I know that many of the reader’s of the Understanding Japanese Women Blog live in Japan, and so what I’m going to talk about today most likely won’t be any big news to you. This post is for those of you who don’t live here or have just arrived in Japan and have yet to experience this silly situation.
What I’m talking about is the slightly annoying habit that Japanese people do. It’s the “Nihongo wa jyouzu desu ne!” (Your Japanese is very good!) compliment.
It’s something that 99.9999% (approximately 😉 ) of all Japanese people say to any foreigner who utters even the simplest of Japanese expressions, including “konnichi wa!” (Hello, Good Afternoon) It seems so odd to most Westerners living in Japan that Japanese people can offer up such glorious praise after hearing the simplest of utterances.
But there is a reason…
I’ve read in many places that Japanese people do this because they believe that their language is too difficult for foreigners to grasp. When a Japanese person hears an “outsider” say even the simplest of Japanese expressions, he or she is dumbfounded at the foreigner’s great ability and so praises the amazing accomplishment.
What a bunch of nonsense!
The truth is that complementing someone you just met is considered polite in Japan. If two Japanese businessmen meet for the first time, at some point in the conversation each will compliment the other on something. “I’ve heard many good things about your company” for example. It’s just the polite thing to do. And each man knows that the compliments come from no real knowledge of the other person.
When Japanese people meet foreigners, the most obvious compliment that can be made is one about the foreigner’s ability to speak Japanese. And so, that is what they do.
After becoming fluent in the language, I’ve noticed more and more that Japanese people stop complimenting me on my Japanese ability and more on other “unknown topics.” But because of this custom, it can sometimes be hard to tell if I’m really receiving honest praise or I’m just the recipient Japanese politeness.
So if you’d like to be more “Japanese,” then try finding something that you can praise when you meet someone for the first time. It will help to smooth out the first meeting and prove that you know a thing or two about Japanese culture.
And of course:
Should you receive any compliment, the best response is to say “Sonna koto nai desu.” (That really isn’t so.) It’s great because it is the culturally correct Japanese response to any compliment!