I wrote last week that the Japanese were quite possibly the most polite people in the world, which is one of the nicer things about living here. Still, there are certain things the Japanese occasionally do that feel impolite to me for one reason or another. When a Japanese person is pointing something out to you, it’s quite common for them to use their middle finger, which would be unheard of in the U.S. unless you were trying to insult someone in a subtle way. (Most Japanese know what the Western gesture of “flipping the bird” is, but only externally, and it’s never seen in daily life.) Some of the “manners” we take for granted don’t apply here: you’re actually expected to slurp your noodles loudly while you eat, and no one thinks twice about reaching over your plate to grab the soy sauce…but make sure you don’t leave chopsticks sticking up in your rice. People here are fascinated by anything a gaijin might be writing in a notebook or on a computer screen, and will read over your shoulder if given the opportunity. Finally, there’s the “gap” between Japanese studied in textbooks and the nihongo actually in use here. For example, you can indicate the recipient of an action by attaching a “giving or receiving” word to a verb, e.g. itadaku “to receive [from someone higher in station than you” if talking about something your boss or customer did for you, or ageru “to give [to someone higher in station than you]” for discussing something you did for them. There’s a verb yaru “to give [to someone lower than you’]” which we were warned to only use in reference to small children or dogs, as it can be rude if used incorrectly. Naturally, real Japanese speakers violate this rule every day, so I had to unlearn a lot of Japanese grammar when I first got here.
Japanese are occasionally rude. But only occasionally.