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Thread: Assumptions that gaijin cannot speak Japanese (at all)

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Assumptions that gaijin cannot speak Japanese (at all)

    Quote Originally Posted by GaijinPunch
    Yeah, it's usually cab drivers, and I am indeed sick of telling the same story over and over again, but I've almost never been given that "you couldn't possibly know what you're talking about" look. I do get the "Wow, your'e Japanese is great! I'm still going to butcher English in our conversation though!" bit quite often.
    I didn't mean that people gave me the "you couldn't possibly know what you're talking about" look. It's more than many look genuinely surprised that after 2, 3 or 4 years in Japan I can speak Japanese at a reasonable level, read a menu in Japanese, or know where Kobe or Aomori (or any other city) are. This expression of surprise on their face always makes me feel like they first thought I was the last of the idiot.

    Funny that I haven't experienced anything similar in any other country - and Japan is the 7th country where I have stayed (at least a few months) as something else than a tourist. I guess I would make less fuss if Japan was my first international experience, but it isn't and it only stresses more this peculiarity of the Japanese.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    it only stresses more this peculiarity of the Japanese.
    And don't even get me started on the Belgians...

    (just kidding)

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    遠いから行きません GaijinPunch's Avatar
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    This expression of surprise on their face always makes me feel like they first thought I was the last of the idiot.
    Well, look at it from their perspective. How many non-Asian gaijin in Japan? How many of those speak Japanese? How may of those speak Japanese well? The first question starts at a very low percent, and then just goes lower and lower. Of course you're going to run into people that are surprised. Give it time... the novelty wears off after a while.

    Funny that I haven't experienced anything similar in any other country
    Not necessarily. What are the homogeneity figures of those countries? I couldn't imagine many European countries where one would be surprsied by a multilingual. Westerners are just not well known for learning Asian langauges. I don't think that's very strange to show a little interest/surprise in one speaking their native language.

    I'd say that those the most likely to fit this generalisation are those who do not often meet foreigners (i.e. most Japanese) or have only met the "bad examples" of gaijin.
    That's most likely the issue. I've bought items online through Yahoo many times and have often been told, "this is my first time to talk to a foreigner". I figure at the 5 year mark you get to the point where you're just immune to it. People ask if why you speak Japanese and you just tell them how many years you've lived there and go on with your day. You may even get confident/comfortable enough that you don't mind the odd acquantaince wanting to practice their elementary English on you.

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    I've frequently had an expression of surprise walking into a store or restaurant in small town America, simply because I have an English accent. It's never even crossed my mind that it might bother me. I don't think brief surprise at the sight or sound of a foreigner is particularly unusual. It's just a natural reaction to something you don't see often.

    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I didn't mean that people gave me the "you couldn't possibly know what you're talking about" look. It's more than many look genuinely surprised that after 2, 3 or 4 years in Japan I can speak Japanese at a reasonable level, read a menu in Japanese, or know where Kobe or Aomori (or any other city) are. This expression of surprise on their face always makes me feel like they first thought I was the last of the idiot.
    How on earth are they supposed to know how long you've been in Japan? You could have been a tourist fresh off the plane.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silverpoint
    How on earth are they supposed to know how long you've been in Japan? You could have been a tourist fresh off the plane.
    Alright, let's explain it this way, as indeed you are not supposed to know how and what kind of people I meet. Most of the Japanese that I meet are people who are studying English, in which case the introduction is in English, and they may only know that I speak Japanese after a few weeks or months after we have met. In that case, they know that I have been in Japan for x years, that I am married to a Japanese, etc. So why would it be surprising that I should speak Japanese ? The other kind of people I meet are through my wife (her friends or acquaintances), and these often fit particularily well my description in the previous post. They know that I am married to my wife of course and have lived in Japan for all this time, but they are surprise at all kind of things, not just my language abilities, but trivial things such as the fact that I can use chopsticks (who can't ?). How would you feel if after 4 years in, say, Italy, people who knew you had been there for so long started applauding and exclaiming "wow ! you can roll your pasta with your fork without spoon !" Would be weird, wouldn't it ? You'd think they are making fun of you or are deranged.

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    Whenever I read your posts on this topic, Maciamo, I get the impression that most of your "problems" with the Japanese comes from your mindset that you bring to the situation. Please don't be offended and let me explain, and please understand that this is hard for me to explain.

    Growing up, I remember numerous stories and movies, etc., about the immigrant experience in the USA. It seems that every immigrant group that arrived in America in significant numbers has encountered discrimination much worse than ANTHING I personally have encountered here in Japan. Usually the story seems to follow that the first generation meets a lot of difficulty, but subsequent generations do not. encounter so much. (I am speaking of people who came to America originally on their own free will.)

    Why is that?

    Second generation people tend to be much more assimilated into the culture at large than first generation immigrants. Second generation people have a better command of the language, a better command of cultural norms, and a much weaker sense of identity with the "mother country" than their parents. Therefore, they fit in better. (Yes, I realize that there is more to the story, but for the time being, just this much will suffice for the point I'm trying to make.)

    When you as a foreigner/immigrant come to another country, you have several options. One of these options is to keep your preexisistant world view and try to make your new host country bend to your way of thinking. Another option is to do the opposite. That is, to throw out your old world view completely and adopt your host country's way of thinking without omission. Then there are numerous shades of grey in between.

    Maciamo, you strike me as someone near that first extreme. It seems to me, from the little that I know of you through your posts, that you have adopted many superficial aspects of Japanese life, but you mistake that for much deeper aspects. It seems to me that you don't really try to understand the Japanese as they are, but you expect them to accept you without prejudice.

    On the other hand, I can see that you make efforts. You talk to Japanese and try to explain your side of things. You continue to live here even though you often find things to be annoying. And I commend you for that.

    I just want to know: have you honestly without prejudice ever tried to put yourself into the "Japanese`s" shoes and tried to understand exactly how and why they think as they do?

    I don't mean to be overly critical. I have lived in Japan for a total of about 5 1/2 years, so I know it's not so long. But it's roughly comparable to your stay, I think. Hearing your stories, I always come to very different conclusions than you do. I've noticed that I have fewer such stories than you seem to. I wonder if our mindsets don't contribute to this?

    For example, religion. I take a live and let live approach to the topic. You seem to have much stronger opinions than I do.

    Another example is discrimination in Japan. It often crosses my mind that A won't sit next to me on the train because I'm a foreigner or B won't ask me for directions for the same reason, and sometimes that's exactly the case, but I try to assume that it's something else, and only after every other possibility has been exhausted will I actively think that it's real discrimination.

    It just seems that our starting points are very different and that this causes different results. Which is better? I don't know. I seem to encounter less daily trouble than you, but then again, you're the one who's married, and I deeply envy you for that.

    Sorry this is so long!

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikawa Ossan
    Maciamo, you strike me as someone near that first extreme.
    I think the problem is that there are differences between me and the average Japanese (let's say about 80-90%) that are irreconciliable, and these are not necessarily cultural. Among the cultural or educational issues is that I attach a lot of importance in knowledge, analysis and rationality, while typical Japanese do not. Another cultural problem is that the Japanese try to "read people's feelings" and say what they think would please a person from their point of view. I understand very well that it is why they would praise me about being able to use chopsticks or speak Japanese. What I am complaining about is justly that they cannot grasp that this may be insulting to logical people like me, who can only logically conclude that something as trivial as being able to use chopsticks is something worthy of praise after staying several years in Japan.

    I think it may be as difficult for some forum members to understand my feelings on this, as it would be for a convinced Christian to understand why I think that the idea of the Christian god is preposterous. In each case, if the other party cannot think 100% logically, they won't understand my position.

    You must be wondering : "Why does he know that the Japanese try to praise him and still get offended ?" If you wonder that, then your mind cannot think like mine (while I can, nevertheless, understand your position).

    There is a second factor, which as you pointed out make me want to impose my views on others (note that I am not confronting my country's culture against the Japanese one, but my personal culture/mindset against any culture in the world).

    It can be explained by Kohlberg's stages of moral development. Have a look at the link. I believe that Japanese society is blocked somewhere between level 1 and 4 (or a mixture of it), and due to cultural reasons (ultra-conformism, and group-mentality), cannot reach the Post-Conventional stage. I do not mean that Westerners do. Some do, other don't. Kohlberg acknowledges that few people ever reach stage 6 (or 7). It is not a matter of pride or achievement, but I believe that for some reasons linked to my personality and experience since birth, I have passed stages more quickly than ordinary people, and have reached stages 5 and 6 (depending on the circumstances).

    In short, my philosophical principles (including logics, atheism...) and universal ethical principles (humanism...) are stronger than any cultural or social conventions or law, and I feel entitled to criticise anything that does not go in accordance with those principles. In other words, I am anti-conformist, extremely independant-minded, and mostly unselfish (i.e. care more about the good of the whole world/humanity than my own). That is why I feel it necessary to improve society as a whole, pinpoint at the political, economical or social problems in the country where I live (or others) so as to senibilise people about those issues and make them change, as I have explained in this thread.

    Conclusion, I cannot accept ways of thinking which are not logical. rational or go against my principles, whatever the country. Japanese people being culturally disposed not to think logically, and not to understand the feelings of somebody who think the way I do, they end up saying things that I find unacceptable and insulting even when they want to be polite. I realise that I won't be able to change them all by myself. But if you also think that it is annoying to praised for things that everybody can do (if they want to), then join me in my quest to explain to the Japanese you meet what they shouldn't say to Westerners.

    It just seems that our starting points are very different and that this causes different results.
    In fact, when I first came to Japan, I didn't even suspect that the Japanese could discriminate against well-behaving Westerners interested in their country. The first tips came from the attitude of my grandmother-in-law (which I met on a daily basis at the beginning). Even after I managed to speak conversational Japanese, she would still make gestures rather than speak to me with words. I replied to her in Japanese, but she feigned not to understand. My wife had to repeat exactly what I said so that she would listen. Even after my wife explained many times that I was not speaking English, French or whatever, but very understandable Japanese, the grandma would still not listen and use gestures.

    Had is been only for that, I could have dismissed it as a special case. But the longer I stayed in Japan, the more I gained confidence to address locals in Japanese (without my wife's presence), and the more I realised that this was a quite common attitude. I could go to the dry cleaning, several bento shops, ask something at the station, the immediate reaction of most people over 40 (and some younger too) was to "freeze" and make gestures assuming that I was not speaking Japanese. With younger people, they typically responded by this expression of surprise that "eventhough I was only a gaijin, I managed to learn their difficult language".

    First I just took it as a compliment, but as time passed, I realised that most Japanese truly believe that their language is exceptionally difficult and almost impossible to learn for a foreigner. Some told me what I suspected the other were thinking : "Japanese brains work differently and so it's very difficult for foreigners to learn Japanese" or else "don't you think that Japanese is the most difficult language in the world ?".

    Combine all these reactions, repeat them at least a dozen times (I have heard them more than that), and be confronted to an in-law and shop attedant who on a daily basis respond to you with gestures even when you are addressing them in fluent Japanese. How could your image of the people not change ? How could you not think that many Japanese truly think that their language is more difficult because their brain is different (=superior), and that foreigners are therefore stupid. Add to this the commonly held belief that gaijin are responsible for the rise in crimes in Japan (which I have demonstrated is not true; see my article Foreign criminality in Japan).

    Naturally, not all Japanese think this way, but many do, and probably most older people do. People that actively seek the company of foreigners/Westerners most certainly don't. But that is not necessarily the people you meet at your local dry cleaner, your neighbours or your wife's friends. I have no complaints about most of the Japanese who have lived in the West and are interested in Western culture. These are the people that made me stay in Japan for so long.

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    Maciamo... There is one part of your argument which appears flawed to me. You seem to describe this 'insulting' surprised reaction as something which is pretty unique to the Japanese.

    I (yes ME) am often surprised when a foreigner I meet displays a solid command of Japanese. So, I discriminate too. And what's more I don't really care if you want to accuse me of discrimination. Against who? Foreigners? Like me?

    Why am I surprised? Because for every one good Japanese speaker I meet, I come across fifty who struggle to even make basic conversation. And that includes people who have been here for several years. You really need to remove the huge chip on your shoulder and take peoples surprise as a compliment (which I'm sure it is often meant to be).

    Furthermore, you always seem to place yourself above other people in regard to your mental powers of perception and reasoning. Frequently you've stated that if someone disagrees with you it's because they're not able to come up to your level, they don't understand or they can't think in the way that you do. I know that this might be hard for you, but have you ever considered that the reason they disagree with your view, is simply because you're wrong?

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    遠いから行きません GaijinPunch's Avatar
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    Try working in finance. I knew people in the 5 year + club (maybe even 10+) that couldn't string a sentence together... at all.

    And I will say that Silverpoint has a point... errr... no pun intended. I can't say I'm innocent. I thought similar things after only living there a few years, too. I think you eventually either grow out of it, or just frustrate yourself into a heart attack. There's so many more positive things to be thinking. I mean... honestly, I think you can say similar things about 80-90% of the people around the world. I don't though. If you really don't like the way convesrations go with people, why not avoid conversing with them altogether?

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Silverpoint
    Maciamo... There is one part of your argument which appears flawed to me. You seem to describe this 'insulting' surprised reaction as something which is pretty unique to the Japanese.

    I (yes ME) am often surprised when a foreigner I meet displays a solid command of Japanese. So, I discriminate too. And what's more I don't really care if you want to accuse me of discrimination. Against who? Foreigners? Like me?

    Why am I surprised? Because for every one good Japanese speaker I meet, I come across fifty who struggle to even make basic conversation. And that includes people who have been here for several years.
    Don't forget that I come from a country where most people need to be bilingual or trilingual (i.e. speak 2 or 3 languages at an advanced level) to get a job (and not just a good one, even supermarket cashier). Most of my friends in Continental Europe (+ Scandinavia) can speak 2 to 4 foreign languages at least conversationally (i.e. intermediate level, let's say about a 500 to 700 TOEIC score in English). Japanese being a relatively easy language to learn (few grammatical rules or irregularities, easy pronuciation), I would be surprised to meet somebody who has lived 4 years in Japan, lives with a native Japanese speaker, cannot at least speak conversational Japanese - especially if that person under 30.

    I could understand that people who live in an closed expat community, and/or people who have first come to Japan when they were over 40 years old may not speak much Japanese after 4 years. If they do not speak it at all, however, it's pure laziness and unacceptable (they would have no respect for the local culture). But these people are the exception rather than the rule, and not the people younger Japanese would normally have met before to base their comparison. I don't have statistics, but I am under the impression (from my observations in the steet, and from the age of the average age of this forum's members) that the biggest part of Westerners that live in Japan are in their 20's or 30's.

    Note that I am not surprised when Japanese people I meet assume that my friends or relatives that come and visit me in Japan (and have never lived there or aren't necessarily interested in Japan) do not speak Japanese. It's obvious. I also do not say that the Japanese should expect a foreigner to reach an advanced level after 3 or 4 years, but at least have a daily conversation level. Their surprise usually comes only after a few words that I have said. Knowing that after 4 years in the country and living with a Japanese, if they still assume that I can't make a sentence or understand what they say, I find it insulting.

    One of my main complaints is that typical Japanese do not differentiate between (long-term) residents and short-term visitors. For them, a gaijin is a gaijin and it is as surprising that one of them speaks Japanese when they have just set foot in the country or have lived there for 5 or 10 years. It's only shocking to me that they should not make this distinction in their mind, not the fact that they are surprised in itself. I didn't mind at all in my first year, as I was still somewhat of a tourist.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Oct 6, 2005 at 14:57.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GaijinPunch
    Try working in finance. I knew people in the 5 year + club (maybe even 10+) that couldn't string a sentence together... at all.
    Typical closed expat communities; basically people who come to Japan for work but not for the country, culture or people. I'd say that such expats (along with embassy staff) are a special case, and anyway a minority of the foreigners in Japan.

    I mean... honestly, I think you can say similar things about 80-90% of the people around the world.
    Honestly no. I have lived in England, Germany, Italy, Spain and Australia. In none of these countries were people surprised that I could speak their language (even after a few months). They just expect it. There were a few Italians surprised that I managed to speak so well Italian after just 1 month in Italy and almost without learning the language before, but the most surprised in that case was myself ! (and now I feel like I'd need to go back there and practice a bit to keep my level for the next few years, as it's getting far in my memory).

    If you really don't like the way convesrations go with people, why not avoid conversing with them altogether?
    Because sometimes I meet some people that are not like that (less than 5% though) and are great people with whom to discuss about Japanese culture, politics or whatever.

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    遠いから行きません GaijinPunch's Avatar
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    In none of these countries were people surprised that I could speak their language (even after a few months).
    I meant that average people in those countries couldn't communicate on the level that you deem necessary... not the language thing. Sorry if I was unclear.

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    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    Why am I surprised? Because for every one good Japanese speaker I meet, I come across fifty who struggle to even make basic conversation. And that includes people who have been here for several years. You really need to remove the huge chip on your shoulder and take peoples surprise as a compliment (which I'm sure it is often meant to be).

    Furthermore, you always seem to place yourself above other people in regard to your mental powers of perception and reasoning. Frequently you've stated that if someone disagrees with you it's because they're not able to come up to your level, they don't understand or they can't think in the way that you do. I know that this might be hard for you, but have you ever considered that the reason they disagree with your view, is simply because you're wrong?
    Actually, I think you're missing the point. I agree with Maciamo on this. Prime example: I recently started working at a Senior High School. On my first day, the principal introduced me to all my fellow teachers. He mentioned I had lived in Wakayama for two years and studied at Kansai Gaidai University. The following period I had lunch in the caf with them. I was asked, as usual...

    Wow! You can speak Japanese?
    You use chopstick?
    You can eat nattou?



    These are the same teachers who tell all their students that Americans only drink coke and eat hamburgers. And don't tell me it's because they don't know otherwise, because I knew the last American they worked with, and she was a counter-culture vegetarian liberal. And I still get told all Americans do this, all Americans love that.......

    wtf??????

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    Wow Maciamo, what looong posts but interesting to read!

    But somehow, your discussion doesn't seem like the logical Maciamo we all know and love

    Among the cultural or educational issues is that I attach a lot of importance in knowledge, analysis and rationality, while typical Japanese do not.
    Would you not find this to be much of a generalisation? I'm not saying that people shouldn't generalise of course, but all the same... well, I am not in a position to dispute your statement, in fact, so I will say no more! Umm... is it really the case that the Japanese in general are known for lacking in knowledge, analysis and rationality?

    I understand very well that it is why they would praise me about being able to use chopsticks or speak Japanese. What I am complaining about is justly that they cannot grasp that this may be insulting to logical people like me
    So... I am slightly confused... you are aware that when people praise you for (for example) being able to use chopsticks, they are trying to be nice rather than insulting, yet you still feel insulted because they can't grasp why you feel insulted? I realise this is only a personal view, but if someone is trying to be kind to me, even if their kindness is somehow "off the mark" I find it very difficult to be insulted, because I know that this is not their intention! If they have been inadvertently insulting while trying to be nice - like in your case with the chopsticks - I simply feel sorry for them, thinking maybe "They have no manners even if their heart is in the right place".

    In each case, if the other party cannot think 100% logically, they won't understand my position.
    I have no wish to argue about this, that's not my meaning in quoting you here! I just thought it was an interesting statement because it raises the question "What is 100% logical?" I think the person who can define it must be a great philosopher who takes many volumes to answer the question!

    If you wonder that, then your mind cannot think like mine (while I can, nevertheless, understand your position).
    Forgive me, but it does seem big-headed to imply that always you can understand the other person's position but they can never understand yours (presumably because you are the only person whose mind works 100% logically?!).

    I believe that Japanese society is blocked somewhere between level 1 and 4 (or a mixture of it), and due to cultural reasons (ultra-conformism, and group-mentality), cannot reach the Post-Conventional stage.
    Does your idea of "logic" comprise putting everything in boxes or giving them labels?

    I am not saying that that approach would be faulty... I am merely wondering whether or not it would be. Because, although I try to think logically, I am well aware that because of the physical/biological/chemical constraints of my brain, I am only able to do so in a very limited sense. So it could be that your approach is totally correct... I don't know. Is this a functional approach and on what levels can it function? I can't help feeling that some things must "fall down the cracks"

    Again, a huge generalisation about Japanese society.

    I believe that for some reasons linked to my personality and experience since birth, I have passed stages more quickly than ordinary people, and have reached stages 5 and 6
    It seems that you have a very high opinion of your own intelligence. Of course, I am sure that you do in fact have a high intelligence, but sometimes it's better to be careful how you word things it's like you're saying you're "above"the "ordinary" level. Which may well be true, but if I were you I'd keep quiet about it!

    That is why I feel it necessary to improve society as a whole, pinpoint at the political, economical or social problems in the country where I live (or others) so as to senibilise people about those issues and make them change, as I have explained in this thread.
    Well, that's an admirable aim, because it's good to enable society (as a whole - of whatever country) to take note of its bad points and change for the better. And to tackle political, economical, social problems... it's difficult... and largely because it involves whole societies, which are of course composed of individuals yet work in totally different ways from individuals... It seems like you set yourself an epic task, on a heroic scale! But I would be wary of talking about "making" people change. You can't "make" people change in their minds, although of course you can try to persuade them in various ways. Once you start trying to change people, it's egotistical...

    I cannot accept ways of thinking which are not logical. rational or go against my principles, whatever the country.
    I would be very wary of saying "cannot accept ways of thinking which" ... anything! That road leads to prejudice, not tolerance.

    Japanese people being culturally disposed not to think logically, and not to understand the feelings of somebody who think the way I do
    Really???

    Don't forget that I come from a country where most people need to be bilingual or trilingual (i.e. speak 2 or 3 languages at an advanced level) to get a job (and not just a good one, even supermarket cashier).
    That does make a difference to attitudes. In the UK, where I live, it's actually unusual to find someone who speaks fluently a language other than English! People actually are surprised that I speak French - even though a large proportion of the population were made to learn it at school anyway! On the other hand, they are absolutely not surprised for a foreigner to learn English, because it is expected. I mean, everyone knows English... don't they?

    Japanese being a relatively easy language to learn (few grammatical rules or irregularities, easy pronuciation), I would be surprised to meet somebody who has lived 4 years in Japan, lives with a native Japanese speaker, cannot at least speak conversational Japanese - especially if that person under 30.
    I agree about that; I have only been learning Japanese an extremely short while but I can't see yet that it's any more difficult than a European language. It's the kanji that I think will be very difficult, but of course I could still learn speaking to a reasonable conversational level without being good at kanji (even if I would be illiterate!). Anyway, that's another thread! ;)

    Personally, I would just not waste my time and energy in being insulted and offended, and simply thank my lucky stars that I could speak good Japanese.

    I wave goodbye with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson:

    "To put an absolute faith in reason is to overlook one essential step in the rational process: the possibility that you may be mistaken."


  15. #15
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    I do believe there is a logical reason for this. I've got quite abit to say on this topic, but I've got work now, so it'll have to wait until later tonight.

    Until then.....


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    The only problem is im probably the typical gaijin, when it comes to botching upo japanese, i only know words, not really full sentences, and despite the fact im fairly familiar with japan, ive always found languages to not be my strongest hand.

    It would be nice that if you use japanese, then the japanese should use it to but, thats life.

  17. #17
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kinsao
    But somehow, your discussion doesn't seem like the logical Maciamo we all know and love
    No, that's just because it's a bit abstract and if you haven't lived in Japan and have had similar experiences (like Mad Pierrot ), it may be difficult to understand. Then there is the problem that I am forced to generalise (i.e. talk about the "biggest part of the population", not everybody) and what's more only based on my experience.

    I simply feel sorry for them, thinking maybe "They have no manners even if their heart is in the right place".
    It's not a matter of manners. I hate superficiality such as hypocritical manners. If they want to be well-disposed toward me (or have me well disposed toward them), they should reflect a bit about what kind of person I am from the information they already have (e.g. married to a Japanese and have lived in Japan for 4 years) before making strange compliments. To understand my feelings, just imagine that you went to France and people started complienting you on your being able to use a fork and knife. That would be quite baffling, wouldn't it ? Now, what if at least half the people you met in France did the same. Wouldn't you feel like complaining that it's not strange or surprising that you can also use a fork and a knife as you are not mentally retarded ? I feel exactly this way in Japan.

    Forgive me, but it does seem big-headed to imply that always you can understand the other person's position but they can never understand yours (presumably because you are the only person whose mind works 100% logically?!).
    ...
    It seems that you have a very high opinion of your own intelligence. Of course, I am sure that you do in fact have a high intelligence, but sometimes it's better to be careful how you word things it's like you're saying you're "above"the "ordinary" level. Which may well be true, but if I were you I'd keep quiet about it!
    I am sorry, for once I will have not to keep too quiet about it as you are pushing me. First of all, I'd like to say that a greater intelligence is not always a good thing, and certainly does not make (social) life easier. If you want to know, I have taken several IQ tests and have been constantly tested as having an IQ superior to 99.99% of the population, ranging between 135 and 165 depending on the test - but it was always about crystalised, non-verbal IQ. These IQ thus didn't test verbal or linguistic skills, memory, artistic abilities, etc. It's almost only about reasoning, logics, spatial skills, etc. So we cannot say that I learnt languages faster because of having a higher IQ.

    I think my verbal IQ was more average (around 120). In fact, I was quite bad at learning languages at school, and I have only really started to like foreign languages and started learning by myself from about 17 years old. This contradicts the theory that young children learn more easily languages, as for in my case I found it easier after puberty.

    The drawback of a high IQ is that people have difficult to understand some of your reasonings (or even feelings, like here) and may find you strangely obsessed by things that doesn't matter much for them. My own mother has never been able to understand me (to this day), although my father understands me much more easily, often without explanations needed. This is clearly because of the difference of IQ between them. Same with my wife, I can explain some (particularly complex ?) things again and again and she never seems to understand my point of view, while I understand hers before she even opens her mouth. I know I understand her, because I can explain with my own words what she means, and she says that it is exactly what she means, said better than could have said (although we almost only talk in Japanese, so I have the language disadvantage). I can give you many such examples of me understanding a person whereas they do not understand me at all. I am used to it since I was a child (but didn't know it was IQ-related until I was 20).

    Researches have shown that it becomes very difficult for 2 individuals to understand each others once their IQ diverged by more than 30 points. There is a theory that such people almost belong to different species. Incidentally, the most gifted gorillas can have an IQ of up to 70 (maybe even more), i.e. as high or higher than 3% of the human population (people considered as mildly or severely retarded). Of course, that's only for reasoning skills.

    Anyhow, you were asking me whether "it does seem big-headed to imply that always you can understand the other person's position but they can never understand yours". What do you think ?

    I would be very wary of saying "cannot accept ways of thinking which" ... anything! That road leads to prejudice, not tolerance.
    And is it better to tolerate everything in life, even the clearly negative aspects ? I think modern Western societies are putting too much importance on tolerance. Should we, for instance, tolerate religious or political extremism ?

    It's the kanji that I think will be very difficult, but of course I could still learn speaking to a reasonable conversational level without being good at kanji (even if I would be illiterate!).
    I also thought that the kanji would be the hardest part at first, but it ended up being one of the easiest, as I really liked (and still like) learning them. In fact, without the kanji, it would have taken me longer to acquire my current (passive) vocabulary in Japanese, as kanji compounds help guessing the meaning of unknown words, and even creating new ones quite easily.

  18. #18
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nurizeko
    The only problem is im probably the typical gaijin, when it comes to botching upo japanese, i only know words, not really full sentences, and despite the fact im fairly familiar with japan, ive always found languages to not be my strongest hand.
    But have you lived in Japan for several years and lived with a Japanese ?

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    Angel of Life Kara_Nari's Avatar
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    I can see your frustration Maciamo.
    However, Japan isnt the only place that this happens.
    In New Zealand, so many second or even third generation asians get the same looks of bewilderment.
    More so the younger asians that have been born in New Zealand, or came at a young age. Of course their english is perfect, yet they will walk into a store and be spoken to veerrryyyyy sllloooowwwwwllllyyyyy, and for some strange reason, a lot louder than a usual spoken, inside voice.

    On a daily basis they are asked how long they have been studying english for, and where are they from. "Im from New Zealand" "yes, yes, but where are you REALLY from" "New Zealand" "Where were you born though?" "I was born in New Zealand" "hahaha, but what are you?" "Im a New Zealander".

    Sure people dont marvel over their knife and fork ability, or their ability to eat certain foods, but they are constantly being treated in this belittling manner, for looking like they dont belong.
    Hmm maybe this has gone off on another tangent.

    Anyway I was just trying to show that other countries have their funny little ways of dealing with a slightly different painted picture.

    Kara-Nari Smarty-Pants Wiz-Girl of the Southern Pacific Queen of Communication and International Arbitration and Diplomatic Solutions to Hairy Territorial Issues Her Majesty the Empress コクネ・ you quite rightly deserve the title for your individuality !

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    Please let me apologize in advance if this gets too long.

    OK, well...let's see...Maciamo, thanks for being such a sport about this. I wasn't anticipating such a response...

    To respond in not-perfect order,
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    You must be wondering : "Why does he know that the Japanese try to praise him and still get offended ?"
    If you're talking to me, actually, no I'm not. I understand perfectly. I have been offended at the same thing. I also have gotten offended by people asking me to teach them English, as if every caucasian in Japan is here exclusively for that reason. At least , I used to to.

    Somewhere down the line, I came to the realization that many times the people saying these things are just trying to make conversation. They're not REALLY surprised at the fact that you can use chopsticks, but they think it's a safe topic to start conversation. It's like talking about the weather, in that sense.

    I find that sometimes I get complimented on my chopstick use in comparison to young Japanese, many of whom for some reason never learned the "correct" way to hold their chopsticks. I think of this more as an indirect insult of Japanese youth than a compliment of myself.

    Just something to consider.
    If you wonder that, then your mind cannot think like mine (while I can, nevertheless, understand your position).
    I'm sure you didn't mean to, but this sounds condescending, and IMHO comes dangerously close to this statement you criticised some Japanese people of making:
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    "Japanese brains work differently and so it's very difficult for foreigners to learn Japanese..."
    ...(note that I am not confronting my country's culture against the Japanese one, but my personal culture/mindset against any culture in the world).
    I'm sorry if I lead you to believe that I thought you were. I don't, although to be more specific, I do think that anyone's "personal culture/mindset" is heavily influenced by the culture you were reared and raised in. I hope you can agree with that. I think that if I personally was born and raised in Japan, I would be a very different person than I am today.

    It can be explained by Kohlberg's stages of moral development.
    Ah, yes, Kohlberg. To be fair, I must admit that I personally don't really agree with his stages. But since you brought it up, something about the Wikpedia entry struck me.
    Quote Originally Posted by Wikpedia
    In Stage six, moral reasoning is based on the use of abstract reasoning using universal ethical principles. One way to do this is by imagining oneself in everyone else's shoes, imagining what they would decide if they were doing the same.
    This sounded an awful lot like,
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    ...the Japanese try to "read people's feelings" and say what they think would please a person from their point of view.
    Are Japanese people actually at stage 6 on Kohlberg's stages by any chance?

    Since you bring up the issue of logic so much, I would like to point out that being a human being, it' pretty much impossible for ANYONE on the face of Earth to be 100% logical. Yes, some people can be more logical than others, but even if you are comparatively logical, it's not the same as being 100% so. If ever you let emotions influence your judgement or actions, you are not being 100% logical. At least, not in my opinion.

    In fact, when I first came to Japan, I didn't even suspect that the Japanese could discriminate against well-behaving Westerners interested in their country.
    Ah, but you see, I was the exact opposite. The first time I went to Japan, it was partly to meet the parents of my girlfriend/fiancee. I knew her father was at least 60 years old and retired, so I came prepared for the worst. I was convinced that he'd hate me for "stealing" his daughter. When we first met, I immediately said the Japanese I had worked so hard to memorize, even though I had no idea what it meant, 「今後ともどうぞよろしくお願いします」. He just grunted and didn't say a word. (Looking back, I almost certainly murdered the pronunciation, and he probably had no idea what I was trying to say. )

    He didn't really talk to me much at all until one day we were playing "hasami shougi" (kind of like checkers for those who don't know) and I solidly beat him. For some reason, I felt playful, so I said, 「お父さん、頭わるい!」with a big smile. (That was about the extent of my Japanese at the time.) He looked at me for a moment and then broke up laughing! Ever since, we got along just great. Right up until his daughter and I separated.... But I digress.

    Had is been only for that, I could have dismissed it as a special case. But the longer I stayed in Japan, the more I gained confidence to address locals in Japanese (without my wife's presence), and the more I realised that this was a quite common attitude. I could go to the dry cleaning, several bento shops, ask something at the station, the immediate reaction of most people over 40 (and some younger too) was to "freeze" and make gestures assuming that I was not speaking Japanese. With younger people, they typically responded by this expression of surprise that "eventhough I was only a gaijin, I managed to learn their difficult language".
    My first reaction to this was, "I wonder what your pronunciation sounds like." I say this because I have encountered a couple of foreigners who spoke reasonably good Japanese gramatically, but it took me a while to figure out what they were saying because of their pronunciation. I have heard my own recorded voice speaking Japanese on occasion, and I was surprised at how different it sounds to me from native speakers. Maybe your pronunciation played a part in your experience.

    There was more I was going to say, but this has already gotten quite lengthy. I just want to close in saying that just today alone, I went to the local JA to renew my auto insurance and I talked to someone from the local Asahi newspaper office trying to get me to subscribe (even though I already do. hehe). None of the people involved seemed the least bit suprised that I speak or read Japanese or treated me with anything other than respect.

    I will admit though, that I overheard the girl who helped me at the JA say to her colleagues, 「どきどきするね!」
    Last edited by Mikawa Ossan; Oct 6, 2005 at 20:02. Reason: fixed an unended quote

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I also thought that the kanji would be the hardest part at first, but it ended up being one of the easiest, as I really liked (and still like) learning them. In fact, without the kanji, it would have taken me longer to acquire my current (passive) vocabulary in Japanese, as kanji compounds help guessing the meaning of unknown words, and even creating new ones quite easily.
    I found the same to be true.

  22. #22
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kara_Nari
    More so the younger asians that have been born in New Zealand, or came at a young age. Of course their english is perfect, yet they will walk into a store and be spoken to veerrryyyyy sllloooowwwwwllllyyyyy, and for some strange reason, a lot louder than a usual spoken, inside voice.
    That's very weird for an immigration country with a big Asian community (and tiny total population).

    On a daily basis they are asked how long they have been studying english for, and where are they from. "Im from New Zealand" "yes, yes, but where are you REALLY from" "New Zealand" "Where were you born though?" "I was born in New Zealand" "hahaha, but what are you?" "Im a New Zealander".
    The question is not properly formulated in the first place. If they want to know about someone's ethnic origin, they should ask where is their family/ancestors' country of origin. This question could be asked by locals and tourists alike to anybody living in NZ, Australia or North America, except for the aborigenes or "natives". I am also interested in the ethnical origins of Americans or Oceanians, just by curiosity or to try to see if I could guess right from their features.

  23. #23
    Banned Mike Cash's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    But have you lived in Japan for several years and lived with a Japanese ?
    Let's be fair, now. You haven't done that first bit yourself yet.

  24. #24
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mikawa Ossan
    They're not REALLY surprised at the fact that you can use chopsticks, but they think it's a safe topic to start conversation. It's like talking about the weather, in that sense.
    And do you find this a good topic to start a conversation ? Everytime they say that (or any other pseudo-compliment), I am at a loss to what to respond. Shall I say "oh, you know, I worked hard on it everyday", or "oh, it just came naturally" or just "thank you" ? Anyway, that wouldn't lead to much conversation. Considering that people who praised me on my chopstick use were generally my wife's acquaintances, my wife was there too, we had been introduced, they knew more or less who I was and what I did in Japan, and they could have easily used her to facilitate the conversation in the cases when we were not already discussing. Sometimes such remarks come after I have known the person for a while and we have already discussed about many things. Then, when we end up eating together, this remarks comes up inevitably. My wife now explains that I don't like this kind of compliments, but they usually look even more surprised and try to justify themselves by saying that they truly believe that using chopsticks is not so easy (!!??). Upon which, I try to change the topic. Same for the questions like "can you eat sushi" or "does your country have 4 season".


    This sounded an awful lot like, Are Japanese people actually at stage 6 on Kohlberg's stages by any chance?
    Do you mean that the Japanese feel above the law and social conventions because they believe in universal ethics ? I am yet to meet such Japanese. I think the explanation on Wikipedia about "being in someone's shoes" is a bit misleading. If they indeed were like that, why would I be complaining about them not trying to understand my feelings ? Their responses seem automated with such regularity that it feels almost stereotypical. This is one of the most amazing thing for me about Japan, how people's reactions are predictable. They care so much about not going astray from the well-harmonised social conventions that they often have a hard time expressing what they really think (or even realising what their own opinion is, as I noticed with my wife).

    In the Japanese society, there are fixed expressions for almost every social situation, and almost everyone uses exactly in the same situation. People greet you in shops with an "irasshaimse", not by a "konnichiwa" or "yokoso". When you meet someone, you always start with "hajimemashite" and after being introduced you say "dozo yoroshiku onegai shimase". When you enter someone's home, you say "o-jama shimasu". No normal Japanese would think of saying something else in these situations. There is only one "right answer". I would call it the routine of conventions, and I believe that asking foreigners whether they can eat sushi, use chopsticks, etc. is part of these conventions. This is also why I think it can be changed.

    Like Mad Pierrot said, typical Japanese teachers will tell pupils exactly the same thing about foreigners, even if they should know better from their personal experience. In the last few months, I have tried to ask as many people as possible about what they were taught at school. So far it has been nearly 100% consistent about these fallacies or stereotypes. They are taught that :

    - Japan is unique for having 4 seasons
    - Westerners all speak English
    - Westerners are predominantly of blood-group "O", while Japanese are predominantly "A". The explanation given is always that the Japanese were farmers since ancient times, while Westerners were hunters. An alternative explanation is that the Japanese were vegetarian until Meiji, while Westerners were always heavy meat-eaters. They are also taught that the Chinese are predominantly of group "B", and that "B" people have a stronger ('more anti-social') personality.

    I have explained this in more detail in my article Common Japanese misconceptions regarding foreigners and foreign countries. I wrote the article 7 months ago based on everything I had heard times and again till then. I have tried to confirm it as much as I could since then, and all the people I diplomatically questioned did confirm it. I invite you to try to find out among your Japanese acquaintances too (just try to bring up the subject, bring them to ask you the relevant questions, then ask them where they heard about the "farmers vs hunters" theory, and whether they learned that at school or not).

    If ever you let emotions influence your judgement or actions, you are not being 100% logical. At least, not in my opinion.
    Emotions are often opposed to cold rationality. But logics isn't exactly the same as rationality. Anyway, we need emotions to think, to wonder, to doubt, to question. Without emotions, we would just be computers and not do anything from our own initiative. I believe that it is possible to combine some kind of emotions with very logical thinking, as you as you are not taken over by the emotions only. It is very possible to get angry because someone you discuss with won't argue logically (it is typically the case of blinded religious believers).

    My first reaction to this was, "I wonder what your pronunciation sounds like." I say this because I have encountered a couple of foreigners who spoke reasonably good Japanese gramatically, but it took me a while to figure out what they were saying because of their pronunciation.
    As a native French speaker, I have no problem rendering any sound found in Japanese (except the "h" for typical French speakers, but it's not a problem for me, as it also exists in English, Dutch or German). French speakers are some of the Westerners who have the easiest to pronouce Japanese (however the Japanese have a tough time pronoucing French, as French has many more sounds). English or German vowels and consonnant are very different from Japanese. A Japanese "k" or "p" is weaker than a Germanic one. But French consonnant are basically the same. Vowels too, except the Japanese "u" which is half-way between the French "u" and "ou" (closer to the "u" actually, which doesn't exist in English). My wife, and other people, say that my pronuciation is about the same as a native Japanese. Pronuciation is one of my strong points when learning languages. English and French pronuciation are extremely different, but no English speaker would guess that I am a French speaker (although they could hear that I am not a native speaker, but cannot tell from where, and some have asked me whether I was Scandinavian as that's the closest pronuciation to English).

    So I really don't think that my pronuciation was the issue when the many Japanese who "froze" when I talked to them. It was just that they forced themselves to think that I could not possibly be speaking Japanese. When I talk to Japanese friends in Japanese, I never have to repeat one time what I say for them to understand, except if I use the wrong word or mistake in the grammar (that rarely happens in "small talks").

    I also want to say that it happens from time to time that people do not look surprised that I speak Japanese. Sometimes they do not look surprise but still try to talk back in English to me, until they see that communication is easier in Japanese.

  25. #25
    I jump to conclusions mad pierrot's Avatar
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    Talking Man, this conversation has gone all over the board....

    What really troubles me are the types of questions Japanese people ask foreigners. As Mikawa Ossan said, I'm sure some of these dumb questions are directed at making conversation. Then again, you can make conversation about anything, why make it about foreigner's deficiencies?

    So why the hell do they ask them? (A.K.A., Can you use chopsticks, speak Japanese, sit seiza, eat nattou, drink tea, whatever.)

    I think the reason is cultural identity. It's all about securing their cultural ID. Think about it. All those questions have something to do with Japanese culture. From a very young age it's instilled that Japanese culture is very unique. They're raised being taught how special Japan is. And of course they're right. Japan is special. I think the problem is in emphasizing how special it is they go way overboard. (I've observed this from working at 14 schools over 2 years.) Quite frankly, many of the things that made Japan so unique 50 years ago don't apply anymore today, but they're still being taught them. In order to make Japan seem more special, alot of stereotypes about foreign countries are perpetuated. So you get kids in grade school being taught something like this:

    In Japan people love sushi, and eat fish.
    In America people eat hamburgers, and eat beef.

    The problem is they go overboard and you get people thinking all Americans eat beef and never eat fish, let alone sushi. No joke. I don't know how many times I get a surprised reaction when I tell people I love fish and ate it everyday in America. The list goes on:

    Japan has a rainy season. Japan is very humid.
    So.....
    America doesn't have a rainy season. America is very dry.

    And so on and so forth.

    Since they get this kind of thinking programmed into their brains at a very young age, they have all kind of bizarre expectations about foreigners. Worst still, I think some people actually get insulted when foreigners fail to live up to their expectations. The was a great story in Kansai Time Out a few years ago about a man living in Kobe. He had been living in Japan for over ten years and quite naturally spoke Japanese well. One day outside of a store, he was stopped by a Japanese man who wanted to speak English with him. He declined politely in Japanese. The Japanese man failed repeatedly attempting to draw him into converstion, getting angrier as time went on. The episode ended with the Japanese guy storming off, yelling at the foreigner to "go home" and such.

    This sort of thing has nevered happened to me. However, I did have a similar experiences with co-workers. A fellow teacher liked to repeatedly ask me what "Japanese" things I could do. Yes, I know a little about tea ceremony. Yes, I've tried Judo and Aikido. Yes, I know about the legend of Yoshitsune, etc, etc. He would come up with a different question everyday. Every time I answered "yes," he would walk away disappointedly. When I finally answered "no" to one of his questions, he smiled broadly and annouced it to the entire room. I'm not making this up.

    In a nutshell, I disagree with this line of thinking.

    Because for every one good Japanese speaker I meet, I come across fifty who struggle to even make basic conversation. And that includes people who have been here for several years.
    Why? I agree there are quite a few people who come to Japan not being able to speak Japanese and never bother to learn. But, from my two years in the JET programme, my time with ECC and with private students, and my time at Kansai University, and with friends and family who have come to visit me, I have found gaijin overwhelmingly able to use chopsticks, eat raw fish, etc. Even my grouchy old obasan from the Mid-West could eat nattou. Which is why I scoff whenever a Japanese person tells me it's "rare" that a foreigner can eat sushi....

    In sum, I think their own warped perceptions about Japan that color their behavior.


    Damn that was long.


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