Thursday, December 8, 2022

What do I say?

A Japanese person I know and who works where I do, came out of his building at the same time I was walking by, as I was leaving work the other evening. His English is good and he asked me in English why my Japanese skills aren't better. His question caught me off guard and I didn't really have an answer. Soon after, we parted ways, leaving me to think about the encounter.  

In the first place, I felt attacked. How do my Japanese skills affect him?  In the second place, what does he know about my skills?  At work I only speak English. I am an English teacher.  My job is to speak English. If someone doesn't understand me, I say it another way or speak more slowly, or at times have drawn a picture on my white board. But, at work I only speak English and I only see this person at work.

If I had been asked if I’d like to have better skills, of course I would say yes. That said, I get by rather well with the skills I have. I live in an area without naive English speakers, and outside of work, not many people who speak any English. I can handle my local business at the bank or the post office, or when shopping. I can't read an entire food label but I know some food kanji and know I don't want to buy something when meat è‚‰ is an ingredient. I can greet my neighbors and answer questions that people ask me when I am out and about. (Yes, people ask me many questions, like where am I from or if my hair is real, or comment on things I do, like going to work earlier than usual or walking fast). I was able to make online vaccination appointments on a Japanese website. I have traveled all over Japan mostly by myself and don't have language difficulties. My kanji recognition and sign reading is getting better, and I can get where I want to go and do what I want to do. English signage in places like Tokyo is great, but I often go to out of the way places without much English.

Granted, I can’t do everything I need to do by myself.  I am thankful for the help of my friends in those situations. Earlier this year, I received a notice in the mail from the gas company that I didn’t understand. My friend called the gas company and found out they wanted to change my gas alarm and she made an appointment for someone to come to my apartment. 

I don’t know why I am so put out by this.  I do feel attacked and I’m not used to anyone in Japan treating me like this. We all have just 24 hours in a day. I could choose to study Japanese more instead of stitching or doing the other things I do with my time, but I make my own choices. No one else can or should try to make choices for me. I resent being asked why my Japanese isn’t better.


Queeniepatch said...

I agree with you 100%!
The level of your Japanese skills has absolutely NOTHING to do with this person!

In a sense, it was good that you were caught off guard and didn't have an instant answer. If it had been me that was thus attacked, and I had had my wits about me, I would have been very angry and said something really rude!

In his defence, maybe his OWN skills are not that good! Is he a student of yours? If yes, then you would know his ability, but if he is not, maybe there are gaps in his skills and knowledge.
As you know there are people who have memorised a lot of phrases and appear to be fluent in English when greeting or talking formally. As soon as they need to take part in 'small talk' however, you realise that they can not speak well or make rude comments without knowing it, or meaning to.

There is another thing that springs to mind. Have you noticed how frank some Japanese are when they speak English, especially when they talk to a foreigner? They say and ask things they would NEVER ask a fellow Japanese. For example, the question you got: ' Is your hair real?'
'Why are the palms of your hands not black?' is a question I overheard on the train. it was followed by a giggle, so I think the person 'dared himself' to ask the question. The coloured person, who was asked, was of course outraged by the whole thing.

Maybe some Japanese people feel braver when they speak in a foreign language or want to be 'pals' with any foreigner they see, thereby avoiding being polite and courteous.

Vireya said...

I think it would be hard not to be offended by a question like that, even if the questioner did not mean to cause offence. It is a rude question, and unless your Japanese skill level impacted on him in some way, it is none of his business.

I hope you didn't let his rudeness spoil your day.

Sandra said...

I'm sorry that you feel hurt by this person and it's understandable. Maybe he has only ever heard you speak English at work, which is what you are there for, so maybe he doesn't understand and thinks you should be speaking in Japanese. Perhaps you should take him to one side and ask him and don't be afraid to tell him that you were upset by his comment, I am sure he didn't mean to offend you.

Lin said...

And so you should resent his question! Totally out of order. xx

Toki said...

No matter how well he speaks English, I can't respect him.
I'm Japanese like him, but I can't think of the same question as him.
Cause I don't need to hear.

He is a brazen man who knows nothing about you.😡

Your friends know that you are doing very well in your daily life in Japan.
Your friends know that you are an ingenious and hard worker.
I am one of them.🙋

kiwikid said...

He is completely out of line and rude!! Very unusual for a Japanese person I would think. You have every right to feel outraged Pamela.

Jeanie said...

Well, first of all, he was out of line (though he may have just been curious -- I suppose tone would tell you that.) If it was me, I would go back to him and say, "I've been thinking what you said, and I felt a bit attacked by your question." And remind him it is your job to speak English at work -- that is what you are supposed to do. That in your private life, as you've said here, you negotiate well, with Japanese friends and conversation."

I think it is important for him to know that -- and probably a good thing to get off your chest. Of course, if he is a person in power to affect your job, that might be trickier but even so, I think I would have done that to my boss. Politely, in the name of clearing the air and reminding him of your position. Who knows? It might help. If nothing else, it might make you feel better.

Diane-crewe said...

Perhaps it is because his English skills do not allow him to frame the question in a more polite way … maybe this is an opportunity for you both to examin your “skills” and open a dialog where you can both learn about each other’s culture and language x Sometimes it is good to be challenged, and, because you did not answer immediately it has given you a chance to reflect. If it continues to be a problem with him … we’ll move on and avoid him! Life is MUCH to short for that x lol x

Leonore Winterer said...

It's possible he didn't mean it in a rude way, and it just came across this way because we're not used to Japanese people being that direct...but I also understand that you felt attacked! I haven't heard you speak Japanese but to get by and around as well as you do, your skills can't be that bad! If you get by in your everyday life, there's really no reason to dedicate all that much time to it if you don't want to, noone expects you to read books or write poetry in Japanese!