Why American tourists expect Japanese to speak English without asking us if we speak English?

Discussion in 'Chit Chat & Miscellaneous' started by Momokan0415, Mar 31, 2018.

  1. Momokan0415

    Momokan0415 Kouhai

    While I was taking subway the before yesterday, 3 American tourists asked me how to get to Asakusa without asking if I speak English.

    First of all, I ignored them as if I couldn’t speak English because I find them the native speakers of English judging from their pronunciation, but they reiterated “Excuse me” and asked me how to get to Asakusa slowly, so I was so irritated that I said “Why don’t you ask if I speak English before you ask me about your destination? English is NOT designated official spoken language in Japan. It’s faux pas that you ask questions without asking if I speak English first. Indeed, English is your mother tongue, but not my mother tongue. You should be courteous to non-native speakers. ”

    They got astounded and faced each other. Also, they were excusing why they didn’t ask saying that they could see a lot of signs written in English, but they had never offered apology for not asking if I speak English. They answered that they come from Illinois asked where they come from. Finally I was exasperated and said like that.

    “Learn [When in rome]. You look so arrogant. It is so arrogant attitude and not fair that you try to talk with non-native speakers in your mother tongue without asking if you can use your mother tongue ”

    Finally they only said “OK, we will ask others” and lost.

    Once I remember the time of studying abroad in USA in retrospect, Almost all Americans seemed to be lazy about learning foreign language because English is de facto lingua franca , As a result, they impose speaking English on anybody ,but ordinal human communication is not diplomacy. If it had been diplomacy like a bilateral conference, I should have answered in English or French in spite of Japan.

    By the way, in Japan, unlike me, almost all Japanese would be smiling and answering not objecting to the matter, so native speakers of English don’t realize necessary of Japanese language while traveling.

    I must be ignored I will ask something in Japanese language in USA on the other hand because Japanese is not officially spoken language in the US.

    What do you think?
  2. Lothor

    Lothor Sempai

    I understand your annoyance but think you could have made your point more diplomatically.

    I would have given them the directions, smiled, asked where they were from, then at the end of the conversation pointed out that it's best to check whether a Japanese person speaks English first - many of them are not confident speakers. Then everyone would have been happy (hopefully!)
  3. Habaek

    Habaek 後輩

    I live in a country with two official languages

    Both French and English.

    Deep down the French people knows that to speak English is in their best interests. Like a doctor telling what's good for their patients, however they still feel the need to express the importance of their language French. They would go to very extreme ways to express it at times.

    But to what end? absolutely no reason
  4. Mike Cash

    Mike Cash 骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう

    I think you're an uptight *** who has some serious personality problems regarding language.

    Every other time you've participated here it was to tell us how wonderful you think your English is.

    You're mad they didn't ask you if you speak English before speaking English to you? For real? That's all it takes to piss you off?
    • Like Like x 1
    • Disagree Disagree x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • List
  5. Julie.chan

    Julie.chan Sempai

    #5 Julie.chan, Mar 31, 2018
    Last edited: Mar 31, 2018
    It's a bit of a foreign concept (no pun intended). In the U.S., if someone were to try to speak to you in Spanish or what have you, chances are you would just say you don't understand that language. I'm sure if you had said 英語がわかりません (or anything in Japanese really) they would have gotten the point and apologized. Your reaction, as you describe it, must have looked needlessly hostile to them.

    Regarding what would happen if you tried to use Japanese in the U.S., I'm pretty sure it would just be "I'm sorry, I don't speak Chinese" (sic). Remember, if you don't understand Japanese, you're not going to know the difference between e.g. 「日本語がわかりますか。」 and 「マックドナルドはどこですか。」 So that's pretty much the attitude here. Besides, if you never try and just immediately resort to your broken English (like most people do), that can be quite frustrating too because then you're making it hard to tell if knowledge of a foreign language is of any use.
  6. Habaek

    Habaek 後輩

    Dude take this guy to Nakamise-dori/Senso-ji treat him to some snacks. You both need a time off
  7. Alex Franke

    Alex Franke Over the river and through the woods

    I think this is because a large portion of touristy countries (especially European countries) speak english to a decent degree, and we just assume that the majority of people can understand basic English. My impression anyway.

    No need to get so salty though
  8. lanthas


    This. For all you know, Japan was the first country these tourists visited where people could not readily give them directions in English - regardless of whether it's an official language there.
  9. WonkoTheSane

    WonkoTheSane 先輩

    I don't think you would last a day living as a foreigner in any homogenous society in which you stand out purely by being foreign.

    Relax. Don't take the world personally, it doesn't care about you at all.
  10. OoTmaster

    OoTmaster 先輩

    I think the assumption here in America is that the closer someone is to a big city likely the more English they speak. Also like you mentioned English is the de facto lingua franca, so making an assumption like that is usually a safe assumption. After all you do speak English. Maybe if you come across the situation again you can politely explain that not everyone in Japan speaks English even if they live in a big city. You could also perhaps use it as an opportunity to teach them a simple Japanese phrase to help them out next time. Like "英語が分かりますか。"
  11. Mike Cash

    Mike Cash 骨も命も皆此の土地に埋めよう

    How about if somebody speaks to you in English you just reply to them in English without making a big deal out of it?

    How about if somebody speaks to you in Japanese you just reply to them in Japanese without making a big deal out of it?

    To borrow from American football.... when you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before.
  12. Mark of Zorro

    Mark of Zorro 先輩

    Not a fan of my countrymen's attitudes in general, but, there is only one difference in asking "Do you speak English?" in English and asking "How can I get to X?" in English and that is that you are wasting time by asking two questions in English to find out if they speak English or not. Americans like to get to the point quickly and seamlessly. I like that about them. As soon as they ask you anything in English, like even "Are you a navel-gazing, self-righteous fool?" you can just say or gesture that you don't understand English. You can say it in Japanese or any language and they will get it right away that you don't....and everyone goes on their merry way.
  13. nedkelly

    nedkelly 後輩

    I find these sort of exchanges amusing. I once said, ”ohaiyo gozaimasu” to some people in a Tokyo hotel, thinking they must be Japanese. They look offended and didn’t smile. Later I realised they were Chinese.

    Another time I chatted with an Israeli street vendor in Tokyo in Japanese. When she found that I came from an English speaking country, she demanded why I hadn’t addressed her English.

    People get sensitive about these language matters.
  14. goodheart

    goodheart Registered

    If you don't speak English, how did you understand what was said to you?
    And you can't possibly blame them for making assumptions that you understand and speak English. They are Americans and they speak only English. You could have just tell them politely that you don't speak English in any way that you could.
    I'm a Nigerian but I stay in Ghana and almost every time, the local people assume that I speak Twi and they will just talk to me in Twi. Am I suppose to be fighting them all the time that they should have asked first if I speak Twi? How could they have known that? I always just tell them that I don't speak Twi in that local language that they understand. There are always some people that will even take it a little farther and ask me, how am I able to say that if I don't speak the Language? I have only mastered that phrase, "I don't speak Twi" in their local language.
  15. mdchachi

    mdchachi Moderator

    I think they were newbies to Japan.
    I think they mistakenly thought that most people in a big city like Tokyo can speak English.
    I think they probably made that assumption because you can communicate in English in almost every other comparable big city in the world. And they probably had successful interactions with other people before they met you.
    I think they didn't owe you an apology.
    I think you were feeling bad that you couldn't properly respond in English after all the years of study and homestay you have had and projected your anger of yourself onto them.
  16. Lomaster

    Just want to express my opinion, that in 21st century asking a person in a developed country if they speak English before speaking English is like asking a person in a developed country in 20th century if they've got a watch before asking time.

    Or better yet, asking a person if they can read before giving a business card. Soon enough it will sound just as rude to ask if a person can speak English, as it is to ask if they are literate.
    • Agree Agree x 2
    • Funny Funny x 1
    • List
  17. JoshuaPort

    JoshuaPort Registered

    Ya I think maybe English is too general and people expect everything to know English?
  18. tomoni

    tomoni 先輩

    I was not planning to reply but this thread just keeps on working its way to the top…

    Firstly, since you asked:
    I think that you were very rude. If my children had behaved in such a rude way, I would reprimand them. People have come to Japan as visitors and you, by your own boasting, a person fluent in English, ignore them because they were impertinent enough to speak to you in English without first asking if you spoke English.

    So, rather than the courtesy of a response, in either English or Japanese, you ignored them. After which, you lectured them on bad manners.

    Excuse me is considered to be polite English, so perhaps the problem was not their bad manners but your irritation.

    So they were astounded by your rudeness and offered a reasonable explanation, which apparently did not meet your expectations.

    How wonderfully polite you are.

    Well, I think you were very rude.

    Furthermore, since you seem to place such a high value on courtesy, not including my post, #18, there are 17 posts on this thread, or 16 replies.

    Yet, you have not had the courtesy to reply to this thread nor to thank the people who took the time to answer your question.

    In closing, let me offer an alternative proverb:

    People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones
    • Agree Agree x 3
    • Like Like x 1
    • List
  19. Momokan0415

    Momokan0415 Kouhai

    well, I silently monitored what would happen in this thread.I thought it's time to open my mouse again,so I will reply in japanese on purpose. it's all up to you whether or not to skip.the reply below is comment to all.


    いまは21世紀ですよ?もう帝国主義の時代は終わりました。西欧や北米の人たちが、有色人種に対して傲慢に自分たちの言語を話すことを他人に 強制してふんぞり返る時代ではありません。まして、アジアでは数少ない西欧の植民地にならなかった日本でこのようなことがまかり通るのは日本人が普段から舐められている証拠ですね。









    英語が母語の人たちは「人間は英語を話して当たり前、英語を話さないのは人間ではない」と思っているのか、誰構わず英語で早口で話しかけます。非英語圏だとわかっていながら、誰にでも英語で話しかけます。まるで、世界には英語しか存在しないかのようにです。彼らの頭の中に「English Imperialism」という言葉は存在しません。英語が世界中で話されているから自分たちは特権階級にいる人間と勘違いしています。









  20. Majestic

    Majestic 先輩


    @Momokan0415 , if you think you were the victim of すごいバッシング, you need to read the responses again.

    You asked, "What do you think?", so you can hardly complain when people do you the favor of responding.

    The rest of your arguments are too silly to discuss. Imagine, in the 21st century, someone believes that approaching people on a train and speaking English to them is a form of extreme arrogance.

    Good luck with your Olympics, Tokyo.
  21. tomoni

    tomoni 先輩

    Well thank you for your special reply.
    No-one is here to persecute you, so there is no need for silent monitoring. All of the replies here have directly answered your question.

    • My answer is not related to culture imperialism or special status to anyone, just a simple matter of courtesy.

    • Actually, I am not throwing stones at you. You suggest "when in Rome, do as the romans do" and so you were upset that foreign visitors did not ask if you spoke English first, which you said said was rude. You could have easily shaken your head and said, "分かりません" or something similar and they would have left you alone. But instead you choose to lecture them on their manners which is in fact bad manners.

    In every culture that I am aware of, lecturing a stranger on bad manners, is bad manners, so glass houses…

    BUT I think the most important point is that you asked people for their opinion and since they did not validate your opinion or actions, you are upset.

    This is a friendly forum with people genuinely trying to be helpful and to date, your big contributions have been, something about people dissing you and this thread.

    So, it is up to you whether you want to be part of his community or an internet troll. I hope you choose that later.

  22. Toritoribe

    Toritoribe 禁漁期
    Staff Member Moderator

    @ The OP, your post is against our forum rules.


    III. Language

    General discussions and questions should be in English. Questions about Japanese language as well as Japanese discussions should be posted to our Japanese fora in either Japanese or English. Threads in other languages can be posted to a dedicated subforum.

    Forum Rules | Japan Forum



Share this page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice