Ten Things You Should Not Say to People from Other Countries

Ten Things You Should Not Say to People from Other Countries (外国人に言わない方がいい 10 のポイント)
多くの日本人は外国人と英語で話すとき、緊張したり、ドキドキしたりするでしょう。これは自然 なことです。外国人が日本語で話をするときも同じ気持ちになります。残念なことに、外国語で話 すと母国語では絶対言わないようなことを言ってしまい、相手に失礼だと思われてしまうことがあ ります。日本語では OK でも、英語だと失礼に聞こえてしまうこともあります。

失礼なことではなくても、相手を嫌な気持ちにさせたり、怒らせてしまうこともあります。日本に 長年住んでいる外国人もたくさんいるということを忘れないでください。長年日本に住んでいる人 は、くり返し同じことを言われたり、質問されることにうんざりしているのです。外国人と友好的 に英語でコミュニケーションをしたいのなら、「何を言ったらいいのか」を学ぶことも大切ですが、 「何を言ってはいけないのか」を知ることも同じように大切です。ここに避けた方がいい 10 のポ イントを挙げるので参考にしてください。

1. Where are you from?(どちらからいらしたのですか?)
この質問にはいくつかの問題点があります。まず1つ目は、この質問が「英語」だということです。 日本にいる外国人が全員英語を話すわけではありません。たとえ英語を話すとしても、英語圏以外 から来た人は嫌な気持ちになるかもしれません。外国人と英語で話したいときは、まず日本語で話 しかけてみてください(英語で話しかけると、ただ英会話の練習をしたいのかと思われるかもしれ ません)。相手が日本語を分からないようなら、次の質問は Do you speak English? になるでしょう。 もし相手が英語を話すと答えても、勝手にアメリカ出身だと判断してアメリカについて質問するの はやめましょう。これはアメリカ以外から来た人をとても嫌な気持ちにさせます。2つ目は、この質問は、相手について最初に気づいたことが「自分とは違う点」だということを表 しています。ですから、Where are you from? で会話を始めるのは、あまり友好的な方法ではないと 言えます。何か共通点を見つけるために、当たり障りのない会話から始める方がずっといいでしょ う。例えば、It’s hot, isn’t it? や This shop is very crowded.、Have you been waiting long? などです。し ばらく会話をした後で Where are you from? と聞くのは問題ありませんが、いきなりこの質問で会 話を始めるのはやめましょう。

2. We Japanese… (我々、日本人は…)
「我々、日本人は…」と言いたいときに、この表現を使う人はたくさんいますが、ほとんどの外国 人は、このフレーズを聞くと不快な気持ちになります。理由の1つとしては、「日本人はみんな同 じ」というふうに聞こえておかしいからです。例えば、「私たち日本人は、朝食にお米を食べます」 というのは事実ではないですよね。お米を食べない人もたくさんいるでしょう。もう1つの理由は、 We Japanese… と言うと、相手を「よそ者」扱いしているように聞こえるからです。かなり差別的 な発言にも聞こえます。「我々、日本人は…」には、日本で生まれた韓国人や、沖縄や北海道の先 住民族も含まれますか?英語で話すときはこのフレーズは使わない方が無難です。

3. 「日本語、上手ですね!」
日本語が上手だと褒められるのが好きではないと言うと、びっくりする人もいるかもしれませんが、 実はそれはどのくらい長く日本にいて、どのくらい日本語を使いこなしているかによります。日本 に来たばかりで、日本語があまり上手ではない人に「日本語、上手ですね」と言うのは問題ありま せん。相手はきっととても喜ぶでしょう。しかし、日本に長年住んでいて、日本語を日常的に使っ ている人は、「日本語、上手ですね」と言われると、いまだに「よそ者」扱いをされているような 気持ちになってしまうのです。その人の日本語が本当に上手なら、ただ他の日本人と会話をするの と同じように話せばいいのです。それが一番の賛辞になるでしょう。

4. Do you like natto? (納豆は好きですか?)
ほとんどの英語圏では、一緒に食事をする場合を除いて、初めて会った人と食べ物について話すこ とはありません。初めて誰かに会ったなら、何か共通点を見つける方が自然です。日本人でさえ嫌 いなことが多い食べ物について質問するのは、共通点ではなく相違点を探しているようにも聞こえ ます。これはあまり友好的な態度ではないでしょう。非常に多くの日本人が、外国人にこの質問を するのです。私たちがどのくらいこの質問にうんざりしているのかも考えてみてください。

5. Can you use chopsticks? (お箸は使えますか?)
日本人ではなくても、自分の国でアジア料理を食べるので、お箸を使えることは珍しいことではあ りません。事実、それほど難しくもないので、日本に暮らしているほとんどの外国人は、2、3週 間以内に覚えてしまうでしょう。私がこのことを日本人の友人に話すと、彼女は「でも私の3才の 娘はお箸が上手に使えないのよ」と言いました。私は、「そうかもしれないけど、それは彼女が3 才だからでしょう?赤ちゃんと比べないで!」と答えました。お箸を使えることを褒めるのは、靴 ひもを結べることを褒めるのと同じです。相手をばかにしているような印象を与えてしまうので気 をつけてください。

6. 外見や年齢について
たとえいい意味だったとしても、人の外見について何かを言うのは礼儀に反することです。例えば、 「あなたの目はとても青いのね!」や「あなたってとても大きいのね!」というような発言は、相 手をまるで動物園の動物になったような気持ちにさせてしまいます。相手の身長や体重についての 発言も避けた方がいいでしょう。小さな子ども以外の場合は、初めて会った人に年齢を聞いたりす るのも避けてください。

7. Are you married?(ご結婚されていますか?)
この質問は、全く気にしない人もいますが、とても怒る人もいるので、避けた方が安全です。もし、 相手が結婚していないと知っていても、Why aren’t you married? と聞いてはいけません。子どもが いるかどうかを聞くのは問題ありませんが、相手が No.と答えても、絶対に Why not? と聞いては いけません。日本人男性と結婚したカナダ人の友人は、よく「どうして日本人と結婚したの?」と
聞かれるそうです。これはおかしな質問ですよね。彼女は別に日本人男性だから結婚したのではな く、相手の男性を好きになったから結婚したのです。この質問をされると彼女はとても怒ります。

8. What is your religion?(宗教は何ですか?) 宗教は多くの人にとってデリケートな話題なので、初めて会った人と話すのは避けた方がいいでし
ょう。

9. When are you going back to your country? (いつ自分の国に戻るのですか?)
長年日本で暮らしている人にとっては、日本はすでに「home」です。日本で結婚して家庭を築い ている人もたくさんいます。この質問はあなたが相手を「よそ者」だと思っていることを表してい ます。

10. Do you like Japanese sushi? (日本のお寿司は好きですか?)
多くの日本人は、外国人と話すときに「日本らしさ」を強調したがりますが、お寿司も旅館も相撲 も日本のものだということはみんな知っているので、わざわざ Japanese を付けて強調する必要はあ りません。日本人が「日本のもの」だと思っていても、実は違う国から来たものはたくさんありま す(お箸や漢字のように)。

その他の気をつけるべきポイント

もし、明らかにあなたの英語よりも日本語が上手な人と話すなら、あなたのつたない英語でコミュ ニケーションをしようとするのはやめましょう。これは、「あなたはあまり日本語が上手ではない ので、私が英語で話します」というような印象を与え、とても失礼にあたります。相手があなたの 言ったことを理解しているなら、わざわざ英語で説明を付け加える必要もありません(なぜか年配 の男性は説明を付け加える傾向があります)。相手があなたの先生ではない限り、あなたと英会話 の練習をしても、その人はお給料をもらえるわけではないので、お互いが話せる言葉、日本語を使 いましょう。
最後になりますが、たとえ相手が外国人でも、話すときはちゃんと相手を見るようにしてください。 外国人が日本人と一緒に出かけると、他の日本人はよくその連れの日本人に向けて話します。これ はその外国人が完璧な日本語を話せてもよく起こることです。例えば、私がレストランでウェイタ ーやウェイトレスに何か日本語で質問すると、その接客係は、私が話すときは私の方を見て、私が 言ったことを理解すると、私の連れの日本人に向けて答えるのです。これはとても失礼なことです。 たとえ相手が外国人でも、その人があなたの母国語を話せるのなら、きちんと相手を見て話してく ださい。
もし外国人の先生や友人がいたら、ここに挙げたポイントについてどう思うか、また、他に付け足 した方がいいポイントがあるかどうか聞いてみてください。もしかしたら、あなたの先生(友人) も何か言いたいことがたくさんあるかもしれませんよ!

54 Comments

  1. Rina Asai(one of your student in your class on thursday2) on 2012年05月13日 at 21:03

    I felt that people of other countries may more sensitive compared to Japanese after I read this blog.

    Though I don’t know feelings of other Japanese,I will ask and say to foreign people
    “Where are you from?”
    “Do you lile sushi or natto?”
    “Your Japanese is so good!”
    because I want to know more deeply about the person and I want someone be pleased.

    I was surprised the best for this.
    “Comments or questions about a person’s body or age”
    Prpbably,some Japanese in Japanese feel not good when they asked “How old are you?”but I think there are few people who feels not good when they said ” Your eyes are so beautiful.”or “Your leg is so long.”
    Because we feel “We are said good thing!”
    I don’t know why the peole feel not good when they so though I think about it.

    I want to attention these point when I talk with foreign countries!
    Thank you very much Mr.Barker.



  2. David on 2012年05月13日 at 21:49

    Hi Rina,

    Thanks for your comment. These points are not just my feelings – I asked a lot of non-Japanese people living in Japan how they felt, and most agreed with all of the above.

    See you on Thursday.



  3. John on 2012年05月15日 at 21:20

    Pretty prescriptive! Lot’s of shoulds! Who is to say your notion of the universe is the correct one? If you choose to lve n a foreign culture then you have to take the good with the bad. Personally I find none of the things on your list offensive, just innocent Japanese being Japanese. If you live in America you will be twisting yourself into contortions trying to accommodate the feelings and needs of every group you come in contact with. It is not comfortable. Don’t try to force this on the Japanese. Roll with it and let them live in bliss. At least you get to eat sushi and natto.



  4. David Barker on 2012年05月15日 at 22:53

    Hi John,

    Thanks for your comment. I have been thinking about writing this article for years, but I held off because I thought it was just me being a grumpy old man. Last year, however, I started talking to other teachers about it, and all of them encouraged me to write it. Most were only too willing to add to the list!

    I take your point that it is prescriptive, but surely that is the case when you learn any language. I remember being given a long list of dos and don’ts when I began learning Japanese. Anyway, I believe that as a teacher, it is part of my job to at least make learners aware of these points.

    Last weekend, I went to conference at a teacher training centre in Ibaraki. In the evening, we all went to the bath, and there were teachers from other groups in there. As soon as I got in the bath, I was asked, “Where are you from?” I remember thinking how much more appropriate it would have been for the guy to ask me why I was at the training center, and how much more willing I would have been to talk to him if he had done so. Surely it is worth making our students aware of this.

    You don’t mention how long you have been in Japan (or whether you actually live here), but I think that for many of these points, the problem is more one of repetitiveness than anything else. I wouldn’t mind a couple of people complimenting my Japanese, but when it is the first thing that everyone says to you everywhere you go (I am not exaggerating here), it gets a bit old.

    Anyway, it’s useful to hear an opposing viewpoint. I hope some other people will post comments to add to the discussion.



  5. Paul on 2012年05月16日 at 07:46

    David

    Perhaps the best audience for this would be the teachers who introduce the topics in the first place. Students may get the message quicker and not feel reprimanded for ‘practising whenever possible’. The departure point, and an interesting one it is, indeed, is how we are similar and how we are different culturally.

    Still, I will give your text to my Conversation Stategies students and see what their impressions are.

    More comments to follow.



  6. John on 2012年05月16日 at 07:56

    Hi David,

    I thought about this on and off today. Actually I lived in Japan previously and am familiar with the point of view you are expressing and the types of people expressing them. I agree with you in that part of a teacher’s job is to make students pragmatically aware but the things you describe sound more like pet peeves and are relatively benign. I guess the question I grapple with is to what extent we should try consiously, more often it is unconsious, to impose our view of what is appropriate in cross-cultural exchanges. I am sure you are well aware that the Japanese do not corner the market on cultural insensitivity. But as I said, when they make comments like the one’s you describe, I truly feel there is not the kind of underlying malice intended that you may find in other countries. I guess the teaching moment enters when you have the chance to describe “why” these comments and types of behavior might make foreigners uncomfortable. Overall, the benefits of expat life in Japan outweigh the minor inconveniences that accompany pragmatic breakdown. Thank whichever deity suits you that you cannot fully integrate into Japanese society. The social pressures that accompany this privilege will find every overpaid, under worked gaijin heading home to find a job at the first convience store job (if you can find one) that will have them.



  7. David Barker on 2012年05月16日 at 08:29

    Hi John,

    I agree with you 100% about the lack of malice, which is why I think it is even more important to teach Japanese learners about these points. To be fair, there is no way they could be expected to know that complimenting someone on their Japanese or asking them about food might actually create a negative impression unless we tell them. The Japanese guy who talked to me in the bath at the weekend turned out to be (a) really nice, (b) a fellow teacher, and (c) a graduate of my university! If we had not been in the bath, however, I would have been trying to get away from him the second he asked, “Where are you from?” If someone had taught him the appropriate way to start a conversation, the exchange would have been much more successful, which is presumably what he would have wanted.

    I admit that some of the points I have described sound like “pet peeves,” but I believe that many long-termers in Japan agree with me. I guess posting this article is one way of finding out whether this is true or not. I have lived in Japan for 15 years, and I speak the language to the point where I am able to write books and conduct lectures and seminars in the language. I feel as though this is my home, and it is really annoying to be complimented on my Japanese every time I open my mouth. Someone went into raptures the other day because he couldn’t believe that I was able to write my address! I couldn’t wait to get away from him. Of course, I don’t get angry with people or shout at them when they say these things, but it makes me far less willing to talk to them. That is the message I want to get across to Japanese learners: it’s not necessarily rude to say these things, but you will “turn off” many foreigners who have lived in Japan for a long time if you do.

    I take your point about cultural insensitivity in other countries, though. When I take Japanese students to the UK, it makes me cringe to hear my fellow countrymen shouting “Ni Hao!” at them across the street.

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for your comment. I think the thing about “practicing wherever possible” is that a learner’s efforts to engage a foreigner in conversation are much more likely to be successful if they are aware of the points above. I remember an older Japanese guy walking up to me in Starbucks once. He pointed at himself, pointed at me, and said, “English conversation?” That was never likely to be a successful strategy!

    Anyway, I would be very interested to hear your students’ reaction to this list. My guess is that most of them will be very surprised. You can read the reaction of one of my students above.



  8. John on 2012年05月16日 at 08:52

    Hey David,

    I hear you and understand your feelings. I’ve enjoyd this exchange and look forward to reading your future posts!

    John



  9. Brick on 2012年05月16日 at 08:58

    I am currently working on a PhD on pragmatics. This discussion reminds me of a time I was at a ski resort and I was waiting in line with another foreigner to get on a four person ski lift. We were engaged in a rather animated conversation as we got onto the lift and a third person joined us. We continue the conversation as we went up the lift. Within the first few seconds of the ride the third person, an older Japanese man, burst into our conversation and said, “Where are you from?” He showed no regard for “turn taking rules.” He didn’t wait for a pause or some other indication it was his turn to speak. He just burst into the conversation. Instead of making a scene or ignoring him we answered his question in short one word answers and continued our conversation. I mention this because I told my wife about this experience and she said that maybe we were being noisy, rude foreigners on the lift and not following proper Japanese ski lift protocol. And this was all he could do to shut us up. I hadn’t thought of it that way.



  10. David Barker on 2012年05月16日 at 09:28

    Hi John. Likewise. The next one will be bit less controversial!

    Hi Brick,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure I would agree with your wife’s interpretation, though. I have spent hundreds of hours on ski lifts in Japan, and Japanese people often talk in loud voices while they ride them. I would guess it was more a case of the man finally plucking up courage to try out his English.



  11. Chris Creighton on 2012年05月16日 at 10:17

    David, your products have been very helpful for me. Thank you.



  12. David Barker on 2012年05月16日 at 10:20

    Thanks Chris. If you are still using the books, please sign up for the mailing list from the home page. I will be using that to keep teachers updated as we develop new online resources.



  13. YU on 2012年05月16日 at 21:20

    Hi David,

    > Even if they do, they may be annoyed if they come from a non-English speaking country. If you want to talk to someone from another country in English, try speaking to them in Japanese first. (If you speak to them in English, they might think that you just want to practice with them.)

    Wow!! This is exactly what my husband always complains about !!
    He speaks some English, but he comes from non-English speaking country. When Japanese people talk to him in English from the beginning, he always answers in Japanese to them.

    > Asking someone if they have any children is okay

    Oh, is it?
    I think this question is getting a taboo among Japanese people, because more and more Japanese women are having infertility problems nowadays.

    > If you meet someone who clearly speaks Japanese much better than you speak English, do not try to communicate using bad English.

    I agree.
    I guess my husband speaks English better than most Japanese people do. He speaks Japanese better than they speak English, so it’s better to talk all in Japanese for both of them, I think.
    I always communicate with him using Japanese, because he speaks Japanese much better than I speak his language.

    I’ll ask him later if these 10 questions annoy him.

    See you !



  14. admin2 on 2012年05月16日 at 22:10

    Hi YU,

    I would be very interested to know what your husband says. Please let me know after you have shown him the article.

    Re the question about children – I think that like most things, it depends on the context. Personally, I think that it’s okay to ask someone if they have children provided that you don’t start asking “Why not?” if they say no. That would be very rude and insensitive.



  15. YU on 2012年05月17日 at 11:48

    Hi David,

    As for the question about children – I think it also depends on how old the woman or the wife of the person you talk to. I personally think if the person is around 35 already, it’s better to avoid the question. Likewise, if you don’t know the age of the person’s wife, it is safer not to ask the question, I think.

    >I would be very interested to know what your husband says. Please let me know after you have shown him the article.

    Yes, I will.
    I actually didn’t ask him last night because he worked overtime and looked very tired, but I think I can have a long talk with him on weekend.

    Reading your article, I thought of writing my version ; “Things You Should Not Say To Mixed Children and Their Parents”

    My son is a mixed child and has a bit exotic face.
    Some Japanese don’t realize that he is a mixed child, because my husband is Asian, though.

    Most frequent questions from other Japanese are ;

    1. Is he a mixed child? (Ha-fu desuka?)

    2. Where is his father from?
    (Papa wa dochirano kunino kata desuka?)

    3. What language do you speak at home? English?
    (Ie dewa nanigo de hanasunndesuka? Eigo?)
    – Most Japanese don’t seem to know that my husband’s country has their own language.)

    4. Does your husband speak English?

    5. Does your husband speak Japanese?

    6. What does he do? English teacher?
    (Dannasan oshigoto wa? Eigo no sensei?
    – In Japan it is unusual to ask this question to the person who you met for the first time, but people don’t seem to hesitate to ask this when your husband is a foreigner.

    7. Are you going back to his country with him someday?
    (Showraitekiniwa dannasan no kuni ni issho ni kaerundesuka?)
    – My son was born in Japan and he is half Japanese. He may choose Japanese nationality and live here until he dies. Do people want to tear my family apart!?

    8. Do you(and your husband) teach English to him(my son)?
    – Why? By chance I’m teaching him English, but it is not because he is a mixed child, but because I like English.

    I can’t think of more than these now, but I’m almost sure that my son would end up struggling with following questions in the future….

    – Do you speak English?

    – Speak something in English.

    – Although you’re a mixed child, why can’t you speak English?

    etc…

    I wonder why Japanese people expect that all mixed children speak good English.
    Neither parents of my son comes from English-speaking countries, so I think the questions above are a bit cruel for him.

    Bye for now !



  16. David Barker on 2012年05月17日 at 12:12

    Hi YU

    That would be a very interesting article! Japanese people definitely tend to think “foreigner=speaks English,” so I guess it is up to people like you to educate them.

    By the way, I have heard that parents of children of mixed race prefer to think of them as “doubles” rather than “halves.” Actually, I recently read an article in a newspaper in the UK saying that people of mixed race tend to have a lot of advantages because their genes come from two completely different gene pools. Apparently, a very high proportion of top athletes in the UK are of mixed race. It’s funny that people throughout history have talked about being “pure,” but from a genetic point of view, “pure” is the worst thing you can be.



  17. YU on 2012年05月17日 at 17:15

    Hi David,

    > I have heard that parents of children of mixed race prefer to think of them as “doubles” rather than “halves.”

    That is a very positive way of thinking !
    Children of mixed race are the fruits of two different humanbeings from two different countries, so the term of “half” is indeed not appropriate for them. “One” plus “one” is two/double, not “half”.

    > Actually, I recently read an article in a newspaper in the UK saying that people of mixed race tend to have a lot of advantages because their genes come from two completely different gene pools.

    I’ve heard of the theory before.

    > Apparently, a very high proportion of top athletes in the UK are of mixed race.

    This reminds me of an athlete named Dean Genki who is a javelin thrower.
    His father is English and his mother is Japanese.
    He is Japanese by nationality.
    Apparently, he might become a national team member for London olympic games.
    Yu Darvish, Koji Murofushi(shot-putter gold medalist) are also children of mixed race.

    > It’s funny that people throughout history have talked about being “pure,” but from a genetic point of view, “pure” is the worst thing you can be.

    Yes, indeed.
    But, of course, I think there are a lot of people with good genes among “pure” race too.

    By the way, I’m wondering if I should post comments here, because this is actually “blog for teachers”, right?
    However, I learn a lot from reading comments of native English speakers here !!



  18. David Barker on 2012年05月17日 at 17:37

    Hi YU,

    Feel free to post here if you find the topics interesting.



  19. YU on 2012年05月18日 at 17:04

    Hi David,

    I showed your article to my husband last night.
    Please remember that he is quite optimistic and easy going.

    Here is his reaction :

    1. “Where are you from?”
    -He thinks it is very natural to start a conversation with this question. But, he agrees with you in that we should not expect all foreigners speak English.

    2. “We Japanese…”
    -He has never heard Japanese saying “we Japanese” in English, but he often hears the phrase, “日本人ってさ~”
    from me or other Japanese people. But, it doesn’t annoy him at all.

    3. “Nihongo jozu desune”
    -He’s been living here for almost 9 years.
    He doesn’t mind to receive this compliment at all and he will be just pleased.

    4. “Do you like natto?”
    – As you described, it might not be very common to talk about “food” in most English-speaking countries.
    But, he is Asian and most Asian people like eating or talking about food. He is not the exception, so he doesn’t mind if a stranger asked this question.

    5. “Can you use chopsticks?”
    -As long as he’s never had meals with the person before, there will be no problem with this question.

    6. “Comments or questions about a person’s body or age”
    -He’s seldom been commented about that from other Japanese people. He’s been said, “Your head is so small” or “Your head has a nice shape”, but he didn’t feel bad, because they weren’t negative comments.

    7. “Are you married?”
    – He doesn’t mind. It all depends on how they ask him.

    8. “What is your religion?”
    – He doesn’t mind, but he also thinks that’s a very delicate matter for many people, and it’s better not to ask at all.

    9. “When are you going back to your country?”
    – He doesn’t mind unless the person knows him very well.

    10. “Do you like Japanese sushi?”
    – He can’t remember whether Japanese people usually put “Japanese” before “sushi” when they ask this question to him. But, this is indeed a very frequently asked question.
    (By the way, German people frequently asked me, “Can you make sushi?” or “Do you east sushi everyday in Japan” when I was in Germany. I was tired of hearing and answering those questions.)

    I’m sorry, my husband is easy going, so he might be too insensitive to comment on your article….

    At last, here is one example what my husband feels bothered by Japanese people;

    While he asks a question in Japanese in natural speed,
    the person answers him in Japanese, but in extremly unnatural(slow) speed, as if he/she were talking to a very small child. He feels “This person treats me like a fool !!”.

    See you !



  20. David Barker on 2012年05月20日 at 22:09

    Hi YU

    Thanks for the feedback. Your husband certainly sounds very easy-going! Mind you, as an Asian, he probably has a slightly different experience from Westerners who live in Japan.



  21. YU on 2012年05月21日 at 08:54

    Hi David,

    > Your husband certainly sounds very easy-going!

    Hahaha…Yes, my husband is easy-going. He’s exact opposite of me.
    But, maybe that is why we live in perfect harmony as man and wife now. 🙂

    > Mind you, as an Asian, he probably has a slightly different experience from Westerners who live in Japan.

    I think so too.
    He probably feels less stress than Westerners who live in Japan, as Asian people have many things in common.

    See you !



  22. Travis Jones on 2012年05月21日 at 21:59

    Mr. Barker,

    My exact thoughts! You’ve nailed it on the head. Congratulations!
    All I need to do now is to translate it and distribute it (Course with your permission) among my colleagues.
    I don’t think it’d be a bad idea to send a copy to various school borads as well.

    I think Japanese people need to realize that “internationalization” is not just about possessing some European brand name goods!!

    I also believe that these issues can be addressed very easily in the schools and the media but I have a feeling that they don’t want to since by doing so they have to eliminate the existing invisible line that seperates them and the outsiders!
    In a nutshell, guests are welcome but no dwellers!

    In the meanwhile, I suppose all we can do is to keep the faith and educate.

    Travis



  23. David Barker on 2012年05月22日 at 00:24

    Hi Travis,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you liked the article. Please feel free to distribute it as far and wide as you can. I’m aiming for total elimination of the “natto” question from the Japanese psyche by 2015! (Not holding my breath, mind you…)

    Good point about the translation. I guess that would be very useful for a lot of teachers. If you can give me a bit of time, I might be able to get that sorted. If I can, I will post it here in the near future.



  24. YU on 2012年05月22日 at 10:35

    Hi David,

    Because I find this article very interesting, I’ve decided to use it for a discussion theme at the next English language club meeting.

    I’m looking forward to hearing other members’ thoughts.

    See you !



  25. David Barker on 2012年05月25日 at 11:31

    I have added a Japanese translation of this article for anyone who wants their students to read it in their own language. Please scroll to the top of the article and click on the link to download the PDF file.



  26. YU on 2012年05月25日 at 15:29

    Hi David,

    Wow, you managed to finish it all in such a shor time!?
    Aanyway, it’s a great help to me.
    I’ll take your translation with me to next English language club meeting, because one of the members is a beginner.

    Thank you !



  27. Vick on 2012年05月30日 at 00:37

    What an interesting topic!
    But again as they say here: JU NIN TO IRO.
    I line behind Yu’s husband. Not so easy going,though, but I would like to give the Japanese the benefit of the doubt on most of these points. My gut feeling is that most of them are innocent openers to conversations, and you noted well, they also ask them in Japanese. I have noticed they ask the same questions to themselves as well(at least the relevant ones)! I don’t expect them to spare foreigners of the same.
    So I will pray (and you may not need to ask me what my religion is!:
    ”Lord, grant me the grace to change what I can, and to accept what I cannot change, AMEN”



  28. David Barker on 2012年05月30日 at 06:45

    Hi Vick,

    Thanks for your comment. As I said in an earlier posting, I think the important point for teachers to consider is not whether we personally would be bothered by these questions, but whether there are other people who might be. Personally, I don’t mind being asked whether I am married, but I know there are a lot of people who do, so I teach my students that it is better not to ask the question. If a teacher thinks, “I don’t mind being asked about chopsticks, so there is no need to teach my students not to ask it,” I think that he or she does the students a disservice.

    Actually, there was an article about this recently in the Japan Times. Here is the link, if you are interested.

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20120501ad.html

    I don’t really agree with the idea of “micro aggression,” but the readers’ responses in the follow-up article showed that a lot of people out there do.

    Thanks again for the comment.



  29. YU on 2012年05月30日 at 16:12

    Hi David,

    Yesterday we discussed this article at the English language club meeting.
    Usually it takes time to change our conversation from “Japanese mode” to “English mode”, but thanks to your interesting article, yesterday we had a lively discussion “IN ENGLISH” after a long time! Thank you!

    They agreed with you on some points, but it is also true that they disagreed with you on many other points.

    One member (she is a beginner) said, “I always talk to people from other countries in English regardless of their nationality or mother toungue, because I want to practice English.”
    I didn’t expect that there was such a shameless(図々しい) person in my English language club, but wow!!,there certainly was !!! (She is a nice person, actually…)

    After all, I feel that what you say is very true :

    > I think the important point for teachers to consider is not whether we personally would be bothered by these questions, but whether there are other people who might be.

    A common sense for yourself is not necessarily a common sense for other people. Because everyone has a different personality, and they will have different ways of feeling.

    Finally, I was just lucky to have met an easy-going foreign man like my husband, as I think I have asked/said almost all questions you pointed out here to him around the time I have just met him.

    Thank you again for the interesting article!

    Bye for now !



  30. David Barker on 2012年05月30日 at 19:09

    Hi YU,

    Thanks for the feedback. Glad to hear that the article was useful for your club. I hope lots of other people will be able to use it in the same way 🙂



  31. Vick on 2012年05月31日 at 06:13

    David,
    thanks for your Arudou article. I have to appreciate this is a big problem for many folks out there (I hope I am not one of those living in denial!!), and I think you are right to posit your whole argument into the perspective of my duty as a teacher and the service I should do to my students to help them NOT to come across as ”Microaggressors.”
    By the way, when I discussed this with an NJ co-worker on the school bus yesterday, he reminded me about the taxi drivers’ assumption that all NJs are from the USA!!!!
    TD: Where are you from?
    NJ: I’m from the Uk.
    (after a few minutes)
    TD: So what are the summers like in the States?…..



  32. Brian Cullen on 2012年06月04日 at 18:22

    Thanks David – interesting and thought-provoking as usual. I’m going to give out a copy to my third year students and get their reactions.



  33. Elias on 2012年06月11日 at 23:46

    Read the article and am LOL!! Thought you`d been asked a dieefrfnt question at first when i saw the letters KY up there. Wonder if they know the usual English understanding of the meaning those two letters create?Anyway great post and links, the wife and I are now educating ourselves to talk to our rapidly Yunkeefying kids.C U L8R (best i can do i like real words!! Ore wa Ojisan desu)Damon



  34. Tanja on 2012年06月19日 at 21:17

    “If you choose to lve n a foreign culture then you have to take the good with the bad. Personally I find none of the things on your list offensive, just innocent Japanese being Japanese.”

    I 100% disagree that you have to take the good with the bad. Sometimes the bad needs to be addressed and changed. It is how cultures/countries/society as a whole progresses and becomes more accepting and open-minded – ie could give various examples of not accepting gays, women being seen as second class citizens… Pressure from others is often what makes change, not silently “putting up” with things. Indeed, there are cultural differences and whatnot but starting a conversation addressing how “you” are different from “us” is never going to be the way forward.

    “Japanese being Japanese” isn’t a reasonable excuse anymore. Nor is “We are a small island nation” which I often hear for an excuse of bad behaviour or narrow-mindedness. With modernization and mass communication, if Japan wants to have a chance in the global markets and being seen as a leading nation, they need understand that a lot of the things “they” say to foreigners isn’t okay – even if it is based on ignorance and no malicious intent is there.

    A lot of irretation is based on the fact that things get repeatedly asked/stated by numerous people. True, and perhaps is it unfair for “us” to be upset at it but I have no doubt most Japanese would be miffed if they went abroad and were constantly asked about manga, cosplay and sushi – I have students who studied abroad who complained about the foreign otaku who only wanted to discuss these types of things. I would rather someone discuss the weather with me than take notice of the fact that I am not “one of them” and move from there.

    I had an interesting conversation with my English majors last week with regards to “Who is Japanese?” and they all agreed that people had to stop judging people based on their looks with regards to nationality. Needless to say, was rather happy about that!



  35. David Barker on 2012年06月20日 at 10:59

    Hi Tanja,

    Thanks for your comment. I had forgotten about the ridiculous “It’s because we are an island nation” defence. When people say that to me, I tell them I am from Britain and suggest that they might like to look at a map, paying particular attention to the blue colour around the borders of my country. I imagine people from New Zealand and Australia have a very similar reaction.

    I agree that it is appropriate for us to try to “address and change the bad,” particularly when our role in this country is that of educators. This is also true when we go back to our native countries, of course. As I said in an earlier comment, I find it incredibly embarrassing to hear idiotic British people shouting “Ni hao!” across the road at my Japanese students. When I was in the US many years ago, a young guy asked me where I was from. I told him that I was from England (I had learned by that point to give up hoping that anyone might have heard of Wales), and he said, “England? That’s where they speak French, right?” It’s difficult to know what to say to that!

    Re the nationality / looks question, there is a very strong myth here that Japanese people somehow look “different” from Korean and Chinese people. Whilst this is definitely true with regard to clothes and fashion, I don’t think it has any validity if you are talking about facial characteristics. When I lived in Singapore, I went to a nightclub one night with some adult Japanese students of the language school where I was working. In the bar, I saw a gorgeous young woman. I was sure she was Japanese, so I asked one of my male students to go and talk to her. He said, “She is definitely Chinese, so go and talk to her yourself.” He then went on to explain to me how “We Japanese can tell the difference even if you Westerners can’t.” Anyway, I kept pestering, and eventually he gave in just to prove me wrong. It turned out her name was Naomi and she was from Kyoto! Actually, I still have some photos of four women that I dated when I lived in Singapore. Two were Japanese, one was from Taiwan, and one was Thai-Chinese. I have shown those photos to many Japanese people and asked them to guess which were the Japanese girls, and without fail, they always get at least one wrong.



  36. YU on 2012年06月20日 at 12:28

    Hi David,

    I just remembered that long a go the Governor of Tokyo Ishihara called Korean residents in Japan, Chinese and Taiwanese “三国人”, which was a disparaging word after the WWII, and his statement aroused a great deal of controversy. (Now he is trying to buy the Senkaku Islands, and I’m on pins and needles for fear he might say something rude to our neighboring countries again.)

    I don’t want to admit this as a Japanese nation, but there seem to be still some Japanese people who strongly believe “Japanese are superior to those three nations”, which is very ridiculous.
    I know nothing about your student in Singapore, but I suspect his words just came from his beliefs(wrong impression) that he(Japanese) was superior to Chinese.

    By the way, I went to the city hall with my husband the other day. The staff took me for him. My husband was caring of our son on the waiting bench at that time.(My husband has an exotic face and looks obviously a foreigner.) She thought I was a foreigner!? No one has told me I look a foreigner in my life, though…
    So, I don’t think Japanese people’s eyes are that reliable.



  37. Tanja on 2012年06月20日 at 22:20

    I always use the UK as an example of a “small island nation/kingdom” to address the issue of this reply. Glad to see I am not alone! 😉

    I also 100% agree with your comments with regards to educating those “home”. I had to let a few people know during my year in London that “Jap” was not a cool word to use, more so to someone with a Japanese husband… The thing is, none of the people I spoke to disagreed with me. I was given an apology and I don’t doubt those people don’t use the word anymore. Frustratingly, I can state the same with regards to being called a “gaijin”.

    Yu, I think Ishihara has upset many with his “bugler” comments with regards to the islands. I know myself that I wish Ishihara and his cronies would, well, move to the islands themselves and stay there so the rest of us don’t have to listen to him his racist, sexist, narrow-minded self. Why people in Tokyo continue to vote for this man is beyond me. He makes Japan look bad. I am hoping Japan doesn’t get the olympics because I think this man is nothing but disgusting with regards to how he views anyone not Japanese – and well, he’s done so many other things but won’t get into that now….

    I also have to laugh at the city hall story. My husband now knows he has to do all of the talking while I say nothing. Even when I speak, they address all answers and questions to him so I’ve given up.



  38. YU on 2012年06月21日 at 09:32

    Hi Tanja

    > I think Ishihara has upset many with his “bugler” comments with regards to the islands.

    I know that. I just hope he will not continue it.
    He is a hard-liner(hawk), but he should always keep in mind that what he states in public is very influential as he is a politician.

    > Why people in Tokyo continue to vote for this man is beyond me.

    I guess he won the last election because he cried for
    “Brave Fukushima 50″(!?) It(his reaction) looked rather a monkey show to me, though…

    > Even when I speak, they address all answers and questions to him so I’ve given up.

    Hahaha…Please don’t give up and continue to educate Japanese people!!



  39. ds on 2012年06月21日 at 20:49

    Hey David;

    This is one of your old coworkers from Gaidai here. I remember hashing out the questions in the lunch room last year. Howz life?

    Anyway, my two cents’ worth…

    About mixed kids, I’ve started to like using the term “hybrid” to describe my son. It’s cool, modern, high tech sounding. Plus, it’s accurate. A hybrid car has 2 engines, which each work when they are needed depending on the situation. My son has 2 cultures/languages, and deploys each depending on the situation. Both are equal and integral.

    Keep up the good work!



  40. David Barker on 2012年06月22日 at 13:33

    Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you approve of the final result of all our discussions 🙂

    I’ve never heard the term “hybrid” used in this way before, but it makes a lot of sense. I love the idea of deploying whichever culture or language is appropriate for the situation.



  41. Miho on 2012年08月08日 at 19:00

    Hi, Mr.Barker. 初めまして。美帆と申します。

    I am not sure if I should post a comment here because it has been a while since you posted this article, but I could not help.
    I found this article while I was trying to find an interesting one for my English lesson and this is very informative.
    I have to admit that I have done most of the things you listed and I never expected anyone to feel bad about the questions.
    Just like your student, Rina san, mentioned, I asked these questions because I always thought that it would make fun conversations.

    But after I read your article, I came to think that it would be absolutely frustrating if I am freaquently asked these questions in foreign country. The questions especially No.1, 3, 6 and 9 that I found the most annoying.

    Thank you so much for sharing your idea with us.



  42. David Barker on 2012年08月08日 at 19:11

    Hi Miho,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found the article useful.



  43. Another David on 2012年10月20日 at 08:23

    Hi David,

    This is all true, but to really be useful shouldn’t it be written in Japanese?



  44. David Barker on 2012年10月20日 at 09:12

    Hi David,

    It is! Just click on the Japanese button at the top of the page or click on the link in the introduction to download a PDF of the translation.



  45. David on 2012年11月13日 at 22:31

    A woman I recently met called Satoko Watkins just put a great post on her Facebook page. As you might guess from her last name, Satoko has had a lot of experience of dealing with people from other countries. Here is her list of “Nine things you shouldn’t say/do when you meet an Asian:”

    1. When you want to know what race I am, do not ask me if I’m Chinese. There are other Asian countries besides China and Japan…just FYI.

    2. Also, you do not need to tell me that you think Chinese women are beautiful after I have said I am Japanese.

    3. Do not ask me “What are you?” The answer will be “I am a human being.”

    4. Do not point at me. I may not know your language, but I understand that you are probably saying, “Look, it’s an Asian!”

    5. Do not just walk up to me and bow. I usually smile and bow back, but I’m thinking “what the heck?”

    6. It is not ok to assume that all Asians know Karate and love Hello Kitty.

    7. No, you will not find Ninja or Samurai in Japanese forest. I’m sorry.

    8. You do not need to tell me that you have a Korean friend. There are 3.9 billion people in Asia, and I’m pretty sure I don’t know the person and I will never meet him/her.

    9. Not all Asians have constipation (or constipated grimace), and that is certainly not the reason that we have squinty eyes (although I found this joke hilarious).

    I found number 8 the funniest. When people in my country hear that I live in Japan, they always feel the need to mention a brother / cousin / nephew who has visited or lives in Japan. As Satoko says, it is pretty unlikely that I will know them, so why are you telling me?!

    I also like number 5. In Japan, people often walk up to me, offer to shake my hand, and say, “Nice to meet you” even though I have no idea who they are!

    Anyway, thanks, Satoko, for the great list.



  46. Satoko Watkins on 2012年11月14日 at 11:31

    Hi David,
    Thank you for adding my list to your article. I’m glad that you found it funny:) In regard to #5, people do not only bow but also they put their hands together and pray for me, like I am Buddha or a Kung fu master. haha I understand that is how people greet each other in Cambodia and some other countries, but again I don’t think they do that to strangers:P



  47. Biwa on 2012年11月14日 at 11:32

    Hi David,

    I found Satoko’s list funny perhaps in a different way from yours. I was always asked if I were a Chinese when I lived in America when I was a child, not only by children but also from adults, and they never seem to change after nearly 40 years have passed. I believe that things are different according to the number of people from other countries living/visiting there, but I really like the way Vick said that things are JUNIN TOIRO(十人十色). There are various people regardless of nationality/races/appearances, and I’d just ignore those people who would ask me stupid questions or bow at me for no reason or show me kung foo actions. ( Don’t they learn that kung foo is a Chinese thing?)
    However, I’d like to talk about these things to my students because I would never want them to give stupid impressions to others.



  48. David Barker on 2012年11月14日 at 11:40

    Hi Satoko,

    When people bow to you, you should kneel down and bow to them on the floor just to see what they do! It’s embarrassing to say this, but I think most western people’s ideas about Asian politeness come from Kung Fu movies.

    Hi Biwa,

    Vick has a point, but I don’t think we should use that as an excuse for not teaching our students not to do these things. Vick is probably the most easygoing person I have ever met in my life, and I can’t imagine him ever being offended by anything. Unfortunately, not everyone is like Vick.

    Anyway, the thing I liked most about Satoko’s list is that it reminds us that saying stupid things to foreigners is not only something that Japanese people do.



  49. Biwa on 2012年11月14日 at 11:59

    Hi David,

    I totally agree. I’ll just let the people I don’t know do as they like (it’s none of my business!), but it’s really my business if my students or my children did that. I also think that it’s not just a kind of language problem but also a common sense which we have to teach to our younger generations.



  50. YU on 2012年11月14日 at 13:00

    Hi David,

    Please allow me to post my comment here for this time only, though I’m not a teacher.

    > Anyway, the thing I liked most about Satoko’s list is that it reminds us that saying stupid things to foreigners is not only something that Japanese people do.

    I totally agree with you.
    Lots of strangers (regardless children or adults) have spoke to me when I lived in Germany like; “Hey, Ni Hao!”. I always just ignored them, but I felt very bad because some of them shouted at me from the other side of the street laughing foolishly. I thought “They’re looking down on me.”.

    I have to admit that my husband is very easygoing, but like you mentioned about Vick, “I can’t imagine him being ever offended by anything”. He is a human being, too. I have a feeling that people like him or Vick have a little more patiance for everything other people do than we have.

    It’s safer to teach your students or children the ways adjusting to the majority. I mean, people like us, not like my husband.



  51. Kagwa on 2013年03月05日 at 15:23

    I think and am almost sure that this was written by a Japanese. I do not have anything against Japanese, they are good guys in general but they are the ones susceptible like described herein.
    I really do not see any foreigner (I do not include Korean and chinese, because their culture is different to the Japanese one but closer than would be with mine from Africa).
    So, you can ask me whatever I will even not have a single problem with that.



  52. David Barker on 2013年03月05日 at 20:01

    Hi Kagwa,

    Thanks for your comment. Actually, the writer of the article was me, and I am British. As I said in other comments, I realise that there are many people who would not be bothered by some or all of these questions, but there are many others who find them very annoying, or even offensive. I think it is a good idea to make Japanese people aware of this possibility.



  53. Kaitlyn on 2014年07月26日 at 14:26

    Reading this as an American who later moved to Canada. Even though the two countries are close to each other, I still get some of these questions. I hate it when people ask how I like Canada, because of all the pressure. An interesting article, though.



  54. David on 2014年07月26日 at 16:45

    Thanks for your comment, Kaitlin. It’s interesting how the same problem occurs in different situations around the world. As I mentioned somewhere above, I always find it really embarrassing when I take Japanese students to the UK and idiots shout “Ni hao” at them across the street.