One thing that stands out about Japan is the language. Specifically, the fact that they use it. Let me explain.
Imagine you go to a grocery store. You’re checking out, and the cashier needs to ask you something. For example: how many plastic bags do you need? cash or credit? do you need chopsticks? do you have any smaller bills? In the Asian countries we visited before Japan, a cashier – realizing by our appearance that we weren’t locals – would either pantomime, ask in broken English, or just infer our answers. In Japan, however, even cashiers who know that we don’t speak Japanese will ask their questions in Japanese. They don’t seem to ask me any slower than anyone else, and they tend to only resort to pantomime after I say in Japanese, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t understand.’
Surprising as this may be, I really appreciate this. Here’s why:
- It’s hard to learn a foreign language, and locals refusing to speak it to you is a part of that. When I visited Paris during college, for example, all vendors immediately switched to English – though in some cases, my French was definitely better than their English.
- It’s nice that looking foreign doesn’t immediately render me incapable of speaking Japanese in locals’ eyes. I can learn!
- Why should they speak English anyway? I’m in their country, where Japanese is the national language. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about English speakers, so I’ll just leave it at that.
I tried to think of whether any countries in Europe did this, but that’s hard to say. After all, I can generally pass for anything from Polish to Italian, so vendors could easily assume that I am a local.
So, continue on with your Japanese ways, locals. One day, I’ll return – knowing more than just how to count from 1 to 10 and the names of most fish that are used in sushi. (A girl’s gotta eat, after all.)