First Evening in Japan: A Crash Course in Politeness


In Tokyo, I find my friend Jesse and we go to a sushi restaurant. The food is delicious.  Jesse pays his bill and then steps aside to let me do the same.  However after I pay, the waitress speaks to me in Japanese -- very quickly, with a bubbly, upbeat tone. 


Everything is gibberish to me.  To my untrained ears there are no pauses between words or sentences, just a continuous string of syllables...


I stare at her dumbly for a few seconds but the chatter does not relent.  Taking one step backwards, then another, I slowly retreat towards the exit, not sure if turning and walking out would be rude.  Meanwhile, the one-sided (one-worded) conversation with the waitress continues and before long she is joined by one of the chefs, who appears beside me, forming a duet.  Feeling cornered and overwhelmed, I throw a nervous glance towards the other chef, way in the back, to ensure he was not preparing a surprise attack too! 


Meanwhile, the duet continues.  They seem determined to persist enthusiastically until one, or all, of us surely perished! 


Finally, I gather my resolve, turn and walk out.


Outside the restaurant, Jesse greets me with a grin, “Most of the time you can just ignore everything they say after you’ve paid.  They’re just being polite.”


“Ah,” I said.  Clearly I had a lot to learn about Japanese culture.