Sometimes, when looking for the right grammar for certain Japanese phrases, I’ll google words to see what grammar is used on internet pages. This is also the best way for me to find out if “wa,” “ga” or “wo”, for example, are the suitable grammar joinders in certain phrases. Just now, I wanted to find the right way to say ”私事で申し訳ありませんが” (and the other possible variants when speaking about your own affairs in polite conversation), and I typed in 私事 and 申し訳 into a search engine.
This was the first link that came up, a yahoo community help page. A distraught Japanese girl wondering what the best English phrase was tell an Australian male friend, who tended to hug and kiss her as a greeting, to stop all the physical touching, as she had a boyfriend and wasn’t interested in him. The full Japanese text of her situation:
I found the responses by the eagerly helpful yahoo help community to be quite amusing:
I’m not very comfortable with you touching me too much. I don’t want you to touch me. You have to respect that. I want to stay friends with you, but if you keep doing that, I don’t want to see you anymore. DON’T TOUCH ME!!
“There is no way I’ll like you in any kind of ways so don’t waste your time trying to be too friendly”
“Everytime you come near me, I feel sick to my stomach. If you ever touch me again, I’m gonna throw up right in your face!”
“I see you just a friend, and I’m sure we are never going to be more than that. So, I need you to start treating me like your friend”
For me, as a native English speaker, all of these phrases seem too blunt and cruel. And it reflects to me a key problem that I think the Japanese have when speaking another language. The Japanese tend to believe that Japanese is a polite language, where people don’t say what they mean, whereas other langauges lack this subtley and you have to be more blunt when speaking your mind. Many Japanese also, in my experience, seem to think that politeness — such as demonstrated by the dozens of ways to say “I” and “you,” and the countless variants of many verbs depending on the level of politeness — is unique to Japanese.
The result of this misunderstanding (or linguistic prejudice) is that the Japanese tend to be very good at coming across as rude when speaking another language, despite the politeness the same people would have if they were saying the same thing in Japanese. To me, the above English sentences are examples of this.