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Thread: For our Japanese readers : Things you should not say to Westerners

  1. #51
    Tokyo and Beyond Annubis's Avatar
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    misconseption

    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...
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  2. #52
    Regular Member Petenshber's Avatar
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    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.

  3. #53
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    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!

    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...

    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.

  4. #54
    Devourer of Souls AroundTheWorld's Avatar
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    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.

    Quote Originally Posted by pretty_mama View Post
    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!
    You make a very good point here, pretty_mama.
    Last edited by AroundTheWorld; Jun 27, 2008 at 15:44. Reason: Automerged Doublepost

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    Seeking Input for a Presentation/Workshop

    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.

  6. #56
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    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...

  7. #57
    Just me Glenski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by leander View Post
    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_mang...ling-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.

  8. #58
    Wolf nanook's Avatar
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    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, if they want to say "no".

    Good luck, though

  9. #59
    Regular Member Taiko666's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FrustratedDave View Post
    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!

  10. #60
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Taiko666 View Post
    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.


    Quote Originally Posted by Taiko666 View Post
    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.
    Last edited by FrustratedDave; Sep 5, 2008 at 17:20.

  11. #61
    Just me Glenski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FrustratedDave View Post
    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.

  12. #62
    もちもちした食感 ASHIKAGA's Avatar
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    a perspective from the other side

    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.
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  13. #63
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Glenski View Post
    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.

  14. #64
    Tubthumper JimmySeal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by FrustratedDave View Post
    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 お箸使えるの?すご〜〜〜い! when nearly every civilized person in the world can use chopsticks, or うわ 。日本語上手!from a new acquaintance, when all you've uttered is はじめまして.

  15. #65
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimmySeal View Post
    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 お箸使えるの?すご〜〜〜い! when nearly every civilized person in the world can use chopsticks, or うわ 。日本語上手!from a new acquaintance, when all you've uttered is はじめまして.
    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 ( なたの奥さんですか? わぁ〜〜きれいですね), 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.

  16. #66
    もちもちした食感 ASHIKAGA's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JimmySeal View Post
    Iお箸使えるの?すご〜〜〜い! when nearly every civilized person in the world can use chopsticks, or うわ 。日本語上手!from a new acquaintance, when all you've uttered is はじめまして.
    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".

  17. #67
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ASHIKAGA View Post
    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.

  18. #68
    Just me Glenski's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ASHIKAGA View Post
    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."

  19. #69
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Glenski View Post
    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?

  20. #70
    Sumo Freak becki_kanou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ASHIKAGA View Post
    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 まぁ〜 or a それほどでも... but sometimes I'll give a little explantion like 他の国でも日本料理や中華料理が人気なので、お箸を使 える人は結構いますよ。

  21. #71
    Just me Glenski's Avatar
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    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.

  22. #72
    Regular Member FrustratedDave's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Glenski View Post
    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...

  23. #73
    Just me Glenski's Avatar
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    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.

  24. #74
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    Thanks for the Input & Looking Forward to More

    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.

  25. #75
    Just me Glenski's Avatar
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    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.

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