3 Differences

Every two years, my family and I fly to America to meet my dad’s family. Going there, I notice many differences in culture and in manners. Today I’d like to introduce three of them.

Difference 1: Americans are friendly, Japanese are polite. (Culture)

This difference in preference can be seen everywhere; from restaurants to inside airplanes, from meeting a person for the first time,  to greeting the next-door neighbor.

In America, for example, you would see this small exchange of words with  a cashier in the nearby supermarket:

You: “Hi,”

Cashier, checking in the things you bought: “Hi, how are you doing?”

Of course, the cashier’s question is just a  question without much meaning. . Then why is the question even asked? Culture. America is a friendly culture. Immediately upon hearing this, you feel some kind of friendliness.

In Japanese, this phrase is never used. In fact, a phrase similar to this, meaning “Are you well?” Is only used between people that know each other.

Instead, this is what might happen in a Japanese supermarket:

You: “Hi,” (It is rare for anyone to greet someone they don’t know if they’re not being introduced.)

Cashier mutters: “Welcome,”

After everything is done, cashier: “Thank very much. Please come again.”

Most people would be somewhat shocked to hear this for the first time. There is no sense of any friendliness in the conversation and (If you’re actually there) no friendliness whatsoever in her tone of voice. She sounds like a robot.

But a lot of Japanese people find comfort in this impersonal custom. I actually don’t mind it that much either!

Difference 2: Left-hand out, left-hand in (Manners)

When my parents just got married, they had an argument  over manners. It all started when my dad, eating with his right hand, left his left hand on his lap. Perfectly normal, right? Not in Japan.

In Japan, it is custom to put the hand you’re not eating with (in most cases, your left) on the table.

In contrast, in America it is actually rude to put both hands on the table.

So, how did this Japanese custom start in the first place? Well, a long time ago, in the time of samurais, some people would hold a katana (samurai sword) with their left hand under the table while they ate with another person. Then, the samurai would pull the sword out and attack. After a while, putting your left hand out became a good manner.

In the argument, after my mom told my dad why it was a good manner, he protested that he wouldn’t kill her with his sword even if he had one! Ha!         Sigh. Out of the smallest difference of culture and manner can arise arguments sometimes in our family. Lol

Difference 3: Shake Hands, Bow Heads (Custom)

The third difference is the sign of greeting. Japanese bow, and American’s shake hands.

I think this relates to the first difference: friendliness. Shaking hands involves touching each other. Bowing shows humbleness and respect, and it doesn’t involve touching at all (unless the two people bowing accidentally bump their heads together!). For Americans, touching hands involves friendliness and shows that one is good terms with the other.

Hugging, another American custom, is very rarely seen in Japan. Even parents rarely hug their children. Again, hugging shows closeness and friendliness, something American culture is all about.

So are Japanese cold? No, not at all. For reasons I will share another time, they just value respect more than friendliness.

So, there you have it. 3 differences in culture, manner, and custom from two different countries, Japan and America. Hope you enjoyed this!

Oh, and I forgot one more thing. Thank you very much for reading. Bows :)

11 thoughts on “3 Differences

  1. This was such a fun post, Noah! I was unaware that it was custom to put the hand you’re not eating with on the table. How interesting. It’s quite fascinating to learn about Japanse culture and how it differs from that of American culture. : )


  2. Thanks for sharing, Noah! This is quite interesting. Being a Filipino, it is like that as well in the Phillipines (but I’m not very used to the customs since I grew up in Australia); there is a lot of respect shown especially towards older figures. Great post!


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