How do I say “Stop touching me”…?

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:

私事で申し訳ありませんが英語訳お願いしたいです。知り合った外国人(オーストラリア)さんがいるのですが、 私は過度なボディタッチが嫌なのでハグならあいさつなのでともかく、後ろから抱きしめてきたり、横に座ると腰に手を回したり、×ホッペにキスを無理矢理してきたり×と、向こうが私を好きな気持ちはわかりますが、私は彼を友達と思ってるから止めてと言っても隙あらばという感じで、触らないでと怒ってもあまり恐くないみたいでなめられています。冗談でも面白くないです。日本語ではあまり伝わらないみたいで、どうして?とよく言われます。ハグすると心が温かくなるとか…

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.

18 thoughts on “How do I say “Stop touching me”…?”

  1. I’ve had the same feeling too.

    One reason for this misconception might be that Japanese voice-overs for foreigners on news and other tv are often in informal style, even though teineigo would be proper.

  2. I don’t know if this is due to a Japanese cultural perspective. Language learners tend to start with a fairly neutral tone that is enough to communicate, but not really enough to dance around delicate issues like the one above. Teachers and textbooks also underemphasise the use of politeness too.

    The ‘helpful’ answers given to the poor girl above are clearly written by people with a good working knowledge of English – in fact I suspect the final three you list came from an English speaker (username: danielinblack) – but I don’t think they are entirely a) serious or b) reflecting a cultural tendency to underestimate the role of polite speech in foreign languages.

    Also, it seems someone was inspired by your post (it made me laugh):

  3. It seems like she’s making it pretty clear she doesn’t like to be touched through her non-verbal responses to him. I’m not sure it really matters what she says if he’s not interested in how she reacts.

  4. There are unnecessarily blunt people in any language. A lot of the misunderstanding likely comes from seeing the communication styles of certain outlying groups of people, e.g. the cast of most MTV reality shows. Trying to talk like that will get your point across, but won’t make you sound intelligent or personable. It would be a lot like speaking Japanese in the manner of a manzai comedian.

  5. Your general point is, I think, true, but this particular case isn’t an example of that phenomenon. It’s very clear that the Australian in question has at least some understanding of Japanese (as it mentions that she has told him 1) that she thinks he’s a friend, so stop it, 2) “don’t touch me” (angrily). Likewise, he has asked her 1) why he should stop, 2) that “touching (her) warms his heart”, and 3) that she will come to like him.

    I’m a native English speaker, and neither a particularly rude nor particularly polite person. Very middle-of-the-road when it comes to courtesy. That said, if a Japanese female friend came to me and said “I have this friend who hugs me as a greeting, which I can deal with, but also hugs me from behind, kisses me on the cheek even when I struggle to get away, won’t stop even though I’ve told him that we’re just friends, blows me off when I angrily tell him to stop, just saying “why should I stop?” and “hugging makes the heart grow warmer”, and responds to me telling him “You’re my friend, not my boyfriend” with “You’ll come to love me”. What should I tell him in English?” I’d probably answer something like:

    “You’re a fucking creep. Hugging and kissing people despite being told repeatedly and angrily to stop is out of line in Australia as well as Japan, and saying ‘you’ll come to love me’ is stalker-like on top of that. Piss off, and never talk to me again.”

    Japanese can be unnecessarily blunt, but this is a case where bluntness is clearly necessary.

  6. What makes the response seem to blunt is that the claims to want to keep him as a friend. While I fail to see why she would want to do that, we must assume she is telling the truth or there would be nothing to worry about as she could just simply tell him to fuck off and leave her alone completely. The English responses she is given all feel to me equivalent to “fuck off and leave me alone” rather than “I’m just not into you, but let’s be friends” and thus is her dilemma.

  7. Good point, Roy. I guess I (and perhaps the folks in that community) were thinking more along the lines of “what should I say to this guy who won’t stop touching me despite my protesting” instead of “what should I say to this guy *who I want to stay friends with* who won’t stop touching me despite my protesting”.

    I still don’t think this *particular* case is an example of “Japanese think they have to be blunt in English, unlike Japanese”, because I suspect it’s a case of folks thinking you have to be blunt because the person in question appears to be an impervious ass. I think they’d give equally blunt Japanese suggestions if the language direction was flipped. But, again, I don’t disagree with Curzon’s general point, just this example as a manifestation of it.

  8. My wife is the opposite. In Japanese, she will tell me something that she said to my mother, I’ll panic and ask her to repeat what she actually said in English, and it turns out to be fine. It is likely a dialect thing. Curzon’s general point seems solid.

    How much do you want to bet that this guy speaks Japanese like a high school girl?

    Somebody should simply have told her to pinch him. Hard.

  9. Another interesting one is living in a region with dialects. When I first met my girlfriend a couple years ago, my Japanese was atrocious so she generally used a good amount of standard Japanese, and I was always amazed at how she was really quite a gentle speaker, even when I knew she was very upset or flustered or whatever. Gradually I gained enough confidence in my accent to use Osaka-ben most all the time, and as a result she also reverted to her “true” speaking habits. Quite hilariously opposite from the kind-sounding 標準語. Makes an argument more interesting, though.

  10. I’m guessing the situation is she can’t avoid meeting this guy (work? friend of a friend?) and that’s why she “wants to be friends” even though she must despise this guy.

    I don’t think any of the examples above are strong enough. She’s already been polite, and he’s being an ass, thinking he can get away with feeling up girls because he’s in Japan. It’s probably why he came here.

    She should just scream loudly, “Never touch me again, you loser!” and knee him in the balls. [Here’s an embarrassing fact. I’ve actually done this to a touchy feely MALE student of mine who thought it funny to act like a TSA agent, but I just did a headlock instead of the knee to balls.]

    Or she can go the more evil route, motion to whisper in his wear, which he will gladly acccept, and say “If you touch me again, I’ll tell the police you raped me. Even without any evidence, you’ll spend 23 days in police custody while they try to torture a confession out of you. I’m very good at crying. I bet you won’t even last 3 nights before you piss your pants. Just being arrested alone will almost certainly cost you your job, your apartment, and any chance of a visa renewal. Welcome to my country.”

    That should do it.

  11. Googling to find the correct grammar…I do that all the time too! Glad to see I’m not the only one.

  12. ” “If you touch me again, I’ll tell the police you raped me. ”
    I´m glad Japan isn´t populated by western women. There probably wouldn’t be many men around anymore.

  13. Someone should have told her that the solution lies not in language, but in getting some bigger, meaner foreigners to stomp his ass.

  14. If you touch me again, I’ll tell the police you raped me. Even without any evidence, you’ll spend 23 days in police custody while they try to torture a confession out of you

    Have you ever read stories from actual rape victims in Japan? Grabbing a lady’s butt on the train seems much more likely to get a man jailed.

  15. “Grabbing a lady’s butt on the train seems much more likely to get a man jailed.”

    Yeah, but I’d bet he doesn’t know that.

  16. You have to speak his language. Here is useful phrase.
    Nuff of that ya drongo. Meez and yooz just mates, k?

  17. I once witnessed a Japanese friend politely turn down a drunk, leering Japanese bloke at a bar. About an hour later a drunk foreigner came up and tried to talk to her. She barked “Fuck off” at him. It was great.

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