realise that they themselves do the exact same thing and there home country to foriegners and just not realise they are.
But are so quick to accuse others without looking in the mirror first.

JimmySeal
Sep 6, 2008, 12:16
Can no one take these comments for what they are, instead of reading so deep into them and assume that the other party is showing extreme ignorance on his/her part?

I think comments like the ones described in this thread are often taken the wrong way, but there are some that can't be seen any other way than displaying either (a) a considerable degree of ignorance, or (b) a very patronizing manner, such as ‚¨”’Žg‚¦‚ι‚́H‚·‚²```‚’I when nearly every civilized person in the world can use chopsticks, or ‚€‚ν‚ ‚ B“ϊ–{ŒκγŽθIfrom a new acquaintance, when all you've uttered is ‚Ν‚Ά‚ί‚ά‚΅‚Δ.

FrustratedDave
Sep 6, 2008, 13:00
I think comments like the ones described in this thread are often taken the wrong way, but there are some that can't be seen any other way than displaying either (a) a considerable degree of ignorance, or (b) a very patronizing manner, such as ‚¨”’Žg‚¦‚ι‚́H‚·‚²```‚’I when nearly every civilized person in the world can use chopsticks, or ‚€‚ν‚ ‚ B“ϊ–{ŒκγŽθIfrom a new acquaintance, when all you've uttered is ‚Ν‚Ά‚ί‚ά‚΅‚Δ.
But the thing is, I won't say all, but almost all Japanese when they meet someone for the first time it is just commone sense to fire an array of compliments in the manner that you speak. Eg, when people meet and they say how beautiful the other persons wife is even though she may be challenged in that area (‚ ‚Θ‚½‚Μ‰œ‚³‚ρ‚Ε‚·‚©H@‚ν‚Ÿ``‚«‚κ‚’‚Ε‚·‚ˁj, or they might commpliment you on something you own even though they don't like it. ect ,ect . Again , I will say that if anyone is taking these kind of comments to heart then you have not fully understood the Japanese culture(Or you have an are unwilling to accept it) or the tiny nuances that come with the language and the fact that they are 9 times out of 10 saying something that is just common sense, not an intent to patronize or a show of ignorance@towards foriegners.

And Jimmy can everyone use chopsticks? I know that 95% of the people in my family can't and I have 53 cousins, 15 aunti and uncles. The ones that can use them are half chinese as my uncle is married to someone who is of chinese decent. My family is of European decent.

ASHIKAGA
Sep 6, 2008, 13:28
I‚¨”’Žg‚¦‚ι‚́H‚·‚²```‚’I when nearly every civilized person in the world can use chopsticks, or ‚€‚ν‚ ‚ B“ϊ–{ŒκγŽθIfrom a new acquaintance, when all you've uttered is ‚Ν‚Ά‚ί‚ά‚΅‚Δ.

Those examples do sound very familiar. I am curious to know what everyone's response would be when finding yourselves on the receiving end of such "compliments".

FrustratedDave
Sep 6, 2008, 13:36
Those examples do sound very familiar. I am curious to know what everyone's response would be when finding yourselves on the receiving end of such "compliments".
I personally don't mind at all b/c there is no ill intent what so ever.

Glenski
Sep 6, 2008, 20:00
Those examples do sound very familiar. I am curious to know what everyone's response would be when finding yourselves on the receiving end of such "compliments".
Chopsticks compliment:
"It's not that hard."

Language compliment:
"No, not really."

FrustratedDave
Sep 6, 2008, 20:06
Chopsticks compliment:
"It's not that hard."
Language compliment:
"No, not really."
I am finding it hard to belive that you do actually like living here?

You have after all been living here for 10 years or more and should realise by now that compliments like these are part and parcel of Japan?

becki_kanou
Sep 6, 2008, 22:19
Those examples do sound very familiar. I am curious to know what everyone's response would be when finding yourselves on the receiving end of such "compliments".

I occasionally find it a little annoying to be complimented this way (again), but as someone else said, people are not saying these things out of ill-will, so why get worked up about it?

I usually just brush it off with a ‚ά‚Ÿ` or a ‚»‚κ‚Ω‚Η‚Ε‚ΰ... but sometimes I'll give a little explantion like ‘Ό‚̍‘‚Ε‚ΰ“ϊ–{—Ώ—‚β’†‰Ψ—Ώ—‚ͺl‹C‚Ȃ̂ŁA‚¨”’‚πŽg ‚¦‚ιl‚ΝŒ‹\‚’‚ά‚·‚ζB

Glenski
Sep 7, 2008, 07:13
Believe what you want, Dave. Quoting my brief responses to endlessly repeated questions is hardly a reason, especially since you don't even know the tone of my voice or the look on my face when I say those things, but it's your prerogative.

FrustratedDave
Sep 7, 2008, 14:38
Believe what you want, Dave. Quoting my brief responses to endlessly repeated questions is hardly a reason, especially since you don't even know the tone of my voice or the look on my face when I say those things, but it's your prerogative.
I just get the feeling that you are not happy with the way a lot of things are done here by a lot of the remarks in your posts as a whole. I am sorry if I have it wrong, but it just seems that way...

Glenski
Sep 8, 2008, 07:03
Do I think Japan is a perfect place? No. Neither is my home country.
Do I dislike either one? Pretty general blanket statement, to which I will also say no.

Are there elements I dislike about each? Yup.

Overall, I'm quite happy living here.

leander
Sep 15, 2008, 20:22
Much appreciation for your replies to my previous post.

Glenski, Annubis, Nanook, FrustratedDave and Ashikaga, I found your posts to be particularly helpful.

Below is a rough draft of my abstract for the presentation/workshop that I am planning:

This presentation will cover problems that sometimes occur when native Japanese attempt to communicate with foreigners. Many of these problems occur unbeknownst to the Japanese person involved, but may lead to further trouble as communication continues. Not only will this workshop help attendants avoid these problems, but it will moreover give them strategies to improve communication and gain confidence when speaking with people from other countries. Both native Japanese and non-Japanese are welcome to attend and contribute their own ideas and experiences. The workshop will be done in a combination of Japanese and English.

As the second to last sentence implies, I would like to be more of a discussion facilitator than a lecturer, bringing out the ideas and opinions of anyone who cares to voice them. The presentation is open to the public, but will probably consist mostly of middle-aged Japanese people with perhaps a few college students. Hopefully, other foreigners will also show up, and hopefully at least some of those foreigners will not be white males like myself, so that we can learn about how others experience communication in Japan differently (or similarly). I am also hoping that at least some of the Japanese people in attendance will have had experience living abroad, so that they can relate issues they had when communicating with people in those countries.

I do plan, as Glenski suggested, to "keep it light". I agree with FrustratedDave (and probably most, if not all, of the others here) that such things as "日本語上手!" to a ”はじめまして” are seldom if ever born of ill-intent and are not as big of a deal as they seem to have become on this thread. As FD and some others seem to suggest, at least some of the fault lies with foreigners who negatively interpret what has been said.

I think I will begin the presentation by relating a funny parallel experience that a Japanese native had when living abroad and then get the audience to look the other way around, putting themselves in the shoes of foreigners living here in Japan. Ashikaga, I would love to read more about situations where you felt a little irked by the assumptions others seem to have made about you during your 20+ years in the States (e.g. the "sorry we only have regular tea" incident).

This post is getting long, so I leave off here for the time being.

Thanks again and looking forward to more discussion.

Glenski
Sep 16, 2008, 07:53
When I took my first Japanese language course in the USA, the teacher herself inadvertently demonstrated a cultural communication problem.

She called a student by name to come to the front and help her demonstrate something. The name didn't sound clear enough, or the instruction itself wasn't clear enough, or the student was shy, so the teacher gestured to come.

Gesture: palm down, fingers waving inward

Student had stood up and taken a step when he saw this, then awkwardly returned to his seat.

Teacher was confused and spoke again: "Please come here next to me."

Student rose, took a step, saw the gesture again, and sat down.

Puzzled teacher and student.

I had to explain that the gesture meant to the teacher one thing, but the opposite to the student. It appeared that she was pushing away and thereby telling the student o go away or sit down.

Chidoriashi
Sep 16, 2008, 11:33
I can see this from both sides. 99% of the time, the chopsticks question etc.. won't get to you. But sometimes people have bad days and it is those days I think where things like that, when they happen, will get to you. Personally for me, i find it enjoyable most of the time to shatter peoples stereotypes, and help educate a little bit. Usually i am in a good mood and more than willing to explain to people.. things like becki said that Asian cuisine etc.. is quite popular in Western countries therefore there are probably more Westerners out there who can use chopsticks than you think.

Also i think a lot of these stereotypes got their root when the world was less internationalized, like my father for example who is 64 would be a perfect stereotypical gaijin .. blond, blues eyes cant use chopsticks to save his life. From the younger Japanese population i tend to find these questions to be quite rare, and thus most of the time coming from people of older generations.

Chopsticks compliment: I actually don't hold them properly so, i explain that i hold my pencil weird too.

Language compliment: Hmm... well one time i remember i was drunk at conbini..... and these other drunk guys eyed me.. so i think i said konbanwa or something.. and they are like nihongo jyozu desune.. and i was like.. in a joking manner.. "oh come on..i say good evening and you compliment my "great" Japanese".. and we started BSing for like 5 minutes after that, it was fun.. but most of the time.. i just decline the compliment just like a Japanese person would.

They only thing that gets on my nerves regularly these days is being with my GF and getting ignored.. and it is not so much because i am getting ignored.. but the fact that my GF is 70% deaf, and cannot even respond half of the time cuz they do not look directly at her or talk with a "big mouth" so she can read their lips.. so i try to do the talking most of the time, and it can be a fight to get them to stop trying to ask her everything and address me.

GameOver
Jan 5, 2009, 14:29
edit: long post, sorry but i got into the swing of responding...


Originally Posted by Maciamo
That's the Japanese dilema. Inferior but superior. They want to prove themselves superior (and hundreds of books were written on the subject in the 1980's), but still feel inferor because their movies never equal Hollywood, their artists rarely rival Western ones, their best baseball players move to the US, Japan is not nearly as beautiful as countries like France, Italy, the UK, Australia, or the US, Japan will always be behind the West historically, and as I see it Japan is set to stay a political dwarf subjugated to the US on the international scene.

i think this is possibly linked to their insular and... (how embarrassing for the word to escape me on line one of my response! >.<) lets say kohai/senpai | age/sage etc. mindset whereby appreciating someone else's talents automatically makes you inferior to them. its a cultural system which discourages equality to a certain extent... for example, even two similar people (age, gender, job, position, family) may be judged by society as 'this one is better than this one' because A-san's children are doing better at school, or B-san's wife follows a more traditional lifestyle and is thus more acceptable. both A-san and B-san will be aware of this societal judgement and perhaps pre-empt it by acknowledging the other's strength or admitting their own shortcomings, a perfectly standard reaction. but with gaijin, they have no frame of reference other than the stated annoying questions, assumedly learned from outdated interactions that have been mimicked over time... i wonder in fact, given the law of politeness found in japan, if it is considered rude not to ask these questions of foreigners? no implication of such by users in a thread almost 4 years old kinda indicates that's not the case, but i do wonder...


Originally Posted by Rich303
will say this though, I bet I would find it less insulting than being spat at or having my sexuality questioned because I wouldn't give a girl I didn't know a cigarette, both of which have happened to me quite recently in the UK.

being spat is highly unneccessary in pretty much every encounter someone could have, but come on, gettin called a homo is a standard insult in the uk, same as he wouldnt actually have been questioning your paternal bonds is he called you a bastard. that said, good on you for giving up the smokes! i hate strangers asking me for things in general, but when they react as if it's their right... man... ok not ranting today!


Originally Posted by ASHIKAGA
me being familiar with things you would think anyone who has lived there for 20 years would surely be familiar with ( "Wow, you know about so-and-so better than an American person!" ).

i agree with your sentiments, but this one stood out for me as i've experienced similar in my own country by visiting europeans and natives. the people i have worked with from europe were often surprised at local ignorance at aspects of the country you'd think people would know (location of famous buildings, people from history etc), "fair enough" one may think, "cultural differences mean they place a higher priority on knowing these aspects" however... i was born and raised in london, and have since moved to 2 other cities in the UK, people would often ask me this that or the other about london, as it's an area of interest to many simply because it's the capital, but 90&#37; i wouldnt be able to answer these questions, 50% of the time i would say i had zero knowledge of what they were asking "i dont know, what's that?!" (probably more, but i dont want to make myself seem entirely ignorant). my point is, people from a place often dont care about that place because it's ever present and dull, and those from elsewhere often know more about it because they have an interest, but cannot experience it, so they build a knowledge base to help them imagine it. i dont think it's uncommon for 'out-of-towners' (aka gaijin) to know more about a place than a local.


Originally Posted by FrustratedDave
I can make a comment to a friend of mine who Japanese on how beautiful his handwritten Kanji is several times over a period of time and keep doing it, just b/c I am in awe on how good he is. He is Japanese and is expected to write Japanese, so me complimenting him on his beautiful handwritting several times even though it is a given that he can write kanji is an offense to him? I actually thought this would be a compliment.

this is not a comparitive situation. your skilled friend would take that as a compliment because he is skilled in a native area. if however, you continuously complimented his handwritten english regardless of his skill, he may take offence because you would be drawing attention to the fact that he is using a foreign script and hence saying he's skilled may suggest you never realised that people who use ideaograms were able to write using roman letters.


Originally Posted by FrustratedDave
You have after all been living here for 10 years or more and should realise by now that compliments like these are part and parcel of Japan?

doesn't make it less annoying though. a similar phenomenon is often felt by british people in america, when shop clerks are overly eager to assist a customer shopping (feels like you're being pressured), but its still standard procedure. and to make it fair (i feel im being too anti-everywhere) many european friends find it ridiculous that you are expected to have chips/fries with every meal when eating out over here. (it's not true, but... well, it kinda is :p true enough to see their point at least)

WOO POTATOES!



Originally Posted by leander
I do plan, as Glenski suggested, to "keep it light". I agree with FrustratedDave (and probably most, if not all, of the others here) that such things as "日本語上手!" to a ”はじめまして” are seldom if ever born of ill-intent and are not as big of a deal as they seem to have become on this thread. As FD and some others seem to suggest, at least some of the fault lies with foreigners who negatively interpret what has been said.

i guess i half agree with you, i don't believe this process is deliberatly insulting, it's not like they're being sarcastic, and taking offence will make you get annoyed faster than if you take it lightly, but... it doesnt make these questions any less insipid and/or mindless. i would equate it to praising a child for a picture scrawled in crayon, you say to the child "wow! that's amazing! well done!" but realistically, its a piece of crap, it's only praiseworthy because they are at that level and to treat foreigners in this way is insulting. i wouldnt mind if my japanese was amazing and someone praised me for it, assuming i had demonstrated said amazingness and not just uttered ”はじめまして"

i'll save other thoughts for a future post because that was painfully long...

Echigo
Jan 5, 2009, 16:37
Can't tell you how many times I've had Japanese people come up to me and try their English out of the blue. Worse than that is when you ask something to someone in Japanese and they make something last for minutes that should to 3 seconds to say as they insist on replying in their very limited and crappy English.

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 8, 2009, 20:52
lets say kohai/senpai | age/sage etc. mindset whereby appreciating someone else's talents automatically makes you inferior to them. its a cultural system which discourages equality to a certain extent...

That's an interesting point ! I haven't given much thought before, but it could be true. Japanese people will tell you that Japan is an egalitarian society, but interractions always seem to have one person outranking the other(s). This could be a desperate way to distinguish themselves from their neighbour in this overly homogenous and egalitarian society.

But is being complimented on one's Japanese a sign that the complimenter think of you as hierarchically superior ?

Glenski
Jan 8, 2009, 22:34
but with gaijin, they have no frame of reference other than the stated annoying questions, assumedly learned from outdated interactions that have been mimicked over time... i wonder in fact, given the law of politeness found in japan, if it is considered rude not to ask these questions of foreigners? no implication of such by users in a thread almost 4 years old kinda indicates that's not the case, but i do wonder...Politeness has nothing to do with it. It's all curiosity based on a (still) insular mentality.


my point is, people from a place often dont care about that place because it's ever present and dull, and those from elsewhere often know more about it because they have an interest, but cannot experience it, so they build a knowledge base to help them imagine it. i dont think it's uncommon for 'out-of-towners' (aka gaijin) to know more about a place than a local.I agree to a point, but have you watched the quiz shows here? Some of the questions center around being able to identify people or locations (in or outside Japan) from their pictures. The same people or locations crop up all the time. Rote memorization again. They know where the XYZ obelisk is in Japan because they have seen it on TV so many times. They know a certain writer for the same reason.


Originally Posted by FrustratedDave
I can make a comment to a friend of mine who Japanese on how beautiful his handwritten Kanji is several times over a period of time and keep doing it, just b/c I am in awe on how good he is. He is Japanese and is expected to write Japanese, so me complimenting him on his beautiful handwritting several times even though it is a given that he can write kanji is an offense to him? I actually thought this would be a compliment.

this is not a comparitive situation. your skilled friend would take that as a compliment because he is skilled in a native area."Skilled"? Japanese spend 12 years of their lives endlessly learning about 2000 kanji with exacting stroke order and shape (and a zillion meanings to go with various pronunciations). It is not a skill, as much as it is a part of their lives.


if however, you continuously complimented his handwritten english regardless of his skill, he may take offence because you would be drawing attention to the fact that he is using a foreign script and hence saying he's skilled may suggest you never realised that people who use ideaograms were able to write using roman letters.Personally, if someone told me continuously something like that, I'd slap him for the repetition. Once, thanks. Twice, gee you're really impressed with this thing I've been FORCED to do. Three times, get over it.




Originally Posted by FrustratedDave
You have after all been living here for 10 years or more and should realise by now that compliments like these are part and parcel of Japan?

doesn't make it less annoying though. a similar phenomenon is often felt by british people in america, when shop clerks are overly eager to assist a customer shopping (feels like you're being pressured), but its still standard procedureSorry, but now it is you who is not comparing fairly. Sales people have a vocational obligation to do that. Japanese people asking those insipid questions are just curious.


it doesnt make these questions any less insipid and/or mindless. i would equate it to praising a child for a picture scrawled in crayon, you say to the child "wow! that's amazing! well done!" but realistically, its a piece of crap, it's only praiseworthy because they are at that level Again, I think you are comparing apples and oranges here. Someone says "arigato" and only that, and a Japanese person will toss out compliments on his Japanese language ability. Gimme a break. You don't even KNOW my level, and even so, to dispense compliments over just a word or two is silly and UNrealistic.

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 8, 2009, 23:12
But I was actually asked identically similar dumb questions like the mentioned in this thread by men, who felt very uneasy facing my educational level, my amount of knowledge or experience or anything they would consider "superior".
.
.
.
It was kind of a frightening experience, seeing myself really attached to completely insane or dumb sets of ideas. But, interestingly, it only happened towards people I considered inferior, mostly at times I felt very uneasy about myself and very unhappy about my life in generally.
.
.
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So lets face it: the Japanese people show a worldwide common behavior of people, who feel great insecurity about their "position", while at the same time feeling the need of having a certain rank. They are most likely unhappy and feeling inferior.

In the first quoted paragraph, you say that dumb (prejudicial) questions are asked by people who are uneasy because they see you as superior.

In the second paragraph, you explain that you only had such prejudice against people who you consider to be inferior.

In the third paragraph, you blame the prejudices on the Japanese' sense of inferiority.

So it seems that in your experience the Japanese you met were uneasy and prejudiced against you as a foreigner because they felt inferior. But you only held similar prejudice when you felt superior to others.

That's interesting because I have the same experience. So why is it that we (as Westerners) are more prejudiced against people who we see as inferior, but the opposite is true of the Japanese ? That's an interesting culture difference.

Or perhaps the Japanese are prejudiced towards foreigners both when they feel inferior and superior, or a combination of both feelings (something certainly common when interracting with educated foreigners whose attitude may conflict with the propriety of Japanese culture).

One sure thing is that the Japanese have a natural inclination to feel inferior (lack of self-esteem), whereas Westerners often suffer from the opposite (excess of self-esteem). This can be observed in the expression of personal opinions. The Japanese try to avoid it, or give up quickly when someone disagrees. Westerners are often eager to express their opinion, and will often fight when meeting disagreement. Self-esteem.

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 8, 2009, 23:25
I suppose how many times / how often you are asked these things certainly depends on how many people you meet or are introduced to formally, and then associate with informally.

What do you mean by formally and informally ? I am not familiar with the concept. Does being introduced to someone formally mean that someone you know introduced you to someone else and explained your "background" ? I can imagine that strangers, like shopkeepers, are informal relations. But what about workmates, friends who were introduced by other friends, etc. ? I cannot see clearly where you draw the line between formal and informal.

Do you expect to be asked more of these questions by formal or informal relations ?



Honestly, there are questions like this that I'm sure people who are new to America.
"Do you need help making change/with directions/finding something local/with language?" these all seem like international questions to me.

These are practical questions that people ask everywhere. I think that the author of this topic meant culturally biased questions or reactions.


Japan only has more specialized ones (chopstick, natto, reading/writing japanese) because they are unique culturally.

Chopsticks are more Chinese than Japanese to me.

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 9, 2009, 00:04
I am hard pressed to find a more arrogant thread showing all the bad qualities foriegners can possibly have. To the OP, (even though he is not around anymore) if I ever get the chance to go to your house as a guest, remind me to tell you how I want to be treated...

You are assuming that a foreigner in Japan cannot live there as if he were "home". Foreigners in Japan, like in any other country, can also buy their house in Japan and be part of society, as opposed to temporary guests or tourists.

I was born and grew up in a different country from where I have lived for half of my life until now. I find it offensive that people would think that I am just a guest after so many years. That is why I sympathise with the OP.

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 9, 2009, 00:28
I am finding it hard to see the relation to your analogy and the intent of the original post??? I have never been treated like a baby.
Don't do the following things or act this way.
#1. Ask questions about food
#2. Ask questions about the weather & seasons
#3. Ask questions regarding general abilities
#4. Addressing a Westerner in a public place
#5. If addressed by a Westerner in Japanese
Just b/c the original poster can now do all the things he stated or has now reached a level where he does not want to be asked or acted upon in a certain way all Japanese should not ask these things??? That to me me is the height of arrogance.

Do you really have to learn and practise to be able to eat sushi or be used to different seasons ?

Anyway the OP made some point about the way the Japanese should ask their questions and proposed better alternatives. I think that it is praiseworthy. I agree that I would be at a loss if someone asked me if I could eat fish. Can I, if you defy me ? Do I like fish in general ? What fish in particular ? Do I want to eat some now ? I wouldn't know what to think and how to answer such a question.



I had no idea what Japanese foods I could or could not eat and I learnt a great deal from questions about what food I could or could not eat.

So how did you answer the questions ? Say, if you have never eaten natto and people asked you if you could eat it, what would you answer ? Well, I suppose that you had better try all kind of foods quickly if you didn't want to answer "I don't know" every time you were asked.

I haven't lived in Japan, but I would be annoyed if people always asked me the same questions all the time. When I visited the country I was asked such questions by a lot of people I met. It must get tiring after a while. I don't think that is a sensible way to socialise.


Questions about the weather, I did not even know that Japan had seasons were so different. Where I come from spring summer and autum are almost the same temperature.... very hot, so there is no four seasons like japan where I came from.

Come on, 90&#37; of Westerners come from temperate regions with 4 seasons. If you come from Florida or Arizona you are really the exception rather than the rule. All Europe is temperate.


Every now and again I get asked what I can eat and what I don't like, but isn't that only natural for people to be curious of someone who has come from a different culture?

Do you ask Japanese people what they can eat and can't eat ? I would ask people what are their favourite dishes or what they dislike in general, but not be specific about a dish (let's say spaghetti vongole) and ask everyone I meet if they can eat it.

pipokun
Jan 9, 2009, 22:15
I agree that I would be at a loss if someone asked me if I could eat fish.

Can I, if you defy me ?
If yes, he/she may suggest to order fish
If no, the guy may suggest something different.
If you don't want fish then, the guy may order what you like.

Do I like fish in general ?
Ask him/her. Nobody expects you to give somebody one right answer, and that is the communication, a chain of questions and answers, wherever you are or whoever you talk to. Of course, you have an option to stop talking.

What fish in particular ?
Ditto.

Do I want to eat some now ?
Ditto.

I wouldn't know what to think and how to answer such a question.
Ditto.


About the seasons, just ask a Japanese person a simple question, "Did you learn 4 seasons ONLY in Japan at school. If possible, you start talking to your own 4 season embedded or coded culture with him/her.

caster51
Jan 12, 2009, 00:36
You are assuming that a foreigner in Japan cannot live there as if he were "home". Foreigners in Japan, like in any other country, can also buy their house in Japan and be part of society, as opposed to temporary guests or tourists.

I was born and grew up in a different country from where I have lived for half of my life until now. I find it offensive that people would think that I am just a guest after so many years. That is why I sympathise with the OP

A lot of foreigners think it to be a very unpleasant ...
however, most of them will go home sooner or later...
of course, if you have a family in japan and a certain purpose of future in japan, it would be another story.

anyway, these are nice ,,


Japan is different from your home country. Unless you grew up in Japan, you will counter many cultural differences. Some may be pleasant surprises, some might not. When you can't do or get something you're used to, deal with it. That's life here. Beware of the phrase "Where I'm from." Japan is not where you are not where you are from, so don't expect things to be the same. It sounds obvious, but the first time you try to do something you can't do, you will be frustrated. Deal with it, as that's all you can do. The more you try to live like a native, the easier time you'll have. And on that note...

There are a lot of cultural rules. Try to learn them. There are a lot of cultural do's and dont's, and there is a big difference between what is legal and what's socially acceptable. You won't get arrested for drinking beer on the train and loudly talking, but it's rude. Even if you don't care, every time a non-Japanese person makes an *** of themselves, it makes everyone look bad. There are plenty of books on etiquette in Japan, so pick one up or check one out at your library

People will like/dislike you because you're different. Know this. Some people are racist. If you've never dealt with racism, you may very well in Japan. People will treat you differently just because you're not Japanese. Some people will love you just for being a foreigner, some will hate you. There is nothing you can do about it, so just accept it and try to enjoy it when you can.

Don't ask too many questions. It's great to ask questions! It's a great way to learn, but you will find some things that make NO sense. Don't try to figure everything out, because you'll only get frustrated. Sometimes things are the way they are just because that's how they are and that's how they've been for a long time. Accept things the way they are and don't question it. Some answers you will find in time and some you won't. That's life.

HAVE FUN! Japan is a great place to live if you can put up with the downsides and enjoy the ups. Cultural and language barriers can be rough, so can social interactions, as the way people interact is quite different, but that's life. Make your time in Japan the best you can, if it's just a few months, a few years, or life.

http://notjustvisiting.blogspot.com/search?updated-min=2009-01-01T00&#37;3A00%3A00%2B09%3A00&updated-max=2010-01-01T00%3A00%3A00%2B09%3A00&max-results=6

Skipphead
Jan 12, 2009, 13:28
Wow. My blog was linked. Thanks for reading.

I thought I'd weigh in on the chopsticks/eating/seasons/etc. comments. I've got some understanding of sociology from studying in America and Japan.

For the "Can eat" thing, it's purely semantics. Saying "can" implies a physical ability. Of course I CAN, but it doesn't mean I WANT TO. Asking "Do you like" is way better. There are food allergy/dietary concerns but that generally isn't why the question is asked. When my friends ask me if I can, I tell them it's not a big deal, but next time it's better to say "do you like?"

For the chopsticks, it does get annoying, but mainly because it's based on previous stereotypes that due to my home country/race I can't do something, which is mildly insulting. Sure, a lot of people can't use chopsticks, but if you live in Japan, it should be assumed you can handle them. Instead of getting angry or frustrated, I simply ask people "Why shouldn't I be able to?" and try to reconstruct their stereotypes.

For the 4 seasons, I say that Northern California does not have 4 distinct seasons, but Boston very much does. I don't feel the need to ask why they think only Japan has 4 seasons, but if someone keeps mentioning it, I will ask them why they believe Japan is unique in this way, which usually goes back to education.

As for over dramatic language compliments, I understand Japanese culture enough to know such compliments are part of society, but the only time I am really puzzled is when people say my Japanese is great when I only speak English to them, which has happened a lot. In reality, there aren't very many foreigners in Japan that are good at Japanese, so it is an appropriate reaction to be surprised.

As far as addressing someone in Japanese and being responded to in English, I am aware that I have an American English accent when I speak Japanese, and it would be naive of me to assume the person I'm talking to didn't pick up on this. It can be frustrating, but I know the people I'm talking to are usually genuinely trying to help. If I don't understand someone's poor English, I find that it's a lot better to ask for clarification in Japanese. The pointing and gestures are rude and Japanese people should be aware of that, but I don't find it bothersome, I just wish Japanese people were aware that it could be considered so.

My girlfriend has had a bit of a similar problem, as she is Japanese, speaks fluent English and dresses much more European than most Japanese women. When with me, I've seen more than once people start talking to her in English. She gets annoyed when it's in business situations like banks and shops, but when it's some guy on the street, she lets them have their fun and pretends she's from Ireland (where she used to study).

As far as being addressed in a public place, it rarely happens to me, but when it does I am a bit surprised. I live in Tokyo, and it's uncommon to randomly talk to a stranger here, so it's outside cultural norms to do such, and the assumption that I'm a foreigner so it's okay is a bit offensive. It's also not rare to see a foreigner here, tourist or otherwise. When I travel outside the Tokyo metropolitan area, I often get someone trying to strike up a conversation. I don't know the cultural rules of small towns, but I assume it's odd to talk to (Japanese) strangers, but I am aware that while traveling, especially with my camera, I look like a tourist because I am one. Does anyone have an opinion on talking to strangers in small towns?

What it all really comes down to is education. Japanese people are not really educated on how to deal with non-Japanese, or often worse, falsely educated due to stereotypes and prejudice. It does no one any good to take offense to often well intended but misguided comments. The best that can be done is whenever someone says something that they shouldn't, try in a friendly or joking manner to correct them and move on with life.

Sorry for the long post, but I found the topic really interesting.

Skipphead
Jan 12, 2009, 13:40
A lot of foreigners think it to be a very unpleasant ...
however, most of them will go home sooner or later...
of course, if you have a family in japan and a certain purpose of future in japan, it would be another story.


It is true that most foreigners do leave eventually, but it's rude to assume they will.

Glad you liked my post. Foreigners here may or may not be temporary guests, but they are living in a country with different cultural rules than their home land. I'm sure most people here for the long haul have no problem with that. On the other hand, Japanese people need to take a long look at how they deal with foreigners. Of course, that is not at all unique to Japan, but Japan is the topic here.

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 12, 2009, 20:08
For the 4 seasons, I say that Northern California does not have 4 distinct seasons, but Boston very much does.

When I read this thread I didn't think about how Americans would answer the 4 season question. As a European I assumed that a country either had 4 seasons or didn't (in the case of tropical countries). But now I realise the irony in the Japanese stereotypes discussed here. On the one hand they frequently assume that a Westerner is American, and on the other they ask these supposed Americans if their country has 4 seasons. How could an American answer that without explaining the huge climatic variations between Alaska and Hawaii. I suppose that 3/4 of US states have 4 seasons, and only the southern ones don't. But the same is true of Japan. Okinawa is as tropical as Florida or Hawaii.

caster51
Jan 12, 2009, 20:51
Most Japanese never think there is four season only in Japan as Geographically common sense...
However, The Japanese will answer that there are wonderful four seasons in Japan.
if there are 4 season in your country. too, You only have to answer that there are also in my country.... that is it.

The four seasons for Japanese is neither only a climate, a
temperature nor scenery.
it means how much the season and lifestyle, manners and food etc be close...

BTw, i think Japan has five seasons.
There are 24 seasons in the Japanese calendar .

A ke bono kane kotto
Jan 13, 2009, 04:59
The four seasons for Japanese is neither only a climate, a
temperature nor scenery.
it means how much the season and lifestyle, manners and food etc be close...
BTw, i think Japan has five seasons.
There are 24 seasons in the Japanese calendar .

If you think like this, we have countless seasons here too : the hunting season, the foie gras season, the tulip season, the strawberry season, and so on. Food and lifestyle change at least once a month here.

Glenski
Jan 13, 2009, 20:54
A lot of foreigners think it to be a very unpleasant ...
however, most of them will go home sooner or later...
Does anyone else but me see the connection between these two lines of thought?


BTw, i think Japan has five seasons.Yup, in parts of the USA, too. It's called road repair.


BTw, i think Japan has five seasons.
There are 24 seasons in the Japanese calendar . More self-contradictory gibberish.
5 vs 24? Pick.

undrentide
Jan 13, 2009, 21:08
BTw, i think Japan has five seasons.
There are 24 seasons in the Japanese calendar .
More self-contradictory gibberish.
5 vs 24? Pick.

The first sentence seems to be caster's own idea, and I think caster is referring to “ρ\Žlί‹C with the second one.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_term
(Actually it originally came from China, so it is not "Japanese calendar", to be precise...)

Sorry, this post is off-topic-ish, and and the above is just an observation, I'm not particularly for or against caster's opinion about the seasons in Japan.
:p

FrustratedDave
Jan 14, 2009, 10:45
You are assuming that a foreigner in Japan cannot live there as if he were "home". Foreigners in Japan, like in any other country, can also buy their house in Japan and be part of society, as opposed to temporary guests or tourists.
I was born and grew up in a different country from where I have lived for half of my life until now. I find it offensive that people would think that I am just a guest after so many years. That is why I sympathise with the OP.
No I didn't as I own my house and land here in Japan. And just to clarify the OP had lived here for about 3 years when he made the thread, so yes telling people how to act is arrogant. In the real world people who live here and have equal ability in spoken Japanese as a native will very rarely be asked a lot of these questions. The problem is those with accents or broken Japanese will ultimately be thought of as someone who has lived here for a limited time or was not brought up here. So don't try and shift the blame on to the Japanese for a forienger being treated the way they are.

Do you really have to learn and practise to be able to eat sushi or be used to different seasons ?
Anyway the OP made some point about the way the Japanese should ask their questions and proposed better alternatives. I think that it is praiseworthy. I agree that I would be at a loss if someone asked me if I could eat fish. Can I, if you defy me ? Do I like fish in general ? What fish in particular ? Do I want to eat some now ? I wouldn't know what to think and how to answer such a question.
So how did you answer the questions ? Say, if you have never eaten natto and people asked you if you could eat it, what would you answer ? Well, I suppose that you had better try all kind of foods quickly if you didn't want to answer "I don't know" every time you were asked.
What do you expect? Small talk is in every society and just b/c the small talk of most Japanese does not sit with you well it is nessecary to explain to them about what they should and shouldn't ask. And if you have not tried natto and you haven't you would answer "I haven't eaten it yet, what does it taste like?", or "what is it?".

I am starting to wonder if it would be safe to ask you any questions at all. How would you answer to a question like this "Do you like scuba diving?" If you have not done that how would answer? You point is ridiculus on being asked question you don't know how to anwser, I mean why bother even talking then? Maybe you could like write on your forehead, "Only ask questions that I know the answer too". Or "only talk about stuff I want to talk about".

Everytime you meet new people, you are inevetably going to induce the same line of questioning in most cases.

I haven't lived in Japan, but I would be annoyed if people always asked me the same questions all the time. When I visited the country I was asked such questions by a lot of people I met. It must get tiring after a while. I don't think that is a sensible way to socialise.
Come on, 90&#37; of Westerners come from temperate regions with 4 seasons. If you come from Florida or Arizona you are really the exception rather than the rule. All Europe is temperate.
Do you ask Japanese people what they can eat and can't eat ? I would ask people what are their favourite dishes or what they dislike in general, but not be specific about a dish (let's say spaghetti vongole) and ask everyone I meet if they can eat it. It is not about what you would or would not ask. What people decide to talk about when small talk is taking place is part of this culture, what I mean is that food and whether is a very big part of this culture so it is only natural that Japanese will want to talk about it, especially to someone from another country.

caster51
Jan 14, 2009, 10:48
The first sentence seems to be caster's own idea, and I think caster is referring to “ρ\Žlί‹C with the second one.

and,Zassetsu
http://www.nao.ac.jp/koyomi/faq/24sekki.html.en

Glenski
Jan 14, 2009, 22:20
Originally Posted by A ke bono kane kotto
I was born and grew up in a different country from where I have lived for half of my life until now. I find it offensive that people would think that I am just a guest after so many years. Get used to it if you intend to live in Japan. It's offensive to many of us, but it's a fact of life.

pipokun
Jan 14, 2009, 22:53
For the "Can eat" thing, it's purely semantics. Saying "can" implies a physical ability.

Right, but you intentionally forget the two words, "in English".

Your next step may be to consider the semantics in both English and Japanese.

***snip***
Just curious, but I am wondering how different she is.

dresses much more European than most Japanese women
If it is not how, enlighten me what she usually wears to be an Irish woman, please. (I am not fashion-conscious, though)

Skipphead
Jan 16, 2009, 23:36
Right, but you intentionally forget the two words, "in English".

Your next step may be to consider the semantics in both English and Japanese.

***snip***
Just curious, but I am wondering how different she is.

If it is not how, enlighten me what she usually wears to be an Irish woman, please. (I am not fashion-conscious, though)

You're right about the semantics in English. When speaking Japanese, the story is different, but if we are talking about what not to say in English, only English semantics apply. I didn't intentionally forget English, I just assumed that 'in English' was understood, as this whole thread is in English.

As for my girlfriend who dresses different, she usually wears vintage 60's or 70's jackets, slightly ripped jeans, knit hats that aren't often seen around here, bright colors other than pink, and some other things that just aren't common. She also has short, naturally black hair cut in a kind of a bob and likes dramatic eyeliner and multicolored lipstick. She never carries a proper purse, and instead uses Irish reusable grocery bags and old backpacks. Over the summer, she used to wear tank tops and spike her hair straight up, as it was much shorter. The point is, she doesn't look like most Japanese women I see around here. I can't blame anyone for thinking she's not Japanese. Honestly, if I just saw her on a train, I'd think she was a foreigner too.

pipokun
Jan 17, 2009, 19:02
You're right about the semantics in English. When speaking Japanese, the story is different, but if we are talking about what not to say in English, only English semantics apply. I didn't intentionally forget English, I just assumed that 'in English' was understood, as this whole thread is in English.

The point is, she doesn't look like most Japanese women I see around here. I can't blame anyone for thinking she's not Japanese. Honestly, if I just saw her on a train, I'd think she was a foreigner too.

A point of this thread is what not to say in English in Japan, so not only English semantics, but different stories also apply here. The Can story is nothing but a small talk in Japanese after all.

Even for someone like you properly educated without stereotypes or prejudice make mistakes, the story when you met her, so it is fair and natural for falsely educated Japanese to make mistakes.

Hopefully you ask your girlfriend if she learned 4 seasons ONLY in Japan at school, for it may take ages before A ke bono kane kotto gets the answer from a Japanese.

*snip
I don't know if her fashion represents Irish, but she must be beautiful as well as fashion-conscious.
Thanks, anyways.

Skipphead
Jan 17, 2009, 21:37
The Can comment has been said to me by some people who are quite smart and good in English. A few times, I've met someone who said "Can you eat..." and then corrected themselves with "Do you like..."

Although the "Can you eat natto?" question I understand as many people, Japanese or otherwise, can't stomach the stuff. On the other hand, I love it.

I asked my girlfriend about the 4 seasons. She said she learned a lot about the world from her well educated and internationally minded mother, so I can't at all say what is taught in school.

Maybe her fashion sense isn't very Irish, as I must admit I've never been to Ireland, but I know it's not very Japanese and those are the only two countries she's lived in. She is quite lovely, thanks.

pipokun
Jan 18, 2009, 17:52
So the can story is just a story about the cultural difference in usage of different languages. For some, it is an offensive story, for others, just a small talk.



I asked my girlfriend about the 4 seasons. She said she learned a lot about the world from her well educated and internationally minded mother, so I can't at all say what is taught in school.

I cannot say anything about her mother. I sometimes notice something like "younger generation is different in Japan", but her mother is a great example, older generation is also different here.

If she had not been educated in Ireland or wherever outside Japan for all her school life, it is easier for her to tell you a bit about what she did in school, I suppose. I don't deny she met some stupid students believing in "4 season in Japan" in the past, but this is also the same in other countries except Belgium as in the provocative John Stossel's program, 'Stupid in America'. No Stossel here, but I often watch "Learn from the great Indian/Finnish or wherever education" here.

starlitdreams2
Aug 6, 2009, 14:54
No I didn't as I own my house and land here in Japan. And just to clarify the OP had lived here for about 3 years when he made the thread, so yes telling people how to act is arrogant. In the real world people who live here and have equal ability in spoken Japanese as a native will very rarely be asked a lot of these questions. The problem is those with accents or broken Japanese will ultimately be thought of as someone who has lived here for a limited time or was not brought up here. So don't try and shift the blame on to the Japanese for a forienger being treated the way they are.

What do you expect? Small talk is in every society and just b/c the small talk of most Japanese does not sit with you well it is nessecary to explain to them about what they should and shouldn't ask. And if you have not tried natto and you haven't you would answer "I haven't eaten it yet, what does it taste like?", or "what is it?".

I am starting to wonder if it would be safe to ask you any questions at all. How would you answer to a question like this "Do you like scuba diving?" If you have not done that how would answer? You point is ridiculus on being asked question you don't know how to anwser, I mean why bother even talking then? Maybe you could like write on your forehead, "Only ask questions that I know the answer too". Or "only talk about stuff I want to talk about".

Everytime you meet new people, you are inevetably going to induce the same line of questioning in most cases.
It is not about what you would or would not ask. What people decide to talk about when small talk is taking place is part of this culture, what I mean is that food and whether is a very big part of this culture so it is only natural that Japanese will want to talk about it, especially to someone from another country.
in USA, I regularly get asked, especially by stranger men, if my blonde hair is real as opposed to colored. Not only is this overpersonal, rude,and embarassing but no one asks if a brunette's hair is really brown or black although many brunettes have colored hair! This prejudice is upsetting to natural blonde haired teens and women-- as are the blonde jokes. Any questions or jokes that single out "foreigners" are equally rude and embarassing to them, so those questions should be rephrased or stopped. Period. End of story.

starlitdreams2
Aug 6, 2009, 15:11
racism should be challenged, not tolerated. Why would it bother you who are afraid to speak up, he who does not fight evil helps evil.
Get used to it if you intend to live in Japan. It's offensive to many of us, but it's a fact of life.
racism should be actively challenged in all nations.

Get used to it if you intend to live in Japan. It's offensive to many of us, but it's a fact of life.
racism unchallenged leads to genocide.

FrustratedDave
Aug 6, 2009, 17:21
in USA, I regularly get asked, especially by stranger men, if my blonde hair is real as opposed to colored. Not only is this overpersonal, rude,and embarassing but no one asks if a brunette's hair is really brown or black although many brunettes have colored hair! This prejudice is upsetting to natural blonde haired teens and women-- as are the blonde jokes. Any questions or jokes that single out "foreigners" are equally rude and embarassing to them, so those questions should be rephrased or stopped. Period. End of story.
Who said anything about jokes about foreigners? And getting upset about being asked what ones hair color is, that must really be an embarrasing question... Must be b/c 90% of the population who die their hair go a lighter color. Maybe you should take that up with them? When you come back from fairy land maybe we can talk about reality and coping with it? I am sure there are groups around...

racism should be challenged, not tolerated. Why would it bother you who are afraid to speak up, he who does not fight evil helps evil.Yep, asking someone if they have eaten something that is typically only eaten by Japanese is racism? Or what seasons you have back where you are from is racism? Again, when you come back from fairy land...

racism should be actively challenged in all nations.
racism unchallenged leads to genocide.
Everyone run, get out of Japan... genocide is on the horizon!!!

ASHIKAGA
Aug 6, 2009, 18:16
racism should be challenged, not tolerated. Why would it bother you who are afraid to speak up, he who does not fight evil helps evil.
racism should be actively challenged in all nations.
racism unchallenged leads to genocide.
We are talking about ignorant/silly things Japanese natives say to foreigners (or people who look "foreign"). In the real world that most of us live in, making a big fuss everytime a Japanese person asks you "Can you use chopsticks?/ Can you eat natto?" would only hurt your relationships with your neighbors and co-workers, especially when it is done with the kind of "all-or-nothing/black-and-white" attitude.

I think I have written about this before but when my college friend came to stay with us years ago, my mother went out and bought McDonald's burgers "just in case he wouldn't like the Japanese meals". Was it the evil racism that if unchecked, would lead to genocide that made her assume he would much prefer burgers just because he was an American? I think not. Did my friend get offended? No. He asked me to tell her that he really appreciated her being so considerate but he loved Japanese food and she would not have to prepare special meals for him.

While I think it WOULD have gotten pretty annoying to my friend if he had gotten the same kind of treatment over and over and over from everyone, still I highly doubt that he, or anyone whom I consider to be a reasonable, well-ballanced adult would have dealt with the offender/s in a confrontational manner.

I admit that there used to be a time when stuff like that bothered me to no end and I let everyone around me know about it. Now that I am older, I would like to think now I am able to deal with such situations with grace like my friend did then.

starlitdreams2
Aug 6, 2009, 19:00
Who said anything about jokes about foreigners? And getting upset about being asked what ones hair color is, that must really be an embarrasing question... Must be b/c 90% of the population who die their hair go a lighter color. Maybe you should take that up with them? When you come back from fairy land maybe we can talk about reality and coping with it? I am sure there are groups around...
Yep, asking someone if they have eaten something that is typically only eaten by Japanese is racism? Or what seasons you have back where you are from is racism? Again, when you come back from fairy land...
Everyone run, get out of Japan... genocide is on the horizon!!!

Making others uncomfortable because they are different in some way is racism. If someone asked YOU if you had a nose job or breast implants, you wouldnt like it, or whatever the male equivalent for this, and you would feel shamed by the inquery alone.
Foreigners deserve respect and consideration and not to be told they should tolerate racism in any form!
Holocaust Germany is proof that long-term racism leads to eventual extermination of the peoples discriminated against, starting from hidden biases.
By the way, you are in fantasy land, not I, on this subject. Only 20% of population go light who buy color and 95% of colors sold are black, brown, or red shades. you just notice blondes more. So there is no legitimate reason to ask blondes if they are really blonde or to ask if their hair below matches hair on top. This is sexist and racist.
have you eaten or do you like sushi is fine, can you eat it is not unless you are saying all foreigners are allergic to it or have no teeth to eat it with.:relief:

starlitdreams2
Aug 6, 2009, 19:16
Making others uncomfortable because they are different in some way is racism. If someone asked YOU if you had a nose job or breast implants, you wouldnt like it, or whatever the male equivalent for this, and you would feel shamed by the inquery alone.
Foreigners deserve respect and consideration and not to be told they should tolerate racism in any form!
Holocaust Germany is proof that long-term racism leads to eventual extermination of the peoples discriminated against, starting from hidden biases.
By the way, you are in fantasy land, not I, dave, on this subject. Only 20% of USA population go light that buy color and 95% of colors sold are black, brown, or red shades. Men just notice blondes more. So there is no legitimate reason to ask blondes if they are really blonde or to ask if their hair below matches hair on top. That is sexist and racist and very rude.
Now, have you eaten or do you like sushi is fine, but can you eat it is not (unless you are saying all foreigners are allergic to it or have no teeth to eat it with).:relief:
No one says :can you go to the bathroom?

starlitdreams2
Aug 6, 2009, 19:37
It is true that most foreigners do leave eventually, but it's rude to assume they will.
Glad you liked my post. Foreigners here may or may not be temporary guests, but they are living in a country with different cultural rules than their home land. I'm sure most people here for the long haul have no problem with that. On the other hand, Japanese people need to take a long look at how they deal with foreigners. Of course, that is not at all unique to Japan, but Japan is the topic here.
If more peoples came and stayed in Japan eventually more acceptance of other cultures would develop.... but it has to permeate tv and movies first.:relief:

FrustratedDave
Aug 6, 2009, 21:42
Making others uncomfortable because they are different in some way is racism. If someone asked YOU if you had a nose job or breast implants, you wouldnt like it, or whatever the male equivalent for this, and you would feel shamed by the inquery alone.
LOL... You must live in a bubble. I don't think there would be a day go by where someone was not made feel unconfortable by a remark or conversation they were in. Let alone someone looking at you the wrong way. I cringe when I think of your mindset in regards to human interaction.

Foreigners deserve respect and consideration and not to be told they should tolerate racism in any form!
They deserve no more respect than a Japanese person. And this is where you are showing your ignorance, most Japanese people will go above and beyond to make a foriegner feel welcome. They will try there best to make conversation wheather it be about food or where you come from, just so you don't feel along or left out. But it looks like you know nothing about Japan or Japanese people from what I have seen so far.


By the way, you are in fantasy land, not I, on this subject. Only 20&#37; of population go light who buy color and 95% of colors sold are black, brown, or red shades. you just notice blondes more. So there is no legitimate reason to ask blondes if they are really blonde or to ask if their hair below matches hair on top. This is sexist and racist.
have you eaten or do you like sushi is fine, can you eat it is not unless you are saying all foreigners are allergic to it or have no teeth to eat it with.:relief:
Get a grip, if you can't tell when someone is being sarcastic, pack your toys up and go home now, so I am not going to get into an argument of hair dye. But I did think it would be fun to see what the demographics for hair dye was and your stats are wrong, supprise, supprise. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m4021/is_2002_July_1/ai_89374133/pg_2/?tag=content;col1

And there is no legitimate reason to ask someone if they like Starbucks coffee is there? I would hate to live in a world where your rules prevailed, communication of any sort would have to be deemed inapropriate b/c saying one thing today my instigate a completely different reaction from the same person tomorrow depending on his or her mood.

And the expression "can you eat something" carrys a completely different connotation when used in Japanese. So give it a rest, most people can't get past their English brains for second to realize that this is just another form of small talk, looks like you are one them too.

No one says :can you go to the bathroom?
Now you are just being stupid.

Onitsuka ChihiroLove
Oct 22, 2009, 04:52
Wow...beautiful text. I was long interested in the relationship between respect and politeness. I knew that in Japan there is a lot of politeness, but I didn't know if they really respected foreigners...so I went into google and typed "Japanese respect vs politeness" and somehow I stumbled onto this article. I am very very ignorant about Japanese culture, I have never been to Japan, all I know about Japan is their music and a little bit of the food (at least, I know the version they serve in my country). So yes I started to love Japan because people seemed SO nice and so kind and so considerate of others...but also I heard about how they perceived foreigners, and it broke my heart a little bit...because I am planning to live in Japan and be an architect there (I love Japanese modern architecture)...so I didn't want Japanese to hate me:( I am 19 years old and I have everything to discover...right now, after reading 5 pages of the threads spread out on 3 years in this forum (wow!), and after reading that text you put up, I think I am totally, fully 100% willing to to go Japan and submit myself to the culture there! I am full-heartedly willing to accept the way they see me as a stranger, to accept the way they treat me and treat each other, and I am totally willing to learn not just to accept, but learn to LOVE the cultural rules and cherish them. As a Lebanese living in Montreal, I will be a foreigner in Japan, and I am willing to accept my place in the Japanese society, not try to obtain a place in society that is not mine. I will contribute to the society in the manner that is suited for me...okay all of this is to say that I am very very excited to meet Japanese society for the first time in my life and of course there are good and bad sides to all nations, but if I want to have my place there, I have to accept and love those aspects. I speak Arabic, French and English and there's a saying in French that says ''Il faut de tout pour faire un monde'' meaning ''It takes some of everything to make the world we live in''...I think this applies to societies also, it takes all kinds of people to make the Japanese society, so let's just accept the rules, the cultural differences, love them, love the people and their ways, and live peacefully together...and as foreigners, WE should comply to THEIR lifestyle and ways of socializing. Not them. Finally , there's a saying that says something like ''We cannot blame others for their ignorance, as ignorance is different from evil.'' It means that if someone hurts you because of their ignorance, don't blame them. Don't hate them. They didn't make it on purpose, their intentions were not evil...indeed ignorance is not evil...we should recognize that.
Sorry for the long post!! I've been reading ALL the posts for HOURS!:D

Onitsuka ChihiroLove
Oct 22, 2009, 05:04
and if a Japanese person asks us if we can eat something, we should not be hurt...it wasn't their intention to hurt us. We should consider the INTENTION of the person...and I am sure if we consider that, we will come to realize that most of the time people have good intentions, even if what they say sounds rude to us. It sounds rude just because of the cultural difference, but that doesn't take away the fact that they have no bad intentions as to hurt us! So let's erase the word ''racism'' from this thread...what we talk about here is ignorance about one another, and cultural gaps...that can all be bridged through conversations:). Conversation can solve all the problems discussed in this article I believe. Racism is really out of subject here. Wow I am so excited about going to Japan and applying all that "FrustratedDave", "Ashikaga", "Pipokun", "Caster51", "Skipphead" and so many others expressed in this article. I have really learned so much...thank you all.

grayburst
Nov 4, 2009, 11:48
My wife and I are both American born caucasian, but my wife is a translator focused upon japanese and french. From my own experiences, I found most urban, younger Japanese to just accept a visitor to their country very easily. Many rural or older Japanese were a bit more insular and formal. Still I find all the Japanese I encountered to warm up faster to a visitor than many Europeans I had visited in years prior.

One thing I did notice though is many japanese did not know really what to talk about with me even though my japanese is conversational level. I did harken back eventually to my upbringing in Arkansas and Texas, so I just pulled my cowboy hat out of storage and threw it on much as if I was back home. This is something I do in no other country, since I try to fit into the locality. But it was a real door opener for conversations and easy of friendly relations with many japanese I dealt with daily. I got some odd looks but they were always good natured and friendly.

Hoshinoko
Jan 6, 2012, 05:35
For the moment I am living in San Francisco, a multikulti (cosmopolitain) environment. In fact the last of the three Nihonmachi and the largest is here in SF! I am staying in a predominately Chinese neighbourhood (most of whom have come from Guanzhou in Canton). I went only yesterday, funny I had ran into this article, when usually of the very few words of Cantonese I know. I simply asked this one checkout person at a local supermarket who was just talking to another customer before me in fluent Cantonese, I proceed to say "NIhau" a common greeting. Then I proceeded to say "Nihoma" which mean how goes? She absolutely REFUSED to answer in Cantonese but only in English (American English at best)! I told her, that no, I am not American. I am not one of these ignorant "dumbed down" Americans who are basically ignorant of the rest of the world. Didn't phase her in the least!

So the point of all this is if indeed this is true of us Japanese (I am a yonsei) this was from a Chinese! Though I must say that this was an exception that through most of my experience, when I try to talk of the very little I know in Cantonese, usually for the most part, they do respond in kind!

I even had this sort of thing happen in my own country, Switzerland! I was speaking, of course, in Schwyzerdytsch, some would respond in English as if I were a bloody tourist (in my own country)! To me that was indeed insulting! I was BORN and raised in Switzerland, and I was looked down upon as being a tourist!? How f'ing rude!

John Jolly
Mar 27, 2012, 16:19
Nation rely own own resources then they get remarkable success so we will face all
complexities and getting well direction for level of living standard raise.

Kagami
Nov 6, 2012, 16:20
Hi, while I can see where you are coming from, I still think you are over-reacted a little bit on these little things...
In my opinion they were all just trying to be friendly.. at least that's the way I see it...
People look at things at different ways, the message you are getting may not be identical to what the sender means...
or may be this is one example of cultural differences?
I hope...and I do believe that they had no intention to harm you.. so why get all so offended?

We cannot expect people to know everything about you... especially when you are not close..right?
How are people going to know you have been in xxx for x years, know how to speak xxx and whatsoever?
When I first met someone, the information I have on him/ her is very limited and I will link those information ( e.g. appearance, accent ) to my ''database'' (lol) in preparation for further communication. And I believe you would do the same.

I have been living in the uk for over 8 years by now, ( ok.. I know my English is still crap... )
and I love to go out with my camera which makes everyone think I am a tourist. ( I do indeed LOOK LIKE a tourist I suppose... )
Very often there are people offering to take a picture for me with me in the scene, should I feel offended by this?
( Actually I find that very heart warming~ keke )

Many (but not all of course...) people here assume everyone who look ''far-east'' are Chinese and greet them with '' Ni-Hao'', in rare occasions- ''こんにちは''. ( Although very often follow by ''where are you from?'' if we have the chance to chat up a bit. ) Most of the time I smile and greets back with ''Hiya/ Hello/ Hi''. If one day you suddenly come up to me and say konnichiwa, hoping for a Japanese conversation, then i may just upset you with a ''hi'', not knowing your intention since I can't read minds.

If you want to interact more with the natives in Japanese and they just reply in English, why not give a smile and kindly request to chat in Japanese? Rather than keep thinking they are being horrible to you? I'm sure most won't refuse anyway?
( If I were those people I would have reply in English too, because I think that's more convenient for you. ---unless you tell me you are good at Japanese and want to be treated as one. )

There had been tons of stranger saying ''Ni-Hao'' to me in the passed 8 years, at least 3 times per week in average I would say!
That's a worse scenario compare to yours may be?
Oh and I was often repeatedly asked if I know kung-fu! Haha :D

Here is the most epic one: can't remember all but here are some I can still recall.
I was going home after shopping at tesco and this guy came.
Guy: ''Ni-Hao'' ''I love Jacky Chan!'' ''Do you know kung fu?'' ''Can you fly?'' ''People in your movies can jump from tree to tree!'' blah blah blah.. then... ''Oh wait.. are you Chinese?''

I have never find these people annoying, and certainly would not open a thread criticising everyone in the uk because of them...
Try to look at things from a different view, life will be more colourful :balloon:


Afterall.............. Why feel offended when others have no intention to offend you?

Maciamo
Nov 6, 2012, 18:25
Thanks for your feedback, Kagami.



We cannot expect people to know everything about you... especially when you are not close..right?
How are people going to know you have been in xxx for x years, know how to speak xxx and whatsoever?
...
Many (but not all of course...) people here assume everyone who look ''far-east'' are Chinese and greet them with '' Ni-Hao'', in rare occasions- ''こんにちは''. ( Although very often follow by ''where are you from?'' if we have the chance to chat up a bit. )

I was brought up with the values of 'not judging a book by its cover'. One of the most basic rule of social conduct I was taught is not judge people based on their looks. It is generally wrong to assume things about people you don't know, and if they are indeed wrong it is offensive to voice them to their face.

That is why I find it just as offensive for Westerners to say 'nihao' or 'konnichiwa' to any East Asian they see in the street. From my experience, it is usually ignorant and racist people who behave like that. They almost never try to be friendly or start a conversation, but just to make fun at the 'funny-looking people' and often add derogatory comments that they (probably) won't be able to understand. I have travelled a lot and it's almost always boys and young men that behave like that, whatever the country. I have had Arabic kids gathering around me saying 'hello America', just like in Japan, then throwing stones at me when I walked away. I know that if there is any appearance of friendly feeling in those kids, it isn't real. When I was a child, I know that other kids would also make fun at any non-White (and sometimes even Mediterranean Europeans) because they looked different. "Greeting" them in their supposed country's language (or any language in the same region) is always derogatory in those situations.

I can think of one exception when greeting a Westerner in Asia with 'hello' or a Japanese with 'konnichiwa' (or a Chinese with 'nihao', and so on) isn't derogatory or racist. It is when a person knows the language in question, hears people talking in that language in the street and tries to have a friendly chat with them, perhaps to practice his/her language skills. It only works when you have actually heard the person(s) you want to approach speak (on the phone or with friends) so that one can be completely sure that they are indeed French, Japanese, Russian, or whatever. Assuming that a person speaks Mandarin just because they are East Asian (or even a Chinese national) is just as plain offensive as assuming any Western-looking person speaks English or French or Russian.

But even when you are sure that a person in the street speaks a language you can speak, I wouldn't encourage just throwing a 'hello', 'konnichiwa', 'nihao', 'bonjour', etc. just like that in the street. It looks suspicious, and nothing garantees that the other person actually wants to speak with you. I always try to ignore weird peope trying to talk to me in the street, even (or especially) people trying to sell/advertise something. Americans, Australians, Indians or Spaniards often feel confortable chatting up a perfect stranger in public, but that is not polite in most northern European countries, and it will just end up making the other person uneasy.