*to Hanlon's razor: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Fuck Keigo

Went to Tesco/Tsurukame to buy milk, coffee, eggs and yoghurt.  Then realized they don't take credit card, and I had little cash.  Fuck.  That Japan's barely joined the civilized world with inconsistent ability to purchase by card is not even what annoyed me most with the clerk's answer:
Usage is not a potentiality...*
I'm a 6' white guy, who mumbled the question to the clerk "can I use this?" in the simplest Japanese, so the way he answers me is to use the arch and vague 'keigo' his managers require him to, because the Japanese find it polite, but a Gaijin has high odds of not understanding?  It's not like there're a lot of Gaijin JSL speakers in my part of Tokyo, or anything?  There are.  He must deal with a dozen in a shift.  Morons who speak 'keigo' to non-fluent Gaijin, politeness is not about honorific speech, it is about putting people at their ease: with second language speakers that is by making yourself easily understood, without patronizing them.  It's this lack of cosmopolitanism that puts me off bothering to learn more Japanese (older post on same).  Maybe it's just a case of something I've read elsewhere:
In Japan the people act like robots, and the robots like people.
Bear in mind this is Tokyo, not 'the sticks'.  I've had better luck in 'the sticks'!  Not with getting English, which I don't need**, but with getting straightforward Japanese.  For the most part people will switch to 'Standard Japanese' for me, which they might scorn doing for a Kanto native, and good for them.

*I know there's no subject or object.  Welcome to Japanese.
**Two years of university Japanese in my twenties, four years in Japan over two decades, level three in the proficiency test, if you must know.  BFD.


  1. I don't want to be an apologist for the damn keigo but you can bet if he didn't use, the gaijin to come along would be ranting about the clerk not using keigo with gaijins and screaming racism!

    It needs to be stamped out from the top down. Without keigo, I can imagine it'd be much easier to tell your boss you aren't working overtime/ making his coffee/ etc if you weren't talking keigo.

  2. ... and that's probably why it'll never be stamped out.

  3. "In Japan the people act like robots, and the robots like people."

    Poetic and an accurate social observation. Japan is doomed. I vacillate between enjoying watching it and being driven mad by watching it.

  4. My teachers have tried to teach us keigo at least 3 times now and I forget it every time. There's so little point to it's usage.

  5. It's useful for comprehension, but unless you need to function as a Japanese person in a Japanese workplace, or are self-nominated 'pet-Gaijin', you rarely need more than 'polite speech'.

  6. I like it, or at least the fact of it's existence, because I always start by apologising for not knowing it, so please excuse me if I'm rude. People have always accepted this without question, which then gives me leave to vary my levels of politeness wildly without giving offence. I've not yet deliberately used this as cover to be purposefully rude, but I've come close a couple of times.

  7. Wifey tends to scorn when I make yogurt at home. No, neither has anything to do with polite speech... it is all a matter of culture.

  8. You could also, you know, try and learn Japanese.

    That also have the added benefit of helping you make knowledgeable comments about the country you live in, instead of the tripe you spew at the moment.

  9. And you, 'Anonymous', could be less of a pussy and at least give an online ID, and link to your blog or site. I am also honest, and modest, about my own Japanese proficiency. Are you so modest in your estimation of your own?

    You're here trolling, because I said Sea-Shepherd were tactically clever, on J-Probe. Did I say I agreed, or not? Can you read English well enough to tell?