Dec 31, 2018

Culturally insensitive comments?

If you have lived in Japan for some time, you will have probably heard some of these comments being said by a Japanese person to a foreigner living in Japan, possibly you.

Maybe I am extra sensitive but talking to people around me, I am not the only person who feels  uncomfortable with some of these comments, or possibly offended. I am sure the people had no ill will when they said them to my face, but I can’t help but sometimes feel like some Japanese are being a bit insensitive and didn’t think about how foreigners would feel about their comments.

What do you guys think? Is it just me who feels uncomfortable with these comments?

1. “Your Japanese is really good!”

Without a doubt, I know that they -- co-workers, friends of friends, the people at the city hall or whoever else -- said it with the intension to praise me for using Japanese with them. However, it makes me feel bad because I know that my Japanese isn’t that good. I have studied it for a couple of years back in university before coming to Japan, but I haven’t really brushed up my skills since I started living here. There are still tons of things I can’t communicate without help, and I was more likely than not using extremely basic Japanese with them. Yet, they say that my Japanese is “really good”.

It makes me question how low their standard must be. Surely, if someone asks me in English, “Can I get the form to apply for the calligraphy class?”, I wouldn’t suddenly stop the conversation to compliment on their English, especially if the other person was stuttering and messed up the word “apply”.

Sometimes I feel like they were praising me for my effort, which also degrades my actual language skills (or the very little that it already reflects). Either way, I know that I don’t deserve to be praised, and until I can actually carry out a conversation in Japanese, I don’t deserve the compliments that I always get just by being a foreigner who tries.

2. “You use chopsticks very well!”

Almost every time my co-workers and I have a bento day and everyone eats together, someone who I don’t usually have lunch with comments on my chopsticks skill when, in fact, I am not holding them properly. We had Asian restaurants back home as well, so I certainly didn’t start “learning” it after coming to Japan.

Similar to the first point, I seriously feel like they treat me like a kid sometimes by having such low expectations while thinking that using chopsticks is such a highly technical skill. Alternatively, I wouldn’t comment on their skills of holding a knife in one hand and a fork in the other, going, “Wow, you can use both hands! Good job!”. Not only do I think that I wouldn’t, I feel like I shouldn’t. But I guess they see it differently.

Culturally insensitive comments? photo

3. “Can you eat natto? Sashimi? Umeboshi? Wasabi?... Sugoi!!!!!”

Speaking of food, one of the most common topics that comes up during those bento days is what I can eat and what I can’t eat. I am always interviewed about my food habits, with my co-workers doing their best to look for the one thing that my stomach cannot bear. 

Sure, natto was an acquired taste that I hadn’t tried back home, and I DO know that even some Japanese people can’t stand the taste or even the smell of it. But again, just because I can eat them doesn’t mean I am “sugoi”.  They then move onto the next food item, confirm that I can eat it, then give me another round of “sugoi” around the whole table.

At first, I thought it was cool that I could show them how I appreciate almost everything in Japanese cuisine, but really… so what if I can eat some pickled plums? They too are able to appreciate the dark water created by rinsing some roasted beans early in the morning without adding milk or sugar to make it easier to drink. It is just another culture’s slightly stranger thing, but I feel like I keep getting praised for the tiniest thing that is remotely part of Japanese culture. 

In the end, I just feel like I am NOT “sugoi”, at least not for the things they complement me for.

1 Comment

  • Striffy

    on Jan 31

    I can relate to the first two questions and it annoys me too. I don't mind the last question though, or rather they always ask if there's something I can't eat and I answer with Natto (maybe that's why I don't feel offended by that question).