Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4 Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I recently took a vacation trip to Vancouver, Canada. The city was smaller than I expected and gave me the impression of being more like a large town than a large city. But coming from Tokyo that might be said of most cities in the world. Arriving downtown, I went into the first eatery I could find looking for something cold. It was a McDonald’s restaurant. It was my first experience at a Canadian McDonald’s, and I immediately underwent fast-food culture shock.
I felt ignored while standing in front of the counter waiting to be noticed by the staff. They were slow to serve me and slow to cook. They made almost no eye contact, did not smile and barely spoke to me. How I appreciated the premium placed on polite service in Japan, where the cashiers happily chatter to me with a smile, indulge me and make me happy to be in their establishment at lunchtime, despite the crowds.
I thought, if this is my reaction then what will Japanese tourists feel? I hope they don’t have to find out, and if they do I hope they have greater cross-cultural tolerance than
Published on Wednesday, September 11, 2002 as “Polite service missed overseas.”
Living in Japan spoils me, because service back home doesn’t compare to the everyday service here - direct looks, smiles, friendly chatter. Many visitors to Canada come out of it saying how nice and friendly Canadians are, but I don’t see it myself. When I return on my yearly visits I come away with a feeling of lazy and surly people with baldy-kept automobiles. Maybe it’s just me, though.
My thoughts on polite Japanese service were echoed on Sunday, January 23, 2011 in the letter “Service with a smile sets us apart” by Megumi Shimazoe of Nagakute, Aichi Prefecture. Ms. Shimazoe wrote “I get the impression that Japanese are somehow considered gloomy while foreigners are cheerful. Yet, Japanese smile more often at guests than foreigners do.” I think my 2002 letter was more excited and positive about Japanese manners and Shamazoe san is doing the same thing but in a more muted way, like trying to deliver a backhanded compliment to Japan’s hospitality.