Thursday, November 15, 2012

Won't Miss #503 - the "insult and smile"

It wasn't the least bit uncommon for Japanese people to say rude things about me to one another in Japanese. In some cases, I think they felt I could not understand and, in others, I think they didn't care if I did. It happened with such regularity that I started to take it in stride. That being said, there was another level of this behavior which did make me angry and that was when people would say something rude about me to a compatriot and then turn around and notice I was looking at her (it was always a "her") and then smile sweetly and nod at me as if exercising some sort of courtesy or kindness to the dumb foreigner.

This sort of nastiness followed by some sort of fake niceness was far worse than the casual rudeness that people indulged in at my expense and I do not miss it. 


  1. I've heard so many stories of this happening in Japan but never once experienced it in Korea--that I know of. In fact, I was mostly ignored in Seoul, but that was when I stayed in relatively affluent, central parts of the city. Outside of that I got some pointing from children and maybe some glances, but no hushed rude comments that I'm aware of. I'm not sure if this is because of cultural differences between Korea and Japan, the fact that I'm a man (I suspect this is a major issue in such sexist cultures), or a mix of the two. Considering Japanese are on the whole much more polite than the Koreans, this kind of difference is quite striking.

    1. I Korean's are far ore socially aware than the self isolated "homogenous" Japanese, thus tend to be less openly rude towards foreigners.

  2. Last year I joined a group of Japanese matrons in a London elevator. I did not "push my way into" the elevator because there was plenty of room. One of the women remarked, in Japanese, that English people are pushy. Mistake: I'm not English. I turned to her, smiled, and said, "Wakarimashita." ("I understood") She became flustered, and I got off on the next floor.

  3. True. I imagine this was the experience of immigrants to Canada, where I am from, before there were too many immigrants for the bigots to dominate by their numbers. Japan has immigrants, of course, but not in the numbers to outnumber the jerks who are native, nor in numbers to save an aging Japan. Well... 'you reap what you sow.'

  4. Thanks to everyone for the comments.

    I think that this happens a lot among Caucasians in Japan (especially women who are seen as weaker and less likely to fight back) because the Japanese operate from a mindset of "foreigners can't understand Japanese". Hence, you get situations like Wally's where they say things that are rude and have no idea that he is going to understand until he shocks them by speaking Japanese.

    It may not happen as much in some other countries because they don't assume based on your appearance that you won't understand the language as often or as thoroughly as many Japanese seem to.

  5. French-Canadians do it to English-Canadians (and vice versa)all the time; redneck American Immigration officials are not immune to it either. My Japanese friend who lived in New York for years has caught out foreigners in Osaka doing the very same thing to him on the subway. I have probably, on a bad day, been guilty of it myself, although I hope not. Boneheads the world over assume that if they're not talking *to* you, you don't know that they're talking *about* you. As with many things, the Japanese may have perfected this irritating and insensitive behaviour, but they certainly didn't invent it.

  6. Nagaijin: You may want to read the posts "What this blog is and is not" on the side bar in which I say, "I'm not making any assertions that all places in Japan or all people are reflecting things that are mentioned here, nor am I implying that the things I mention here are not present in other parts of the world or cultures. This simply is an account of my feelings about life in Japan from a highly subjective viewpoint."

    I don't want to feel obliged to have to tack that on to the end of every single post nor paste it as part of my responses to every comment. However, comments like yours are one of the reasons I disallowed comments during my initial posting.

    Yes, these things happen everywhere. I never asserted otherwise.

  7. With respect, Orchid, I never said you did. (sigh)

  8. Haha if this had happened to me, I would have just looked at the person and pretended I didnt know what the word meant and asked them what the word meant.


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