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Email manners

Rudolf-sensei's post on a Japanese person whose email message started with an unexpected apology made me smile. It sure is funny to apologize for sending email even if it's late at night. Unlike phone calls that can directly rob you of your time regardless of what you're doing, emails are a moderate means. You can, basically, send an email without worrying about disturbing the person. That should be one of the advantages of emails over phone calls.

Still, I kind of understand why the Japanese person started with an apology. The person (...by the way, is the person he or she? This is where I often feel annoyed when writing in English.) just wanted to be polite, I guess. And in that sense, it's nothing strange for the person's (Aagh! No, I'm determined not to use his/her or something like that this time. ;)) part. It's a rather usual practice for a Japanese to start an email message with some polite words when writing to someone you don't know very well. And those words are, in many cases, simply used like greetings, rather than taken as they are literally. Even if you know you don't need to when writing in some other language, sometimes you can't resist doing so, because you're in such a culture. I don't know whether the person (hehehe...) was aware of that or not. It's a possibility that the sender thought the receiver might open the email soon.

When calling someone late at night, a Japanese would say, 「夜分遅くすいません」(yabun osoku suimasen: I'm terribly sorry to call you at this late hour.). Well, to tell the truth, I almost did it in an email message the other day as well. Ha ha ha!


Pardon my rudeness, sensei, in posting to your respectable weblog while sipping coffee.

The person in question was male.

And yes, your explanation is exactly what I figured: in Japan, apologies are such an essential part of being polite that people, it seems, don't feel comfortable unless they have something to apologise for. Sometimes it gets weird when they try to translate the formulas into English because English doesn't have such a great deal of *aisatsu*.

Just as a random association, though: the one area where English is more finicky about politeness is requests: In Japanese you can walk up to a person and fling a straight imperative at them without further ado, simply using *-te kudasai*. That's perfectly polite but doesn't translate into English all that well because a direct imperative in English is an order rather than a request, even if you add "please". So in most cases you'll have to coach your request in a modal construction such as "would you" or "could you" -- rather fussy, come to think of it.


Shitsurei shimashita.


Hilarious! You rock, Rudolf-sensei! But please, uh-oh, could you stop calling me "sensei"? ;)