In the thread Fluent Foreigners Now Accepted In Japan!, we pointed out that many Japanese assume that a foreign-looking person cannot speak Japanese and therefore use sign language with them (as if foreigners were monkeys) even if addressed in fluent Japanese.

We discussed whether the Japanese should even ask foreigners whether they can speak Japanese (nihongo wo wakarimasu ka ?) or just assume that they do and address them in Japanese and only resort to using sign language (or English) if the person cannot understand.

MikeCash has remarked that it would be discriminatory to ask someone whether they can ask Japanese just because they do not "look" Japanese (but could have been naturalised, or born and raised in Japan, or just have stayed there for many years). I tend to agree with that.

Indeed, in Western countries, people usually don't ask any foreign-looking person if they can speak the local language, and do not start making gesture assuming they don't because they look Asian or African, but just speak to them normally as with anybody else. This is also true in rural areas where there are only Caucasians, not just in cosmopolitan areas (I have tested it with my wife in several countries).

Foreigners like me may feel that the deeply-rooted attitude of the Japanese to assume that foreigners do not speak Japanese can be quite irritaing, especially when we address them in fluent Japanese, or have been repeated times to the same shop, spoken to them in Japanese, and they still make gestures to us as if it was the first time they saw us.

My question in this poll is "how should Japanese behave when dealing with an unknown person who 'looks like' a foreigner (in a shop for instance)" ?

1) They should assume that most foreigners can't understand Japanese and use gestures
2) They should first make sure that they can speak Japanese by asking them
3) They should assume that they can speak Japanese and only use gestures if the person really doesn't understand.