Thursday, April 27, 2006

Aiming for Zero Compliments in Japanese

Whenever I'm introduced to someone here, I say "hello, nice to meet you" in japanese. Then I close my eyes, grit my teeth, and wait for the inevitable.
"Wow, you're good at speaking Japanese!"

Ah.. there it is.

What is wrong with me, why do I hate that so much? I obviously have some weird complex or something, but that's beside the point... let me try and say my take on it.

Perhaps it is because I haven't said anything yet. Perhaps it is because the person, obviously meaning well, would NEVER say that to another Japanese person.... really, it means "you're good at speaking japanese (for a foreigner!) and I hate it.

Whenever I'm complimented , I try hard to make a stupid joke.
At my company's bo-nen-kai (remember what that means, faithful blog readers? ^^) I said
"Kyra desu, yoroshiku onegaishimasu". (I'm Kyra, nice to meet you).
My coworker looked impressed and said
"Nihongo umai desu ne!" (You're good at speaking japanese, aren't you?)

Eh, I thought he might say that. Come ON, I work in your company, what were you expecting, I couldn't say hello?) heh. SO I said jokingly
"mada nanimo ittenai desu kedo..." which means, "Really? But I haven't said anything yet..."
...this little utterance which I said without even thinking about it floored my colleagues and made the coworker who said that turn red and change the subject.
Score one for Kyra!

Another time I'm rather proud of is when I started going to volleyball practice. It was my first time, and during the break between games I was chatting with one of my new aquaintances. I think I was talking about how stressful it can be working in a company where there are like five levels of politeness and I'm not sure exactly how polite I'm supposed to be to whom. She was very sweet and said "I don't know what you're worried about, your Japanese is very good, especially your pronunciation" (ok, that is a nice compliment because it was within context and was something I was worried about, I was happy to hear it. ...maybe I am just weird).
But then about six other people all started saying "Yes, your speech is very pretty."
"Pretty, huh"
"Yes, really pretty."
"Definitely pretty".
It was about this time I was thinking: Ahh, make them stop! I have to think of something!!!
"Oh, you're talking about my face, right? OH HO HO HO HO! " I said in that dumb high pitch laugh.

THe volleyball players stopped short, looked at each other, and went back into practice. I'm one hundred percent sure they were thinking "What an idiot". And yet, I'm still rather proud of that time... ^_~

Anyways, the way I feel about compliments in japanese is, the fewer I get, the more progress I'm making. When I visited Eriko the very first time I ever came to Japan and I only knew seven words (hello, goodbye, yes, no, sorry, thanks and ...bear ), I got complimented every time I said something. I mean it, I think I spilled something in a restaurant and said "SOrry!" probably with a weird accent, and the waiter who came to clean it up said "Nihongo umai desu ne!"

But these days, once we get past the fact that I can say hello just fine, thank you, and I am a businesswoman at NEC where I do nothing but speak japanese all day, I get decidedly fewer compliments, and I can't tell you how glad I am. In fact, it's the opposite. If someone is strict and corrects what I say, I am pretty much the most grateful person you'll ever see.

Does anyone else have this strange anti-compliment complex?

-Troubled in Tokyo


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know the feeling. "Quit praising me as an amateur, and criticize me as a pro!".

Eigo o izen toshite hanasu-ka?

- hiniku-na-chichi

11:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think very often all it means is "Oh! I've just noticed you're not Japanese!", but it would be a bit too obvious to say "Ara?! Gaijin-san da! Bikkuri shita!"

That's why some people even say "nihongo jouzo desu ne" before you open your mouth.

I used to find it incredibly annoying, but then it dawned on me that it's just a general greeting and doesn't actually mean anything, so I find it less aggravating now.

When someone says it to me now I just say "mada mada benkyou shite imasu!" (I'm still learning!) - which is true. This seems to be a reasonable, non-aggravating response for both parties, and usually the conversation moves swiftly on towards more interesting topics.

Also, if I'm with another friend, I often jokily say "Iyaa, Tanaka-sensei no okage desu!" ("No, no, it's all thanks to my teacher here, Tanaka-sensei!") which is great as now *you* get the chance to throw around a compliment, and it focuses attention away from you and onto the other friend.

But basically I would recommend just paying it as little attention as possible and trying not to let it bother you.

If that's not your style, how about one of the folowing - ?

1) Kochira koso, nihongo jouzu desu ne! (Your Japanese is great too!)

2) Nani? "Jouzu" tte dou iu imi desu ka? (What? What does "jouzu" mean?) I.e. speak in totally fluent Japanese but pretend not to understand any compliments about your Japanese. Act like you understand "jouzu" when it's preceded by "Odoru no ga" or "Karaoke ga", just not "nihongo ga". Hahaha!

3) "Sou desu ne, jaa..." (Yeah, OK, so...) and just continue talking about whatever you want to say.

4) "Maa, nihongo mo jouzu nan dakedo, eigo wa motto jouzu desu yo!" (Well, my Japanese is pretty good, but my English is even better!)

Yeah, I know they're kinda cheeky and rude, but, y'know, you're probably better being a bit cheeky one time than saving up all your annoyance and then exploding one day in a Japanese TV drama stylee.

What d'ja reckon?


7:52 AM  
Blogger Kyra said...

Kim, you're hillarious! ^_^ I love the cheeky rude comments.
I *really* used to hate it when people would compliment my chopsticks skills, but as much as I wanted to, I could never get myself to compliment theirs to their honest, friendly faces.

I especially like the 'jyouzu tte nani?' *^_^* score points for style...

6:17 AM  
Anonymous Nikhil said...

Eee! I made it to my grandmother's house today to find two fantastic things! A wedding invivation, which I filled out and sent to its home despite how lovely it was to keep, AND a MAGIC POTION! Which I shall now keep forever until I run out of mana.

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Sarad D in Oita shi said...

i know how you feel -- it drives me crazy! but i think they say that -- "your japanese is good" as its just something to say. it's like when you eat chopsticks and they compliment you on using them because it's just something to say and have a conversation about. but i agree - it's annoying because it's not like you've done anything worthwhile. the less compliments you get, the more you feel you deserve them. but it drives me insane here because i get compliments on my "ohayo" and chopsticks, but never on my job or ability to live in japan without dying. :-p

5:39 AM  

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