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Living in a foreign country has its trials and tribulations. There are all new customs and sometimes a new language you have to learn, creating a situation that can be really frustrating and depressing. Then one day you wake up, turn on the TV and suddenly, “Huh, I kinda get what’s going on here,” and you know you’re finally ready. It’s time to speak to the locals…with confidence!

In Japan, a very interesting thing happens though. You may speak close to native level and yet the Japanese person will respond back in ENGLISH. Has this happened to you?

How do you feel when you speak fluent or reasonably good Japanese to a Japanese person and they insist on answering you in English?” Foreigners were asked this question on Japan Today and it was shared by  Madame Riri, a Japanese blogger. What do both parties have to say about this? More after the jump!

Living in Japan can be very hard. But many people who choose to do so make a great effort to fit in. They learn the language, adjust to Japanese customs that they aren’t used to, and try to make a place for their awkward selves in a society that isn’t accustomed to change. Japanese people often make it very easy because they are so polite. Sometimes though, their “over politeness” is incredibly grating.

If you’ve lived in Japan for any period of time, you will surely be familiar with the following exchange.

A: “Ohayo gozaimasu!”(Good morning!)
You: “Ohayo gozaimasu.”
A: “Nihongo jouzu desu ne!” (You are good at Japanese, aren’t you!)

It doesn’t matter if you have just stepped off the airplane, or have been living here for decades and sound like a native, Japanese people are quick to throw a compliment about your Japanese. At first it’s nice, but after a while it happens so often that you end up counting how many days in a row you can go without your language skills being complimented.

This Japan Today question certainly plays into that sense of politeness. How do you feel when you speak fluent or reasonably good Japanese to a Japanese person and they insist on answering you in English? The replies were both varied and thought provoking.

talking 2Image: Flickr (IwateBuddy)

Some took slight offense to the incorrect assumption that every foreigner speaks English, but most weren’t bothered by the situation. In most cases, they thought the Japanese person was only trying to be polite and make them feel at ease. Clearly, you’ve made the effort of learning the Japanese language, but maybe the other person has also made the effort of learning English! When their English is good enough, they are only trying to make the conversation go as smooth as possible.

Some other people gave different examples, where the English used by the Japanese person revealed that their grasp of the language was not that strong. It’s easy to tell that the conversation would be easier if both parties just stuck to Japanese. In this case, most who answered the Japan Today question said they would just continue to speak in Japanese and eventually, the other party would also switch.

However, there were a couple of situations that didn’t highlight typical Japanese politeness. Some people seemed quite annoyed by the circumstances where the Japanese person speaking English was doing it in order to prove their superiority. For example, in a group situation where everyone could be speaking Japanese, one person insists on speaking in English. This leads to horribly stunted and disjointed conversations, as everyone has to spend time translating and catching up with the unnecessary English. It’s clear that the bragger is just showing off and it would be better for the group if they just spoke Japanese.

talking 1Image: Flickr (Jesslee Cuizon) Edited by RocketNews24

Another situation that came up is all too familiar for many of us. There are times when the Japanese person you are speaking with is just trying to practice their English with impromptu lessons. Are these people trying to assist you or do they think “free English lessons” when they see your foreign face? These interactions are much less tolerable, because you had a simple question and they want more of your time.

Madame Riri’s thoughts on the situation lean to the practical side. She hopes that Japanese people will take time to read the situation properly before responding in English or Japanese. If someone thinks that their English is at a higher level than the other person’s Japanese, it’s probably fine to answer in English. However, if the Japanese person’s English is not that great, they should really just stick to Japanese despite how badly they may want to practice their English.

The final piece of advice from Madame Riri ties in with the comments made on Japan Today. If a foreign person speaks to you in Japanese, don’t think you must speak English because they are foreign. They made the effort in Japanese, so it’s perfectly acceptable for you to speak Japanese back. Also, make sure to speak to the person talking with you, no matter how un-Asian they look.

What do you think? Have you run into a situation like this? How do you handle it? Let us know in the comments.

Source: Japan Today, Madame Riri
Top Image: Flickr (Arkangel) Edited by RocketNews24