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Nihongo ga jouzu desu ne! What the?!

I have truly come to loathe compliments from Japanese, any and all. Of course doubts about the sincerity are perhaps warranted from anybody, but with Japanese it seems especially prone to be totally insincere and I want to cram that BS right back up the orifice from whence it came.

Polite? In my mind, there is nothing more IMPOLITE than BSing me. For some reason, Japanese think its the height of being polite. I would rather be told the ugly truth than be told a pretty lie. I have appreciation for people who have the decency to tell me the ugly truth. Those who BS me only get contempt.

All countries have room for change and improvement. This is where Japan really needs to get is act together. BS may make the world go around and some people may feed happily on that (explicative). But in Japan its way too prevalent. The truth is like a needle in a haystack here.
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In my opinion, the "Nihongo /hashi ga jyouzu" style comments are simply a combination of two things:
1. A conversation ice breaker .... in the same way that Japan and a great many other languages and cultures use the weather.
2. A compliment - a polite, socially safe way of initiating a conversation and showing friendliness. Most compliments are directed at 'appearance', 'possessions' or 'ability'. As a Japanese person sees a compliment of appearance or possession as having higher potential to be misread by a non Japanese, they more often than not compliment ability .......hence the nihongo / hashi skills etc.
I've heard a lot of whinging Gaijin read far too much into this.
It's just an ice breaker and a well meaning compliment .... all awkwardly rolled into one. Nothing more.

The Japanese, as a basic cultural trait, are less inclined to and often find it quite difficult to initiate conversation with people they meet for the first time or don't know well ..... it being even more of an issue when they address non Japanese.
That's the way they are. If you don't learn to recognise, understand and adapt to the basic characteristics and idiosyncracies of a country you are living in .. you will probably have a miserable, sour existence there. This being particularly true of Japan.

I got over being annoyed at these remarks pretty quickly.
Just smile, make a joke and enjoy the conversation, now that the ice has been broken.

If you can't think of a funny reply yourself there are some (hit and miss) examples at this link:
9 Unique Ways To React To Repetitive Compliments About Your "Great Japanese" - Japanese Level Up
If it is of any consolation to the TS, I rarely get such compliments and sometimes I get "Oh, you're not Japanese?" 30 minutes or so into a conversation. And yes, I do think I stick out a bit because I'm fair like the average Japanese. But according to the last Japanese who was surprised that I'm not Japanese, its because I dress like them.

Just my 2 cents.

For the sake of context, I'm "South East Asian", living/working in Tokyo, and have been dealing with Japanese customers in Japanese for technical and commercial discussions before I moved here.

But people will be people. The same words coming from different people can mean different things. Give them the benefit of doubt and stay happier.
If you can't think of a funny reply yourself there are some (hit and miss) examples at this link:

9 Unique Ways To React To Repetitive Compliments About Your "Great Japanese" - Japanese Level Up

My two standard replies are:

1. 天才だから。
2. 両親は日本人です。

The second one is good for laughs when done with a straight face in a group setting....when at least one person just unquestioningly swallows it. The reactions of all the other people is priceless.
I'd say this is just part of the 'disingenuous enthusiasm' that makes up part of the Japanese culture. In Western countries, if you say 'OH REALLY!' in response to 'I bought a pair of shoes today', the other person will probably be insulted because you are being 'over the top' and mocking them. In Japanese, going 'over the top' to some extent is the norm.

The 'jouzu desu ne' stuff is not foreigner-specific. There is also the over-the-top 'eeeuuuuggghhh' surprised-response sound the women love to make at the slightest excuse. And the constant enthusiastic 'sou desu ne' / 'sou nan da' / 'souuuuu' / 'sou desu ka?' / 'sou da ne' / 'sou nan desu ka' / 'sou kana' / whatever other combination they can think off, after every single statement the other person makes.

I also love the excessive customer service. Every aspect of the transaction has a running commentary and special routine. Like the verbal counting and special hand movements as they gather your change. And even 'Owazukarishimass' just isn't over the top enough. You need a full 'Owazukaritachimasu'. Sometimes I wonder after 'what just happened? Oh, I just bought a burger'.

So I think the 'jouzu' stuff is just about being generally enthusiastic for the sake of it.
Folks, also try to keep in mind that while every single one of us in Japan sees Japanese people every day, talks to them every day, and is thoroughly over the novelty of it...Japan is loaded to the gunwales with Japanese people who seldom encounter foreigners and who have never talked to a foreigner before in their entire life. Sometimes you're going to encounter the same giddiness or trepidation that you would see in a child reaching out to pet a big dog for the first time. Try to follow the example of the big dog and not give all dogs a bad name by biting the heads off of people who pet you awkwardly.

The JET program has already worked miracles in the way people react to and interact with foreigners, but that only extends to people who are young enough to have experienced it. For people older than that, a little patience and understanding won't kill you.

The people who find the present situation annoying would have run screaming to the airport in three days back in the pre-JET era.

Plus, anyone whose ability to remain here and make a living here depends on selling some aspect of their foreignness really has very little room to kick about having any aspect of their foreignness noticed or remarked upon. If you can't ride the unicycle, don't put on the bear suit.
Or, when you are out with Japanese friends and you speak in Japanese and the person you are speaking to addresses the person you are with as if you didn't exist. Again, I believe it's because they can't wrap their minds around a foreigner actually speaking fluent Japanese. Thus, they never "hear" you.
I came across that situation once in Taiwan. I mean, I can recognize absolutely everything you are saying here about the Japanese and their remarks about how well you speak the language. I get them on a regular basis here about my Chinese. I also think it's likely to be an awkward/annoying way of praising you, but it's meant in a positive way anyway.
Now about this passage of what Pachipro wrote (6 years ago :D) I absolutely don't agree that it belongs to the same awkward politeness. Quite on the opposite I think it's actually meant to be disrespectful. That situation happened to me once, 5 years ago (not counting the shy people who are afraid to talk to foreigners, it's easy to see that they belong to another register and I don't blame them of course). I was with a friend of mine and went to ask the way to a middle-aged man, in Chinese. That guy completely neglected me and started talking with my friend. As I insisted he looked at me just the time to ask me "where are you come from?" (in bad English, you'll notice), and, how dumb of me, I answered politely that I came from Belgium, just to see him going back to ignoring me and talking to my friend without even answering my question. It was my first experience of the kind in Taiwan, where people are usually very friendly, so I didn't actually react but I promised myself that I would meet the next fascist that behaves like that towards me with some poetic street insults about his mother's genitals in Taiwanese. Happily it never happened again afterwards and I never had to use my knowledge of Taiwanese swears.

Well that's just to say that while most people are actually well-intentioned, just be ready for the occasional genuine nazi waiting at the corner of the street, because they exist too and if you don't react properly on the spot, then you're going regret it 5 years later, trust my experience :D
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I tend to get more annoyed when people lecture me about how Japan is a country of four seasons, as if other places don't have four seasons too. Even Alaska has four seasons, although one is six months long and the other three compressed into the other six months.
Hi! Ive made my own Facebook page to spread everything about japan. If you are interested, please visit the page and like it! Thanks.
Hi! Ive made my own Facebook page to spread everything about japan. If you are interested, please visit the page and like it! Thanks.

Thanks, but no thanks. We have a page about everything Japanese right here. And we don't like FB too much.
I've always thought that the best way to counter some of this is simply to get really good at Japanese - spoken and written. It also helps if you've lived in Japan for a while and look at home and like you fit. That doesn't mean that you've gone native, but that you know the lay of the land and have found a balance. People usually pick up on that, so it won't be such a surprise to them that you speak Japanese.
And how long have you lived in Japan, JohnAshleigh?

I must say that I'm surprised at the amount of people claiming that the cure to this problem is to get really good at Japanese. Once again, I've only been to Japan for travelling once, for a week, and thus I've never actually lived there but I've lived in Taiwan for a time (I'm entering my 6th year now) and I was thinking that at least in this regard, both mentalities/cultures should be at least a bit similar. So, I don't know if you people are right or not but I can tell you that in Taiwan, no matter how well you speak Chinese, you will always get remarks on how incredibly well you speak it (from the "hello nice to meet you" level to this one where you can comfortably discuss about quantum physics in Chinese). This is not due to your level but to your face: may you be white, black or green, you don't have the right skin color to be a native speaker in their mind (no racism here, just habits: Chinese-speaking though foreign-looking people don't really make a majority, to say the least). Proof to it is that Asian-looking foreigners don't encounter this problem.
It the same logic that makes people never ask you for directions in Chinese. I mean why would they? Chances are even that you're only a tourist and won't be able to help them. The only two times people asked me for directions it was to find a tourist attraction that, they knew, had to be in the area, and they did it in English. Again, it's only logical: what indicates them that you speak Chinese and have lived in the area long enough to be able to answer such questions? It's not written on your forehead (except if you are wearing a t-shirt saying, in Chinese, "white people don't understand this" and on the back "neither do black people" and they understand what irony means).
Of course it only works with people who hear you speak the language for the first time: you'll startle them, in a way. They don't expect you to speak Chinese but English. Sometimes in their mind they'll be like "what I'm actually understanding what this guy is saying" and be distracted from the message you're trying to convey. Then they'll ask you to repeat and once you're done they'll compliment you on your Chinese before answering your question. It's not a fatality of course, and it doesn't happen all the time with everyone, but it will happen now and then, no matter how good you can get at speaking the language.
You can only avoid it by talking on the phone or writing emails, simply because the person doesn't see you.
Now again, maybe you're right and it's different in Japan but I kind of doubt it.

Another annoying thing is like when you go to the supermarket and the elevator is kaput. The guy in charge of redirecting you to the stairs will stop for a second when he sees you and then he'll start searching for his words in English. How to put it? That's fate. Only surgery can solve it.

And all of it is perfectly normal and understandable. What is less, though, now that I think of it, is these people who absolutely don't know you but find and interest in trying to do so and approach you by asking "where are you come from?" without even saying hello. That would be something that I can't understand nor tolerate. And to say that Taiwanese people have a reputation for making numerous detours before getting to a point. Think of a more straightforward way to make you understand that you don't belong. And the worse is that these people too are usually well-intentioned. Well-intentioned but terribly awkward, to say the least. And there's a bunch of them out there, trust me.

Now think for a second about these children from white American couples that were born and raised in Taiwan. There's not many of them but there are and have been for at least 30 years, probably more. I met one of them once, at a pub. His Chinese was the best I had ever heard from a white-looking person (talk about a statement of the obvious :D ) but when he goes shopping Taiwanese parents still tell their kids to go and speak English to him for exercise.
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I'm always amazed at how much offense people can take at people trying, awkwardly, to be nice to them.
A Japanese friend and I were talking and something he said rung true with me. He said Japanese are just generally more naive than many westerners, though I think he really meant less jaded. This is a guy who spent many years in the USA (half of elementary school and all of Jr high, then back to Japan for high school and returned to the USA for post graduate studies after dental school in Japan). I think what he was trying to say is that he didn't feel that Japanese, in general, sought out the insults or mean intentions which westerners often look for in other people's words.
Maybe it's because I spent 5 years working with disabled 2 year olds who were deeply aware of, and frustrated by, their disabilities, but I have absolutely no problem with being strongly encouraging of people who are trying even if their successes are minuscule at best. I am honest in my praise and my joy when they make tiny achievements because I know for an absolute fact that each tiny step forward is an important triumph over the apathy and despair which can paralyze any of us in our attempts to become more than we are.
Am I good at Japanese? No. In fact I'm currently deciding if I'll take the N4 or N3 test next July, neither of which are in the 'good at Japanese' range. Yet when I'm complimented I just smile and say 'thank you but I'm not very good.' It's an honest smile for people I choose to believe are being honestly encouraging.
We all have an amazing opportunity. The opportunity to perceive the reality we wish to create. If we perceive malice and mirth at our expense then that's the reality we live with. I prefer to live in a reality filled with benevolence and joy at my accomplishments.
Oh but they are honestly trying to encourage you, WonkoTheSane, and that's exactly the point: as long as you feel like you're a beginner you'll understand it as it's intended: a praise. The problems start after you've lived in the country for years, you've heard that praise over one billion times and are actually good at speaking the language. Some people feel diminished in their abilities (which is the opposite of what was intended) and get mad at it. I don't. On the other hand I can't say I like it but I just get over it. I can understand the people who get mad, though: they feel like they don't belong (and do they, really?). It's a complicated issue of course, and I went through it. I chose to get over it and stay. If you can't deal with it then you should definitely leave, though, because there really was no malice intended and anyway you can't have people change for you, especially if you live in their country and probably use your foreignness to make a living on the other hand.
Just I think you can try to discuss some issues. See my paragraph about the "where are you come from?" that comes as an ice-breaker without the "hello" step. I think that this one, though well-intended too, really lacks politeness and no Chinese-speaker would talk like that in Chinese. I don't even understand why they go so far as to skip the "hello" step only when talking to foreigners in English. Has anyone encountered that situation in Japan?
You seem to not accept the fact, Kamille, that things are different in Japan. The better your Japanese gets, the less frequently people remark upon it. Any diligent student of Japanese can expect at some point to have his proficiency only rarely praised.
Well "not accepting" is a very strong word. Let's say that I'm surprised to see differences where I was expecting similarities. I'm wondering why. Also I'm comparing other people's experience in Japan with mine in Taiwan. Hope it's not too far out of subject.
Well "not accepting" is a very strong word. .

Based on your earlier mention that you had heard it was different in Japan, yet still told Wonko it would be for him in the future in Japan just as you say things are in Taiwan. What other conclusion could be drawn than that you don't accept that the situation is in fact different here?
I don't actually find it that common, certainly not as common as how many people remarked on my foreignness or stared at me in Taiwan. Frankly, and it's not a negative or positive judgment, I think Taiwanese people have a significantly lower verbal and emotional expressive filter than Japanese people.

I think Mike is right as well, though. I've noticed a decrease since I arrived.

I also think the people who look for it notice it and the people who don't... Don't. If one buys a Honda they suddenly see that almost all of the cars on the road are Hondas.

No, I have never had a Japanese person ask me where I've come from before saying hello, as far as I remember. It usually comes up at some point in the conversation, just as I usually ask where they are from. We both usually ask about what's interesting about where they come from and neither of us finds our own home town as interesting as the other person does.
yet still told Wonko it would be for him in the future in Japan just as you say things are in Taiwan.
The "you" was actually impersonal. It was the same "you" in the previous posts too. It was meant in general and wasn't addressing anyone in particular... but wait... did you seriously think I was explaining him what would happen to him in Japan on the sole basis of what happened to me in Taiwan oO ?
My apologies if I wasn't clear.

@Wonko, I agree with you in that Taiwanese people certainly do have a significantly lower verbal and emotional expressive filter than Japanese people. That's at least one part of the reason why, indeed.
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Since you addressed him specifically, subsequent uses of "you" give the impression of the sole named individual preceding "you" being the pronoun's antecedent.

To reduce the chances of such confusion, in writing many use "one" as a nonspecific replacement for "you". (Even though it does sound like an affectation in spoken usage).
I'm Japanese and this is my view from the Japanese side, though I never said "Nihongo-jyozu-desu-ne" to foreigners, so I just try to figure out how other Japanese think.

I think this "Nihongo-jyozu-desu-ne" phenomenon comes from two main reasons.
1. Japanese learn English 6 years at school but they "believe" they can't speak English, so this gives them impression or belief that learning a language is extremely hard.
2. Japanese tend to think their language are really really difficult to learn with hiragana, katakana and kanji, and they forget these three characters don't matter in verbal conversation.

As a result, when they hear only a few words or sentences from foreigners, they just think "WOW!". They're just simply impressed and surprised.
Ok, I've gotta ask... after years of hearing it: What on earth is up with the tendency to tell someone who might have only said one WORD in Japanese, "Nihongo ga jouzu desu ne!"

This issue seems to be of almost legendary proportions, and shows no sign of ending.

I've heard many state, and I agree, that your Japanese is only truly good when you are in Japan and people STOP saying this annoying, sickeningly candied expression!

I've never run into this behavior in another other country, and it sure doesn't happen with English in the US! So why Japan?

The follow is the best reasons I can come up with:

1) There is an arrogance among Japanese that the language is impossible to learn based on the fairly large number of foreigners who can't even speak a word of Japanese; therefore, the language is praised.

2) It is some sort of aisatsu that was taught in a dark room in the bottom of a school when they were a child, told that it is actually taken as a compliment. Along with telling people that they use chopsticks well.

3) It is patronizing those who do not speak good Japanese yet. I've actually heard people murmur behind my back to my Japanese friend that it seems I can't read all kanji, then have the person come up to me while I'm finishing a form and tell me "Nihongo ga jouzu desu ne!"

4) It is some sort of code for alerting other Japanese people nearby to call the secret police. (Unconfirmed! :D)

But seriously... does anyone have an answer to this behavior? I try to brush it off every time, but it gets REALLY old. I'm very curious if anyone has the answer to the source of this dreaded phrase.

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