“How are you?” seems to have become a habitual phrase used to start off a conversation, something we put in before getting down to the nitty gritty of what we wanted to talk about, rather than a real enquiry about someone’s well-being. Although we don’t have many of these habitual phrases in English, in some languages they’re not only very common, but also an essential part of daily life, particularly in the working environment.
In Japan, for example, at the end of the working day colleagues take leave of each other with the words お疲れ様でした (otsukare sama deshita), which literally means “you must be tired” (after a day of hard work). It’s customary to use the same phrase when going home after any kind of group or activity you belong to, such as after a sport or gym class. It’s a respectful way of thanking others for their hard work, and for taking your leave, and is therefore an essential part of the process of going home. Another crucial phrase is お先に失礼します (osaki ni shitsurei shimasu), which is an apology to colleagues who still have work to do that you are leaving the office before them. This phrase highlights the sense of duty and solidarity towards one’s co-workers and company which is part of Japanese culture. For example, in Japan, it is frowned upon to leave the office before the boss of the company.
It’s not only in working life that phrases like this are used, however. Before starting a meal in Japan, it’s customary to say 戴きます (itadakimasu), which literally translates as “let’s eat”, but is used as a way of expressing gratitude to whoever has supplied and cooked the food. Can you think of [...]