頭を悩ます英文法?それでも挑み続けるべき理由! (Part 3)




Ever felt befuddled by English grammar? Here’s a good reason to keep on trying!

(Part 3)


In the first two parts of this post on grammar, we saw that grammar is an expression of culture, and that when comparing Japanese vs. English grammar, the existence or absence, respectively, of a keigo system has a big impact on how native speakers relate to other people.

Now, let’s review two concrete examples of how these differences in perception play out in our daily lives!


Example 1: Customer Service

In many Western countries, good customer service is not assured. This might not necessarily be apparent to Japanese who travel abroad if they mainly visit touristy or luxurious places. But the fact is that in certain countries, for instance in France, what you pay for in a luxurious restaurant is service, because good service is not guaranteed.

One of the greatest things about living in Japan is that no matter who you are and where you go, you are guaranteed to be treated with kindness and deference as a customer. In my view, this is a result of the fact that “customers” are above in the relationship with the service provider. There’s no debate as to how you treat your clients!

In Western Countries, the rationale will vary. How you treat your customers is your own business decision. You may see them more as partners (equals) in that your transaction with them is a win-win situation; you might see them as friends or a community; or you might have no respect for them. Most people understand that it is not commercially viable to be rude to your customers, hence good customer service remains a beacon of good business practice everywhere. Yet, it is not guaranteed!  

Do you remember the awful way in which United Airlines got rid of one of their customers in an overbooked flight back in April 2017? The U.S. Transportation Department found that the airline had not committed any violation in doing so... Do you find this shocking? This would simply not be possible in Japan!

In conclusion, if you want guaranteed good customer service, by all means... fly ANA or JAL!


Example 2: The prerogative of being the boss or professor

Trying to work in a Japanese company can be highly nerve-wracking for most Westerners. The reason for this is how differently we deal with hierarchy depending on culture. Again, there are many variations among Western cultures (for instance, Southern Europe countries are mildly hierarchical societies, whereas Northern Europe countries are extremely flat).

Nonetheless, we can say that the existence of keigo in Japanese society means that the boss (or professor) has special status and authority over her employees (or students), in a way that is accepted by all parties. Basically, “If I tell you to do this, you must do this, because I am the boss, and you must respect your boss” is an acceptable rationale from a leader. That’s where problems arise if the employee doesn’t have the same cultural viewpoint!


For example, let’s say that a Japanese boss is giving an order to his French employee. France is a culture where people express negative feedback or opposition directly, and where people are generally defiant of authority. Here is how the dialogue might unfold.

Japanese boss: “After discussing with middle management, we’ve decided to implement a new reporting system. So please send a client meeting report to me after each individual customer meeting you have.”

French employee: “Well, I already keep you updated on client meetings in our weekly meeting, so I don’t see what value this additional reporting would add…”

Japanese boss, clearing his throat: “This is a decision we’ve made collectively at the middle management level.”

French employee: “But why? I’m already very busy. Are you sure this is an improvement?”

Japanese boss: “It is common sense. We need a paper track for future reference and information sharing between department.”

French employee: “Alright, alright.”

Here problems might arise because a Japanese boss is likely to expect her employee to accept what she says, whereas a French employee is likely to expect her boss to try and convince her of the benefits of the proposed change and to have a say in the discussion.


Culture and personal preferences play a large role in influencing our expectations toward communication, so whenever a problem arises, it is likely to stem from a gap in expectations. Our advice is to always ask people to try and formulate expressly their personal expectations whenever communication becomes problematic!


In the fourth and final part of this post, we’ll view another way in which English grammar modifies our expectations of proper communication: by putting the emphasis on the responsibility of the speaker.



(Part 3)

















日本人上司: 「部課長会議の結果、新しい報告システムを実施することに決まった。今後は、各自顧客との打合せの都度、報告書を私に送るように。」

フランス人社員: 「あの、すでに週次ミーティングで随時状況は報告してるんで、わざわざ追加で報告書を書いても何も変わらない気がしますけど…」

日本人上司、 咳払いをしつつ: 「これは課長陣で集まって決めたことだから」

フランス人社員: 「でもどうしてですか?今もめちゃくちゃ忙しいんですよ。ほんとに業務改善になると思います?」

日本人上司: 「これが常識ってもんだ。のちの参照資料や部署間での情報共有のためにも、紙での記録がいるんだよ」

フランス人社員: 「はいはい、わかりましたー」