Fungus Mungus' Weird Stuff in Japan

A chronicle of general weirdness I've encountered during my stay in Japan.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Placing an Order on the Phone: a Study in Keigo Hell

As if Japanese grammar isn't hard enough, it's made even worse by the use of various politeness levels in speech. When you come to Japan with a bit of Japanese under your belt, you'd think you can order something on the phone. Don't be so sure. Enter Keigo.

Keigo is a super-polite level of speech that is used by salaried workers (salaryman) and shop owners throughout Japan. The theory behind keigo is that you speak to people based on your social position in relation to others. For example, if you are talking to your boss, you would use a humble form of speech when referring to yourself while using an honorific form when referring to him or her. Shop keepers always use a humble form of speech when addressing customers because customers are god to them. That's keigo in it's simplest form, though it can get much more complicated than that. The first time I encountered it, I was at a complete loss. It still throws me from time to time.

So I just got off the phone from ordering kerosene. The conversation went like this:

Fungus: Uh...I'd like to order some kerosene but...

Shop: I understand. Where is your honorable address?

Fungus:'s in New Town, uh...10-9., that's
wrong...New Town 10-9. God-Happiness Heights #202. Second floor.

Shop: So let me verify that. New Town 10-9, God Happiness
Heights #202, right?

Fungus: Yes, that's right.

Shop: Please forgive our rudeness for asking your honorable name...

Fungus: Fungus Mungus

Shop: How many honorable tanks?

Fungus: ? Oh! Um...2 containers

Shop: OK, will you be using cash?

Fungus: Yes.

Shop: OK, humble we will take care of it.

Fungus: Wait...umm...I won't be home until 7pm. Can you collect
payment after 7pm?

Shop: If you would please honorably wait a moment...

Fungus: ...

Shop: Please forgive my rudeness (for making you wait). Do you know
where our humble store exists?

Fungus: Yes.

Shop: Then if you would be so kind as to honorably
visit our humble store and honorably pay us then, we would
be humbly grateful.

Fungus: OK, is it alright if I come at noon and you just fill the containers
when you have time?

Shop: Yes. Where do your containers exist now?

Fungus: Uh...

Shop: Inside your honorable house?

Fungus: No, that's wrong...they're uh...

Shop: Outside your honorable house?

Fungus: Yes, that's right.

Shop: I understand. We will fill your containers and you can
pay humble us at noon.

Fungus: Thank you.

Shop: We offer our humble thanks. Please excuse our
rudeness (as we are going to hang up now).

Fungus: Uh...thanks.


Blogger holly said...

so glad i found your blog!
was laughing at the 'humble' conversation.

I study french at uni and to be honest I am getting bored with it now and am considering trying to learn japanese when I finish. Japan fascinates me. Id loveto visit there but at the same time I think it would be a scary experience?

6:29 PM  

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