Freaking Out Japanese, and Still being Polite

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  • CULTURE
  • At first, the idea of Japan and its people is always a bit mysterious, adventurous and many things might seem strange to foreigners. Starting with the language, the customs, the fashion at times… not to mention culture, gestures, smells, sounds, feelings, pretty much everything seems different. On the other hand, judging from the perspective of the average Japanese person, foreigners are the same. They are baffling, puzzling and peculiar. And most surprisingly: each foreigner is different, that is why Japanese are always taken aback.

    They somehow try to solve the enigma, crack the secret codes and hope to find an answer to the external question of what foreigners really are. Too bad they will never reach an answer, since there are not only too many countries, even within a foreign culture, it is a rather challenging task to try to form a category, where you can put someone. But nevertheless, we all like stereotypes, so no need to get upset.

    There are many ways to arouse Japanese’s curiosity. Talking in Japanese is one of it, but do not misunderstand them. When your Japanese is basic and they praise it anyway, they are just being polite. If you truly believe they are surprised by your language skills: think again, and you will realise that their skills of being polite are at a level beyond being detectable.

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    There are other real ways in bewilder Japanese. You could for example shock them by eating ‘gohan desu yo’ (ごはんですよ) on a slice of bread. It is a salty dark green paste made of seaweed and is meant to be eaten on rice, so taking this out of its regular usage and eating it on bread will definitely shock them.

    But this is actually nothing new, at least not for the company behind ‘gohan desu yo’: they advertised it in foreign newspapers in Japan a couple of years ago as ‘bread spread, one can eat in the morning.’

    Japanese love food, so doing something ‘controversial’ with food, i.e. being able to eat ‘natto’ (納豆 fermented beans) or ‘kusaya’ (くさや, salted dried fish and fermented fish) will always surprise them. But remember, staying polite is the most important in your attempt to share the uniqueness of your personality and customs with the Japanese.

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