Life in Japan

A German Alien in Japan – Wow, your Japanese is so good!

Life as a foreigner in Japan can be quite annoying sometimes.
Everybody who has lived in Japan for a certain time knows that and will probably agree!

While everybody has their very unique experiences, if you comb through them you’ll see a certain pattern. Everybody is going through the same things here, maybe slightly different, but over all still the same.

Today I want to talk about another annoying “phenomenon” that will hit you sooner or later:

 

“Wow! Your Japanese is so good!!!”

Be honest! Who of you hasn’t heard this sentence at least once yet?
Funny enough you get to hear it after only a few words of speaking Japanese like “arigato” (ありがとう, thank you) or “konichiwa” (こんにちは, hello). smilie

When you’re a tourist and you find a Japanese tutor, you might probably be happy about such compliments on your progress.
You might think it’s strange that they throw it at you after just a few seconds, but maybe you’re just that awesome?

However, after living in Japan for a while and after getting the very same reaction after just a few words of Japanese – it gets annoying. VERY ANNOYING!

Imagine your Japanese is advanced.
Would you feel good about a “Wow, your Japanese is awesome!” after only a few words? smilie

 

Japanese people don’t mean any harm!

They just don’t expect foreigners, especially non-Asian foreigners, to be able to speak the language (well).

Furthermore, they expect you to just be a short-term visitor / tourist.
Tourists usually don’t study the language of the country they visit. It’s normal to expect that they don’t know more than a few phrases.

A lot of Japanese people also have the “weird” idea that Japanese is the most difficult language in the world and that others will never be able to learn it (properly).

Some might also react that way because of their previous experience with foreigners.
I hate to say this, but unfortunately there are SO MANY long-term residents in the foreign community who can’t speak more than basic Japanese – if at all.
Many of them are married to a Japanese citizen, might even have kids with whom they can’t communicate properly. smilie
It’s sad. They make me angry, but that’s another story.

Maybe now you can understand the reaction of Japanese people to your “oh, so awesome Japanese“?

It doesn’t change the fact that it’s annoying.
Japanese need to realize that their language is not THAT difficult and that some foreigners are very well able to speak the language fluently.

 

My personal experience:

When I visited Japan as a tourist and also during my first few months in Japan, I also was complimented a lot after just a few words.
However, as time passed and my Japanese skills improved, I didn’t give them a chance to do so anymore.
Especially when traveling I tend to just approach people to ask for the way or ask a lot of questions at once in a tourist information center, for example. I can see the surprise in their faces.

After talking with me for quite a while they usually compliment me on my Japanese, my pronunciation and then ALWAYS ask the following:

  • if I’m an exchange student
  • for how long I’ve been in Japan

When they hear that I’ve been here for “only” a few years, they continue complimenting me:
“Wow, you managed to get that good in just a few years?! Unbelievable!”
That displays very well their mindset and how they see foreigners.

I often read in Japanese learning forums that the compliments will get less the more advanced your Japanese becomes.
Honestly, from my personal experience I don’t think this is true!
It doesn’t depend on your Japanese skills, but on your Japanese counterpart.

 

But, you know, it also has its good points that Japanese don’t expect you to be able to understand / speak Japanese!!

 

1.) NHK and other annoying people randomly ring your doorbell:

NHK (Nippon Housou Kyoukai, 日本放送協会) is Japan’s public broadcasting organization. You’re supposed to pay a fee to them if you have a TV (no matter if you actually watch TV or not).
For my German readers: It’s like the GEZ!
Legally they can’t do more than just asking, but they can be VERY annoying!
However, as a foreigner it’s really easy! Just stare at them and pretend you don’t understand a thing!
Some will give up at that point.
Others will try to use very bad English: “You, TV?”
At that point, I just tell them in German(!) that I don’t have a TV (which is true anyway).
Usually that scares them away – and I never see them again! smilie

 

2.) Other people are talking about you:

As a foreigner you’ll be stared at. Anywhere, anytime!
However, some people don’t just stare, they also talk about you! Even if you don’t understand Japanese you might get that they’re talking about you from their gestures.

If you understand what they’re saying, it can be amusing, but also get quite annoying. It doesn’t have to be anything bad, just the fact that they’re right next to you and dare to talk about you!

It’s up to you how you react in that situation.
I had a few times when I snapped and said something. It was only in situations when I thought that it was getting ridiculous.
You can always just turn to them and say: “Ano, kikoemasu ga.” (Uhm, I can hear you, you know?! あの、聞こえますが。)

 

3.) Pretend to be the “baka gaijin”:

There are many situations when you can play the “gaijin card”. People will forgive you because you are a foreigner and don’t know any better.
They don’t expect you to understand the culture and the language. In some situations it can help you (see #1 above), in others it’s annoying!
While I don’t think it’s a good thing to always play the “gaijin card”, there might be situations when it actually helps you – for once. But don’t exaggerate it!

 

What’s your experience with this?
Have you been told that your Japanese is great? How did you react?

35 Comments

  • I always get this after muttering a few words in Japanese… and then I say ‘no it’s not… just wait’ and then my Japanese gets worse because… it’s not good after all! lol. I think this, among other things, is just one of those ‘omg what do I say to this gaijin AH THIS’ topics that comes up so often. I find that I have done the same thing to Japanese people who speak English (Your Japanese is so good, where did you learn it?… like srsly self? What a stupid question… T_T;;;) especially when teaching English just because it’s such an easy filler, despite not even really meaning to say it, lol.

    OMG NHK GUY! I had one come to my door and even when I said that I couldn’t understand him and didn’t watch TV he kept giving me documents in English and being like GIVE ME MONEY! And he wouldn’t leave and it was kinda late at night, so I called my coworker who lived down the street and my coworker got the NHK guy to leave if I paid the entrance fee and filled out the stupid form… omg, it was so frustrating. I’m pretty sure I’m still getting bills sent to my old place, lol XD

    • Maybe it’s just me or it’s a German thing, I don’t know, but I don’t give compliments very often.
      It’s because most of the time I do not even notice things.
      For example, somebody at work has a new hairstyle and everybody compliments that person, but me, because I simply didn’t notice.
      Only when something is REALLY amazing to me, amazing enough to get my attention I’ll compliment them. *g*

      I guess that’s why all this Japanese complimenting feels so weird to me.

      Oh noes, they got you!
      The NHK people can be super annoying and persistent! I got my first visit after just a week in Japan!! Although I didn’t know what was going on AT ALL (nobody had told me yet), we have something very similar in Germany and so I’m used to keep my mouth shut when somebody asks me about my TV!! XD

      • It was one of the first things I noticed in Japan. The compliments..
        I like compliments, because I’m happy when other notice, that my work was done well.
        But for me, it is really hard to give compliments too.
        That annoys me..
        Really a German problem I think. Hard to change habits..

        • I’m not sure if it’s a German problem, but I’m like that as well! ^^;
          Like … EVERYONE around me immediately notices if I cut my hair or have new clothes … or whatever … and then they start with the compliments.
          I’m really trying hard to notice these tiny things on others and find nice words …. because I feel so bad … especially for my co-workers if they always have nice words for me and I never even notice if they have a new haircut or something like that. ^_____^;;

  • Its like you said most people can’t believe that a non-Japanese can master such a difficult language. Japanese is not too difficult to learn and it is very easy to quickly pick up some useful words. I feel sorry for my students who learn English, which is one of the more difficult languages out there.

    • Well, whether a language is difficult for you always depends on your mother tongue.
      For example, for a Korean person it will be easier to learn Japanese (and vice versa).
      For a German it’s quite easy to learn English.

      To me English doesn’t seem like a difficult language AT ALL!!!
      What makes you think that English is difficult? The most difficult part might be pronunciation!
      Grammar is super easy – compared to most other European languages!

  • That part about NHK ringing your doorbell reminded me of the day when we got visited by a pair of Jehova’s Witnesses. *lol*
    In that case the “I can’t understand you at all” tactic didn’t work unfortunately. I have to point out that we really had some troubles understanding them (my friend’s and my japanese were just pretty basic -.-;; ) and it took us a minute to figure out what they wanted. Then we tried to convince them that we have no interest and that their beliefs are nothing for us… but they didn’t give up! They even had a small booklet that contained some introduction text in several languages… -_-;;;
    Took us quite some time to get rid of them again, they just didn’t want to leave! *lol*

    We got quite a few comments about our “awesome” Japanese as well. Even though ours really wasn’t awesome at all!
    At the moment I’m studying a bit Swedish and I have to say that Japanese gave me a lot less troubles and seems way easier to me. Also because it sounds more pleasant and the pronounciation and grammar is pretty straight forward. When you don’t take writing (Kanji xD) into consideration it’s definitely one of the easier languages to learn I would say.

    • Haha. Luckily I never had those Jehova dudes visit me.
      I made it a rule not to open the door when I don’t expect anybody.
      If it’s something important they’ll come again and all the other annoying people will just leave.

      So Swedish is difficult? What’s difficult about it? :)

      • I speak German, and have studied some Swedish, since ancestors on my mother’s side of the family came directly from Sweden (my Grandfather was born in the US, and though his parents both spoke Swedish with each other, they would not let him speak it). Here’s some for you, with German and English translations:

        Trädet är grönt.
        German: Die Bäume sind grün.
        English: [The] trees are green.

        Barnen skriver inte.
        German: Die Kinder schreiben nicht.
        “inte” is equivalent to the German ‘nicht.’
        English: [The] children are not writing. [or: ‘[The] Children do not write.’ (though this choice is unlikely…’children do not write’ makes it sound like they never write.).
        Literally: [The] children write not.

        Swedish: Pojken och mannen dricker vatten.
        German: [Die] Jungen und Männer trinken Wasser.
        English: [The] boys and men are drinking[/drink] water.

        Overall, Swedish (a Northern germanic language) grammar seems sometimes similar to that of English (a Western Germanic language), and other times seems similar to German (also a Western Germanic language; no Eastern Germanic languages still exist, but they once did, i.e., the language of the Ostrogoths, possibly also the Vandals)
        (this can be said of Dutch also: “Wappen” in Dutch is “Waffen” in German, and “weapon” in Modern English). Swedish pronunciation is a bit of a challenge, but I hear that Danish is the real tough one.

        • Wow, thank you so much!
          Very interesting. I thought Swedish would be a bit closer to German than that.
          I know I can understand Dutch and Norwegian to some extend if I read or hear it, but Swedish is apparently different.
          Yet, I’d love to study at least one of these languages some day.
          Currently I’m only partly fluent in German, English and Japanese, but I also studied Spanish, French and Latin in school.
          I find the differences between languages very interesting which is why I love studying (and teaching) them! ^__^

          • What’s your native language, if I may ask, ZoomingJapan??

            Old English (Anglo-Saxon) from about 800 AD:
            “On thissum daege cwealdon we thone feond thisses folces”
            German (modern):
            “Am diesen Tag erschlugen wir den Feind dieses Volkes”
            The grammatical structure (personal pronoun following the noun, the case endings, etc. are all very similar,

            I was in Japan as a teacher, so if I wanted to study Japanese I had to do it on my own time with a book (small town, so no courses in Japanese for foreigners available) and going out and speaking it. I remember one day, a couple of Mormons knocked on my door (they always wore short sleeved dress shirts, wore a name tag, and rode bicycles), and of course, the ubiquitous NHK man. Once even the local police box team dropped by.

    • No pain no gain. This is the best way to learn what is going around or let us call it practical university. For the case of Jehova’s Witnesses who comes to your door. They are like American government which knocking the door of all countries with mass media and for a better result through military to export democracy and human right values which all of us know what the true story is about. If you tell this so-called christian sect that you believe them but please right now i am desperately in need of some food or a shelter. They will tell you ask jesus and he will help you and they are not permitted to help you in other way due to the rule of church.
      Next time they come to your door,the best way to get rid of them is to put your hand over their head and pray for them and inform them that last night jesus come to me and told me you are coming today and bring me some money and if they deny your believe or health!!? very loudly order them to leave you alone. and shout devil…devil…**** %100 guarantee they will never come to you again.

  • I do think as you get better at Japanese, you tend to hear that “Your Japanese is so good!” comment less. If you just walk up to people and start speaking Japanese fluently without hesitation they often don’t even think anything of it. It probably depends where you are too. There are plenty of good speakers in Tokyo, so I never hear that here, but I do get it once in awhile when I’m out castle visiting.

    The one thing that really really annoys me, is when total strangers change their own topic of conversation because you happen to be near them. People around you on the train or in a restaurant will start talking about their trip to Hawaii or their experience with eikaiwa or some gaijin they once met, etc. Last night this mother gave her kids some kind of snack on the train and when one of the kids asked for another she says to the boy “Now in English. One more please” (with one of the most horrible English accents I’ve heard in Japan) and proceeds to goad her kids into saying “one more please” before they get another cookie. I was standing less than 1m away. What is this mother thinking?

    • Hi Eric!
      Thanks a lot for your comment! :D

      Well, that’s exactly my experience. You just talk a lot, not giving them a chance to even say anything about your Japanese.
      After having a long conversation with people, they still tend to compliment my Japanese, though ..
      I guess my experience is different from yours as I’ve only always lived in the Japanese countryside. There only a few foreigners around anyways and many people rarely had contact to foreigners yet, so they just don’t know what to expect.

      Oh YES!!! That happens to me ALL THE TIME!!
      People around me (even elementary school kids) suddenly try to speak in English to each other or about America or whatnot. Really pisses me of, although they mean no harm.
      I haven’t figured out yet WHY exactly they do it, though.

    • I have the same experience!
      When I get on a train, the conversations will for sure turn to some subject related to English.
      And then I would love to say to them, that not every foreigner is able to speak English properly. But that is their imagination. Caucasian foreigner = English.

  • When people ask me why my Japanese is so good, I just say that I’m married to a Japanese guy, who doesn’t speak any foreign languages, and that usually explains all for them. :bleh: If my husband is with me and I pointed him out, he’s usually asked if he speaks any German…

    I think the part about getting less compliments the better you get is true though, I haven’t had much gushing at my super duper Japanese after passing JLPT N1, but at 4-kyuu I was amaaazing. :disappointed:

    • Although it’s a stupid excuse I can see how it works well to shut them up! *gg*

      Well, if that’s REALLY true, then my Japanese must still be very, very, VERY bad, I guess. :teary:

      • Or that has to do with where you live as well. Maybe at some point here they just assume you live here, because there are more people here who have lived here for basically forever than where you live.

  • I lived in Japan for 7 years in three different towns in Fukuoka Prefecture (Kyushu), two of these quite small (Iizuka shi and Nogata shi), and one larger city (about 200,000 residents) named Kurume; I greatly enjoyed it and was sorry to leave (but the Japanese economy was taking its long nose dive then; so we went to Seoul, Korea, as my former Korean spouse wanted to go back there). My yon-nen sei (4th grade) daughter massively enjoyed Japan because she was a fluent speaker and everyone was always saying “kawaii ne!” (ohhh, cute!) when she walked by (she developed a serious case of “swelled head syndrome” due to this…) . People would often compliment my Japanese (self-taught), but I would just respond “iie, hettakuso desu!” which seemed to work. Japanese would always admire my native skill with chopsticks (regardless of whether I was using hayashi [regular finished chopsticks] or waribashi [single use, throw away chopsticks), and I would have to explain that I had used chopsticks for many years and so picking up even an individual noodle, etc. was not a challenge.
    The “gaijin da!” thing was common with kids, but often mothers would quickly say to junior “hush! Don’t say “there’s an alien / foreigner”! That’s not polite! Say “there’s an American” (Mom assuming I must be an Ami; fortunately for her, she was correct in this assumption).
    What annoyed me most, was when I had to teach a class at a yochien (kindergarten). I would take the team there (three of us), and when we were getting ready to leave, we would all ‘janken’ (play rock, scissors, paper) for who would be the lucky devil that got to cary the large vocabulary picture cards used in the lesson–a very important consideration since the kindergarten boys on departure would swarm around you like a tide and attempt to try the Crayon Shinchan “ganchiyo” move (putting two index fingers together with clasped hands and then attempting to poke someone in the butt with the fingers–popularized by a popular children’s anime show with a miscreant kid who was always getting in trouble for something). That was never fun! Sometimes they would try to satisfy their curiousity about whether foreign males came with the same equipment as the natives…needless to say, you always had to be supremely vigilant! The other thing with little Japanese kodomotachi (kids) that I learned VERY quickly, was that my middle name, Frank, was by far the better choice for introductions. Gary in Japanese can only be pronounced “Gari” (long ‘ah’), or Gayeeri (Geiri) as in Geiri Cooper (with that long “ee” in there). However, children would invariably snicker when they heard “Geiri Sensei,” since they would always mis-hear it as Geri Sensei–which translates to “Teacher diarrhea/runs.” Thus, Furanku Sensei (Teacher Frank) proved a whole lot safer for me and enabled me to avoid much emarassment… :peace:

    • Hello Gary!
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with all of us! :)

      It’s very interesting what you say about your daughter. I taught a few “half” kids as well and I have the feeling that they are either complete outsiders or the rockstars of their school. Both is obviously NOT good…

      I’m surprised to hear that you experienced mothers that actually tell their kids not to point, stare or say anything funny. Unfortunately in my experience they never did! :(

      Oh yeah …. the infamous “kancho” (カンチョー). Luckily that never happened to me, but I wonder if the kids prefer male foreigners as a victim? ^-^; …

  • “Grüße Zooming Japan! kancho” (カンチョー) yes, I see that I spelled it wrong in Romaji using “g” instead of “k” (couldn’t remember the katakana spelling, and don’t have a katakana/hiragana keyboard anyway (I cut and pasted yours). As for the kiddos, I seem to remember that our female teacher did not have quite as much trouble–the little boys seemed to show just a little more restraint in her case… I remember one day that I was not in the best of moods and decided to work the crowd instead of run the class and so I let the other two teachers manage from what served as the stage while I walked up and down the neat rows of kids encouraging them. At one point we were all singing “head and shoulders, knees and toes” and as I bent down for the ‘toes’ part, I heard this incredible shredding sound–my bloody trousers had split from waist to crotch in the back (I am pretty slim, but the seam just couldn’t take it! :-) ). All of the kindergarten teachers were respectfully laughing behind their hands,,,the children were confused for a moment, then, when they saw me holding my trousers together at the seat and realized what had happened, they all went into a paroxysm of laughter; man, it was mortifying at the time, but now I look back on it and it was pretty darn funny…

  • Once, in the train, a woman was sitting facing me, on the other side. As everyone is very silent on the train, and that day I was just enjoying the silence without listening music, or whatever (omg, I so love the fact, that in Japanese trains nobody can make any noise), i could hear, that she suddenly begin to talk very badly about me, well, generally about westerners (moreover she was totally alone) . That time, I only could understand about the half, but I felt that my face flushed fully red. When she realized, she increased the loudness of her speaking, finally, I got so embarrassed, I just get off the train, and waited for the next one.
    But fortunately this happened only once.
    Actually I never got compliments on how is my Japanese… I think people where I lived were not really sure, how to “handle” a westerner, so, sometimes I was treated like some “jungle person”, and they tried to show me very evident things, or talked bit more slower, and articulated.
    Moreover, in Japan most people thought, that actually I am mixed. And even my talking skills were far from being perfect (very far) never, anyone made any comments about it. They just smiled, (as usual), and responded if I asked, or just took my answer if they asked me something.
    But it might be, because there I was actually “just housewife”, so, I was only in touch with neighbors and the shop-persons around … Maybe, if i would work there, I would have more same experiences with all of you guys :D

    • Hallo Lina!

      No worries, you likely would. But, it’s not only Japan. I worked in Korea for 6.5 years. Once, in an elevator, I was going up to the 16th floor. There were 3 Japanese guys in there, and they were talking about me, remarking about how short I was for an American (usual assumption about being an Ami); I’m only 165cm. I turned and said in Japanese “Yes, but being short has never been a problem for me.” They were horrified!! They asked “You speak Japanese?” I said yes, I’d lived in Japan for 7 years. They said “gomen nasai!” and bowed. Very embarassed!! They didn’t expect a foreigner in KOREA no less, to know any Japanese…

    • Why didn’t you say something to them?
      That’s what I probably would have done.

      A lot of Japanese people don’t know how to interact with foreigners that’s why there are so many weird situations.
      Some get compliments after their first word of Japanese, others speak Japanese fluently but the Japanese people who listened just didn’t understand anything as it came out of the mouth of a foriegner.
      Or some try to use their really bad English on you. That can be cute, but if you’re in a hurry and need quick information, it’s just super annoying! ^-^;

      I think it definitely also has to do with you being a housewife!
      I traveled a lot and when you hit popular sights, there are a lot of tourists, so of course Japanese will think you are a foreign tourist and not somebody who lives in Japan.

  • I have only started being a fan of your fanpage on Facebook recently, and I really really love your articles so far! It’s pretty rare to have a foreign lady like you writing about life in Japan, because most of the blogs I follow are written by otakus, and they are mostly men -_-, and of course most of them never touched on topics outside of their obsession with 2D characters. That’s merely a generalization, but you get me.

    I have to say I had a good laugh with point number #1. It could be the way you phrased it, or something else, but somehow I could imagine the entire scene playing out. I don’t live in Japan, or visit Japan regularly (since it’s expensive for me), nor do I have random people knocking on my door back at home, but I often get strangers walking to me asking for street directions (and they are locals themselves!) just for the fact that I looked Chinese -_-. I always end up pointing them to the opposite direction and that’s mainly because I don’t live in that area, I’m just there because I’m meeting a friend or I’m just doing some window shopping! I’m always glad that they don’t come back looking for me again for giving them the wrong information (which I assure, I didn’t do that on purpose).

    That’s quite out of topic (I realized) so I’m going to mention about one instance when people think I’m a Japanese like them. When you’re an Asian tourist (I also notice you always highlight being a non-Asian foreigner) in a hotel, the Japanese living in that hotel would just assume you’re Japanese and at that time I didn’t realize what’s going on since I could barely understand besides the basic greetings. My grandma was standing next to the buttons in the lift and a Japanese woman asked to press a button for her and sure enough, we were clueless! The Japanese woman didn’t get annoyed but I can’t say the same about her kids. lol. Also my grandma has this habit of touching people’s faces (especially kids) even if she doesn’t know them. And she did that to a Japanese kid! I’m not sure if that’s acceptable but yeah it was definitely awkward.

    • Hello L! :D

      First of all thank you so much for your nice compliment and I understand what you mean! (^^’)

      I do emphasize that I’m a non-Asian foreigner because it makes a difference in the way you are treated here in Japan. Like you said there are all sorts of misunderstandings if they think you’re Japanese which surely won’t happen to me.

      How could you figure out what the Japanese woman wanted from you back then when you didn’t understand her?
      I’m sorry to hear that, but your gandma sounds adorable. ^-^
      However, I’m quite sure that touching strangers is not very common / acceptable in Japan.
      While it’s common in my country to shake hands or even hug people, that won’t happen in Japan very often.

      Thanks for sharing your personal experience with us! ^___^

      • Ok your site doesn’t like me, or my internet hates me. :(

        Back to the comment, I forgot to mention that I only figured it out when another Japanese walked in and pressed the button for her >.< At that time I felt things getting awkward lol. Since I'm quite the observer (I always observe people wherever I go!) I tend to learn things on the go and usually after things happened. lol. On that very same day too, one of the restaurant staff of the resort, she held at my hands very tightly and seemed grateful (?) – I never understood the gesture up till now. I'm still puzzled. I was just there because I was part of a tour group (with a really awesome tour guide btw haha). But since I couldn't figure it out, I just smiled lol. At that time I should have asked the tour guide what it means because it's very frustrating not knowing it!

  • When I lived in Kyoto I was being told ‘Your Japanese is so good!’ and stuff al the time. Now I live in Tokyo though and I can’t even remember the last time it happened. Being a foreigner in Tokyo is actually quite convinient, at least to me. I am rarely being talked to in English. In shops, konbinis…where ever I go, people just talk to me in Japanese and treat me like a normal person.

    • There are so many foreign tourists in Tokyo, but also the highest ratio of foreigners who actually live there.
      My experience is similar to yours that in Tokyo people often aren’t so surprised if one can speak Japanese well, but even there it occasionally happens.

      Of course it also depends on where you go. If you’re near tourist attractions, people will think you’re a tourist and most likely approach you in English.
      If you live in the countryside and go shopping in a local supermarket, probably nobody will speak English to you.

  • My best experience:

    Two foreigners and a japanese.
    The other foreigner said “はい!” (hai – yes). Only after that above mentioned “Wow! you’re Japanese is really good” followed..
    I had to laugh.. Normally I try to not show to be annoyed, because Japanese do not want to harm anyone with that and most of the time they say that because they do not know what else to say and try to start a conversation.
    But that was really ridiculous.

    I could also imagine, that, when one really speaks Japanese fluently after some years living in Japan, you get the same compliment, because a lot of Japanese didn’t mastered a foreign language, for example English, although they studied it over years in school.

    So they’re looking at their own experience and then truly find it amazing, that you were able to learn a language like that..

    My opinion..

    In my daily life in Tokyo I do not hear that phrase anymore. No one in a shop would try to start a conversation with me.. So they just ask the normal things, of course in Japanese “Do you want a plastic bag? Tape only is ok?” Stuff like that.
    When I meet Japanese people during work, they only ask how much Japanese I understand, to be sure they can talk to me in Japanese (because their English is bad..)
    In the past months, my best experience was on my trip to Kyoto, where they welcomed me in the hotel in English. But when I answered in Japanese, there was not one single English word coming from them until my check out.
    I often had conversations were I spoke Japanese and the Japanese English..

    By the way.. I do not like to use the gaijin card, but sometimes it is really useful. I hate to admit it ^_-

    • Travelling so much and to each and every region in Japan has brought a variety of different experiences, but it does happen sometimes.
      Nowadays I know that my Japanese is really good – and people usually only comment on my Japanese after talking to me for a while. Some even “freak out” if they hear my Kansai dialect or learn that I speak a few languages fluently. In that case, it’s a nice compliment indeed.

      But in situations where someone is only saying a single word and then gets complimented on his or her awesome Japanese …. I would probably laugh, too. If it happens to me, I usually just ignore it. ^^;