When Japanese people think of France, they mostly think of good food, rich culture, and cutting edge fashion. There are a lot of Japanese people who admire those who come from the romantic country in central Europe. But this time, we’re going to find out what French people think of Japan!
There are a lot of things about France that differ from Japan, particularly what they value in someone’s personality. Keeping that in mind, we interviewed a man in his 30s who was born and raised in France, and we asked him to tell us what he found most shocking on his first trip to Japan.
(The following is an opinion based on the experiences of the interviewee)
Japanese People Line up so Perfectly!
“The first time I got on the subway in Japan, I was so shocked that everyone lined up perfectly and waited until everyone had got off the train before getting on. They’re so proper about it. French people line up a bit, but for it to be an unspoken rule that everyone lines up like that completely astounded me!”
So, the absolute first thing that shocked him was the disciplined nature of Japanese people! It must have been a shock for him to see that everyone waits so patiently for everyone to get off first. In Japan, it’s a normal everyday scene for people to line up nicely, but it’s something that is a bit more hard to come by outside of the country.
Japanese People Are Always on Time! They're Almost TOO Strict...
“Not just with trains, but everything in Japan is on time to the second. Reservations are taken seriously, and the trains are always on time. Even if the train is only 2-3 minutes late, they make an announcement! That’s impressive. It’s only a few minutes... The Japanese people themselves are also very strict about time-keeping. Of course it’s important to be on time, but it seems a bit too stressful for me.”
When sightseeing, although it’s good to keep on schedule, if you really think about it, maybe it puts a bit too much pressure on people. It makes you think “Don’t you get tired being so strict on yourself every day?” It’s good to be considerate, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Staff Greet You When You Walk in! I’m Not Used to That at All!
“Just from what I’ve seen of Japanese people who came to France, I wouldn’t have expected them to be the type to greet me when I entered a shop or restaurant. I have friends who work in shops, but they’ve said that they will come in, say nothing and leave. But when I came to Japan, even in convenience stores the staff would greet me when I came in, and that gave me quite a shock!”
Most French people really value courtesy and greetings. Because of that, if a French person comes to Japan, they might be wondering whether they’ll be greeted or not, and perhaps expecting everything to be very quiet. But in reality, whatever shop or restaurant you go to, pretty much everyone will say “Irasshaimase!” (“Welcome!”). That’s pretty different to what he was expecting!
Having said that, the way French and Japanese people greet each other is quite different. In France, even if you enter a shop and don’t buy anything, you’ll at least exchange a casual “Bonjour”. But in Japan, “irasshaimase” and “arigatou gozaimashita” (“thank you for coming”) seem more like a social necessity or courtesy, and it can be quite difficult for the customer to do anything but smile as a response.
Because of that, Japanese people who go to France would be very unlikely to be the first to greet the staff. It’s more likely that Japanese people will be expecting the staff to greet them, but when in Europe, it’s good to keep in mind that people greet each other!
They’re So Strict About Tattoos! I Was Even Refused Entry to a Capsule Hotel!
“I was so surprised by how strict Japan is about tattoos! I had heard that entry to onsen could be difficult, but I had no idea it was also true for hotels. I came to Japan with my tattooed friend, and as soon as they mentioned tattoos, we were refused entry. It took four tries at different capsule hotels before we finally found one we could use!”
It’s true that there is a huge difference in the way that tattoos are viewed in Japan and the west. With the rising number of foreigners in Japan, many places have eased off on their tattoo policies, but there are still quite a lot of places that don’t let people in.
It’s a bit more understandable in public pools and hot springs, but when it’s a capsule hotel with private showers, it would be nice for them to be a bit more lenient. Hopefully that will change soon!
Meat and Ramen are SO Good! The Taste is Unforgettable!
“What surprised me about Japanese food first was the meat! The meat was delicious, particularly Yakiniku and steak. Especially Kobe beef, I can’t forget that taste! I often eat beef in France, but I have to say Japanese meat is really good.”
This was a particularly positive surprise for our interviewee. Of course, Kobe beef and Wagyu are known across the world, but to hear such praise from a French native – the land of gourmet – is a serious compliment!
“Another amazing dish is ramen. There are quite a few places in Paris that serve ramen, but having it in its homeland is particularly delicious. I’ve had it so many times since being in Japan. I really love ramen!”
Another nice surprise was Japan’s soup-noodle dish, ramen! It’s one of Japan’s most famous dishes, so it’s no wonder so many visitors to Japan say it’s the one thing they want to eat the most!
Women Look so Young! How Old Are They Really?!
“Every woman in Japan looks so young. I have literally no idea how old they are... They look younger more often than they look mature. In France we don’t really think about age, but I was particularly taken aback by how young everyone looks here.”
In France, as he mentioned, people don’t care so much about age, and looking young isn’t necessarily seen as attractive. Since 2012, we no longer use the word “mademoiselle”, so now you can’t distinguish between married and unmarried women.
On the other hand, in Japan beauty is still very much related to youth; women want to have the same soft skin they had when they were 10, and wear youthful outfits. Because of that, these Japanese people who want to look young mostly succeed in doing so, which can be a bit confusing when you can’t tell their age at all!
“Yabai” is Such a Confusing Word! Anything Can be “Yabai”!
“This was a pretty weird one. I knew the word ‘yabai’ before coming to Japan, but I found it quite interesting just how much it gets used. When you eat something tasty, or if you get in trouble, particularly younger people say 'yabai' all the time! But I guess it’s kind of like saying ‘C’est bon’ in French...”
“Yabai” is a popular word these days, and it has a lot of different meanings. Depending on the situation it can have a positive or negative meaning – it’s pretty useful really! It can be a bit difficult for non-natives to get used to the word, but it can be pretty entertaining to hear Japanese people using it in pretty much any situation – when they’re eating, when they’re shocked, anything is “yabai”!
Interestingly, French has a similar saying, “C’est bon”, which literally means “It’s good”, so it can be used to say “It’s delicious” or “It’s alright” (which can suggest something is OK, good, or “no, thank you”). So funnily enough, even though our French interviewee was shocked by “yabai”, it turns out they have a very similar phrase themselves!
To Understand Differences is to Understand Culture
So, what do you think? It seems that there were quite a lot of surprises about Japan for our interviewee. In comparison to the west, it might seem like Japan has a lot of very particular rules and values which might be difficult to grasp.
Having said that, experiencing culture shock is not always a bad thing! Hopefully everyone can continue to learn about other cultures and widen their horizons through interesting surprises.
Even if you just think a little bit about the culture shock you’ve experienced while abroad, you’re likely to begin to understand that culture too. We hope you can find some cultural surprises yourself during your travels!
Written by Miyuki Yajima
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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