I’m a tolerant person when it comes to Japanese people interacting with foreigners (such as myself). I patiently answer their questions about where I’m from and why I’ve come to Japan (for the 9001st time even), I don’t complain about hello-harassment and I smile at the people who stare at me. I humbly reply to people complimenting my Japanese and help out people struggling to talk to me in English (despite them not knowing any).
Just the other day I had a hearty laugh with a co-worker when we were on our way to a meeting, and while I was waiting for him taking a piss at a park’s public toilet, some little girls happened to start practicing English just next to me (but never talking to me). My co-worker could hear them through the restroom doors and I think that was his first time witnessing what it’s like to be a foreigner outside of a “safe” environment (such as at work).
However, last week I got a text message that crossed the line.
Let’s look at the back-story first. I happen to have some money saved and I thought I’d try make it become more in some investment trust. I don’t have the willingness, knowledge or time to short stocks, but a trust seemed good enough. Especially one run by Japan Post. So one day I went to the nearby (big) post office and had myself briefed on my options and such. Two men attended to me, a middle-aged bloke who was at first visibly scared of me, but as soon as he realized I can speak Japanese, he’d revert to the standard way of interacting with (Japanese) customers. That’s fine.
The other man, quite elderly and the “master of investment” at the office was on the other hand very excited about me. He kept inserting English words into his sentences even when he was told (both by his colleague and myself) that I speak Japanese and asking me the “usual” questions I’d normally get at a pub from a semi-drunk guy, not in a formal environment. Even his colleague was visibly disturbed about his obvious impoliteness to a paying customer, but my tolerance held fast. I even gave him my number when he told me they’re holding “investment seminars” to learn about the trade.
A few days later indeed I got a call from him, telling me about the next seminar date. It was early (by my standards) and his call woke me so I just told him I’d check if it fit in my job schedule and send him a response. The date was a weekday, so no chance I could afford to go considering how busy I was the past few months. I sent him an email-standard-polite text saying I can’t attend this time but I’d love to in the future if my job allowed. I should point it out that with two years behind me working in Japan with Japanese communicating in Japanese both spoken and written, my emails are pretty damn solid. As Sheldon would say “my mother had me checked”, I had my emails checked by my superiors so I’d learn the correct ways, and that I have.
Then things got a bit out of hand. To be exact, the post office employee’s response to my text, to a text by a paying customer and someone he had only met once, in a formal environment and by no means were friends or even familiar with, managed to break through my tolerance and tick me off. That fact alone upset me more than the contents of the text itself, so I showed it to my co-workers and they had the unanimous opinion that it was outrageous in the worst possible sense of the word. They asked me if I was friends with this person, or if it was some inside joke – alas, neither.
Roughly translated, his response was “Your Japanese speaking and writing are both passing grade. Drop by our post office anytime! Until then, bye-bye!” This is by no means acceptable or suitable. This was the second time in years that a Japanese managed to trigger me like this – the other being a drunk guy who just wouldn’t piss off when I was trying to talk to a friend of mine. Acting like this with anyone is wrong, regardless of their nationality.
For reference, here goes the original Japanese text of our messages. (Sensitive information redacted.)
him “日本語での会話、文章共に合格点です。又・・・郵便局に遊びに来て下さいね！又会う日迄 バイバイ”