Home
Back

Dear visitor, if you know the answer to this question, please post it. Thank you!

Note that this thread has not been updated in a long time, and its content might not be up-to-date anymore.

Page 1 of 2: Posts 1 - 20 of 26
 
1 2
next

Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/11 14:01
I work in a Japanese school as an English teacher. My Japanese skills leave a lot to be desired but I do my best to communicate with the other teachers using the limited Japanese I know while I study to get better.

Today I was using the staff microwave and another teacher came over with his bento and said (in Japanese): 'I'm next to use it' and a bunch of other stuff I couldn't understand. I felt bad for inconveniencing him by making him wait, so I said 'sumimasen, gommenasai' and bowed a lot. Then a bunch of teachers in the kitchen looked a little shocked like I'd just said something really bad. They explained, in Japanese, that I should have said 'arigatou' instead of 'sumimasen'. Their tone was really serious, as though I had just said something really offensive. Then I asked one teacher who knows English: 'Was it rude for me to say sumimasen in this case?' and his response was 'Yes'.

Could someone please explain to me why it was rude to say sumimasen? I don't want to offend anyone so please also let me know of any other situations when this might be a problem.

Thank you.
by Jenn Jett (guest)  

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/11 14:39
I guess a lot is up to the "bunch of other stuff" he said and you didn't understand, isn't it.

Maybe he was just doing a little chat, maybe talking about his bento or some pleasantry, when you started bowing and apologizing... maybe simply it was out of context?

In the first place, he didn't (just as a possibility) say that he was waiting before you, and that you took his turn, right? You simply didn't have to say sorry :) And maybe he was saying something completely different, like he would give you something, or such...
by AK rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/11 15:58
In the first place, he didn't (just as a possibility) say that he was waiting before you, and that you took his turn, right? You simply didn't have to say sorry :) And maybe he was saying something completely different, like he would give you something, or such...

Yeah this is true, but I always thought it was polite to say 'sumimasen' if I'm holding someone up, especially as he's my superior. For example if I'm using the photocopier and another teacher is waiting to use it, I always say 'sumimasen' - is that bad? He said 'I'm using (the microwave) next' then I started saying 'sumimasen' and bowing. I'm not sure 100% but I think the other stuff was something like: 'Please come and get me when your food is done' because he put his bento down near the microwave and went back to his desk. Then I noticed an awkward silence from the other staff who were in the kitchen, so I said in Japanese: 'X sensei wa totemo yasashii desu ne'. And that's when they said with a stern look: 'Jennifer, sumimasen no. Arigatou yes'. I feel like I've made a huge cultural gaffe but am not really sure why what I said was wrong and why they were offended by it. I'm bothered that the English speaking teacher said what I did was 'rude'. I never thought using sumimasen in this context would be 'rude'. It makes me worry that I've misused this word on other occasions and offended people without realizing it.
by Jenn Jett (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/11 16:27
Ummm. It might have been too much politeness (or humbleness).

For example if I'm using the photocopier and another teacher is waiting to use it, I always say 'sumimasen' - is that bad?

If I'm using the photocopier and I notice that someone is waiting behind me, I might just smile at that person, and at most upon me finishing, might say "douzo..." ("over to you") or "osaki ni..." ("I was ahead of you...")

'Please come and get me when your food is done' because he put his bento down near the microwave and went back to his desk.
In that case, my reaction would have been "hai, wakarimashita." (yes, I got it/I got your message.)
That awkward silence might have been because they weren't sure if you got it or not, is that possible? (Or maybe he said something completely different.)

I cannot believe that someone would say "sumimasen" is "rude." Maybe you never misused it but just overused it a bit, that people might feel you should use "other" phrases. That is the only thing I can imagine.
by AK rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/12 20:42
Of course, no one can reply because you didn't say what you were cooking and can not tell what was said.

But my guess for the reason is that he was complementing and praising after seeing your lunch and your cooking skill or smelling delicious food being cooked or your frugality packing your own lunch, etc. Then, you know your apology was inappropriate. and annoying.
Next time ask to repeat till you understand before bowing.
by amazinga (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/13 05:15
Just reading through the chain, I was wondering on below

'Please come and get me when your food is done' because he put his bento down near the microwave and went back to his desk.

I thought Japanese people are very polite especially to foreigners, asking someone to come and get me sounds not so Japanese to me.
Or may I have not experienced real Japanese work environment? or is because Jen is junior & a lady?

Can others share their experience
by AnotherITguy (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/13 13:31
As mentioned, I can't imagine a case in which "sumimasen" would be "rude" when "arigatou" is still appropriate. Are you sure that the word was "rude"? And are you sure that the person who said "yes" to it understood what "rude" meant? I do can imagine it being "inappropriate" though.

That said, we weren't allowed to use the term "sumimasen" when I was still in school. Until a couple of decades ago, it was a term that respected people shouldn't use, and traditional girls' schools in Tokyo (like the one I attended) educated their students to not use it at all. You were supposed to say arigatou, gomennasai, shiturei-itashimashita, moushiwake-gozaimasen etc. instead. So if you work at a classy school in Tokyo and the teacher you were speaking to is a conservative one, maybe that's what they meant. Just my two cents.
by Uco rate this post as useful

AnotherITguy 2015/12/13 13:39
asking someone to come and get me sounds not so Japanese to me.

I'm Japanese and I don't understand what's not so Japanese about it. Unless it's like "come to the other building and get me" it's common practice everywhere I go.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/13 13:39
I see no way by which you can make 'sumimasen' mean anything but pure deference. Unless you said it in an obviously sarcastic tone, which (as you imply) your japanese skills would not allow for. Something your colleagues would do well to account for. Rude be it otherwise.

'Arigatou' being more appropriate would be up for debate. Proper use of any of these expressions would be highly dependent on context, and we do not know what the "bunch of other stuff" was about.

Whatever the case. In a neutral tone, 'sumimasen' shall never, ever be considered offensive. On the contrary. It is a perfectly valid apology, even when one is not needed.It's even considered a honorific when used as a response to your counterparts actions, whatever the results for you.

Quite literally, 'sumimasen' is always appropriate when triggering or terminating any interaction with anyone. Okay, you might do well to be carful with it, were you apprehended by the cops for any reason (they WILL assume admission of guilt).

Personally, I would never use 'arigatou' in place of 'sumimasen'. The latter may always supplant the former, but not the other way around.

Source: Me, BA in japanese language and literature, with extensive experience in Japan.

Are you sure you are not the subject of any workplace bullying? Especially due to your stated lack of language skills? This is actually a problem which the Labour Ministry is slowly but surely beginning to take seriously.
by ThatDudeOverThere (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/14 09:48
Can you ask the English speaking teacher to explain to you exactly what happened and why it was rude?
by menj (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/14 23:06
As mentioned, I can't imagine a case in which "sumimasen" would be "rude" when "arigatou" is still appropriate. Are you sure that the word was "rude"? And are you sure that the person who said "yes" to it understood what "rude" meant? I do can imagine it being "inappropriate" though.

The English speaker said: "we don't use sumimasen in this case". And I replied: "I see, so when someone is doing me a favour, is it rude to say sumimasen?" and he replied "yes it is". But like you say, maybe he didn't understand what "rude" means. My school is a low level technical school so I don't think it's because they want me to be "classy", haha!

But my guess for the reason is that he was complementing and praising after seeing your lunch and your cooking skill or smelling delicious food being cooked or your frugality packing your own lunch, etc. Then, you know your apology was inappropriate. and annoying.
Next time ask to repeat till you understand before bowing.


I don't understand why my apology was inappropriate or annoying. I was making him wait, and my lunch was going to take ages in microwave time (3 minutes) to finish heating. To me it's just normal to apologise when I hold people up, especially during the lunch break when they're busy and have limited time to eat. I don't think he was trying to have a conversation, I think he was just saying: "I'm next in line for the microwave, please come and get me when you're done" and put his bento down. Why is it annoying to say "sumimasen" and bow in this case?

Whatever the case. In a neutral tone, 'sumimasen' shall never, ever be considered offensive. On the contrary. It is a perfectly valid apology, even when one is not needed.It's even considered a honorific when used as a response to your counterparts actions, whatever the results for you.

But others have replied to this post saying my comment was "annoying" and "inappropriate" which makes me confused, and really sad. I don't want to be "annoying" to my colleagues. I try my best not to be the annoying foreigner at my workplace so it worries me that some people here think my response was inappropriate.

The colleagues who were in the kitchen at the time are the ones who are the most friendly to me, so at the time I felt that I must have made a severe mistake for them to correct me. Maybe they were trying to tell me that I don't need to be so formal with them and it got lost in translation? Sometimes when I talk to the younger teachers using polite Japanese, they correct me with the plain form, so maybe everyone at my school thinks I'm overly formal. Maybe these teachers were trying to tell me that I don't need to apologize for small things like holding up the microwave, and it got misinterpreted by me and mistranslated by the English speaker.
by Jenn Jett (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 00:55
Maybe they were trying to tell me that I don't need to be so formal with them and it got lost in translation?

That's what I thought, and that's what I meant by "inappropriate." I'm not the one who wrote "annoying," but it does make people feel "awkward" when you appologize too much than you need to.

My wild guess is that you're always using "sumimasen" too much and that your colleagues are getting a little bit fed up with it. Appologizing may seem like a polite gesture, but when it is overly done it can make the other party feel like (s)he's a bad guy, like someone you need to appologize to. Well, in that sense, some may want to call the appologizing "rude." It also makes sense if your colleague left his bento there to suggest that everyone should be more casual and relaxed about everything.

Anyway, like the other poster said, you should find an English speaker at work and have everything straightened out.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 03:00
Well, first of all, please feel more relaxed!
Your "sumimasen" in the past did not sound rude or offensive in almost all cases, I suppose. (I am a Japanese man brought up in Japan.)

Reading your response at 2015/12/14 23:06, I see a few things which may have caused your confusion concerning how to use "sumimasen" in daily conversations.

I think that "sumimasen" is comparatively a casual phrase in the current Japanese.
"Sumimasen" is avoided in a formal speech, like the one which is addressed by the school principal to make apology to parents of students regarding a certain accident.

So, your colleague teachers who were in the kitchen, I guess, did not think that you were overly in a formal way due to your "sumimasen" used at that time.

"Sumimasen" is not always the best phrase to convey apology or appreciation.
It may be better not to depend on "sumimasen" highly, thinking as though it were a magical phrase, in some contexts where you can choose other words.

"Sumimasen" can show your apology directly, but it can show your appreciation only indirectly.
Grammatically "sumimasen" is the denial of "sumu [ ς ]" in the "masu" variation.
"Sumu [ ς ]" here means to become or get settled, concluded, finished or so.
"Sumimasen" seems to have originally been a phrase to convey apology in a polite way, implying that you feel such an apology not enough to settle the bad situation which you have brought about.
While being used by people for many years, "sumimasen" has become more casual, and now it is used like "excuse me" in American English; but I think that this phrase still has the aspect of apology for the fault of the speaker or someone on his/her side.

So, your assumption that they thought you "don't need to apologize for small things" is to the point, I suppose.
In a case, for example, where your cold got so worse due to your carelessness that your colleague teacher made phone calls to your students instead of you, "sumimasen" sounds suitable for both apology and appreciation, because it is regarding the bad situation which you have created by mistake.
On the other hand, it can really be a daily matter in a kitchen shared by some persons that one has to wait for a microwave range while it is used by another; you did not have to show your apology in particular but could just say like "sampun-hodo omachi-kudasai" ("please wait for about three minutes").

"Arigatou" is a common phrase to show your appreciation directly.
"Arigatou" comes from "arigataku" (the continuative form of "arigatai"), which indicates that you are thankful to do something; "arigatai" literally means that it almost cannot be, i.e. someone's deed is so helpful that you feel it incredible.
You can use "arigataku" in a way, though it may sound rather stiff, like "arigataku choudauihi-masu" ("I am thankful to receive (it)") when, for example, you are handed to a piece of confection by your colleague teacher as a souvenir from his/her home town where he/she stayed during the New Year break.
by omotenashi rate this post as useful

Correction: typo 2015/12/15 03:17
A typo is found in my previous response. Let me correct it.
NOT: "arigataku choudauihi-masu"
BUT: "arigataku choudaishi-masu"
by omotenashi rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 08:43
That's what I thought, and that's what I meant by "inappropriate." I'm not the one who wrote "annoying," but it does make people feel "awkward" when you appologize too much than you need to.

My wild guess is that you're always using "sumimasen" too much and that your colleagues are getting a little bit fed up with it. Appologizing may seem like a polite gesture, but when it is overly done it can make the other party feel like (s)he's a bad guy, like someone you need to appologize to. Well, in that sense, some may want to call the appologizing "rude." It also makes sense if your colleague left his bento there to suggest that everyone should be more casual and relaxed about everything.


But I apologise in my own culture and language for things like this back home. It's my personality to apologize for inconvenicning others. In Japan I hear people saying sumimasen all the time. Other people in my office say 'sumimasen' for the smallest things - does this make them 'rude' too? I make an effort not to bother the other people in the office and apologize when I'm inconveniencing them. If they want to get upset about that and tell me I'm 'rude' for it then in future I won't bother talking to them at all, because anything I say may be considered 'rude' or 'inappropriate'. I try as hard as I can to be a polite colleague with the limited language I know, why isn't that enough for them? If they're all getting 'fed up' with me being 'too polite' then they shouldn't initiate a dialogue with me in the first place.
by Jenn Jett (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 10:03
if your colleague left his bento there to suggest that everyone should be more casual and relaxed about everything.

Actually if he wanted to be casual/relaxed, he should have just quietly come back later instead of making it known in front of everyone that he was waiting for me, and making me feel bad for causing a delay. To me it's obvious that he would expect an apology, because otherwise why would he bother telling me he's waiting? He's complained about waiting for me before which is why I feel the need to apologize all the time. Once he got angry at me for doing more than 10 copies on a photocopier he wanted to use, even though a) no one had told me about this rule because no one tells me anything at my school, and b) I had a class next period and needed 30 copies. If he doesn't want an apology then he should stop making me feel bad every time I use an appliance in the office.
by Jenn Jett (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 10:20
After reading the comments here I feel like giving up trying to speak Japanese at all. If people are going to consider my attempts to be polite as 'rude' and 'annoying', it's not worth the risk. From now on I'm just going to speak English in the office when people talk to me to avoid saying the wrong thing and offending people.
by Jenn Jett (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 12:01

I think he was just saying: "I'm next in line for the microwave, please come and get me when you're done" and put his bento down. Why is it annoying to say "sumimasen" and bow in this case?

Ths is my view on your predicament.

Based on what you mentioned above, the sumimasen may have implied that you are apologising to him that you WILL NOT COME to get him when its done.

They might have mistaken your apology/sumimasen.
Instead of you apologising for holding up/ making him wait, they thought you apologising for not going to get him once your done with the microwave.

So my money is on the misunderstanding.

by .. (guest) rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/15 15:45
Jenn,

I'm afraid I may have caused some kind of a misunderstanding. I was just trying to encourage you, but I can't find the right words to do so today. I am truly sorry for what I did.
by Uco rate this post as useful

Re: Arigatou vs. sumimasen 2015/12/16 04:43
Read your own writing.

Then a bunch of teachers in the kitchen looked a little shocked like I'd just said something really bad.

But you are still focusing on cooking and waiting rather than the situation you caused others to be shocked and corrected you.

Only you can find out by asking him or others why they were shocked.

When learning language, everybody makes mistakes, even your native language. I've embarrassed myself so many times as ESL learner. Now sometimes I can correct my American born wife. Only those who learn from their mistakes improve, but only if you so desire.
Don't throw a temper tantrum like a little girl by saying I don't want to speak Japanese anymore.
by ay (guest) rate this post as useful

Page 1 of 2: Posts 1 - 20 of 26
 
1 2
next

reply to this thread