|RANT 'N' RAVE|
I first noticed the phenomenon several months after I'd started studying Japanese - at about the stage where I thought it possible to stop crawling and begin walking,
only to take one hesitant step and fall face down in the mud. Usually under the influence, I would attempt to practice with any locals
unlucky enough to be nearby, and no matter how bad, mispronounced, hesitant, poorly structured and unintelligible my Japanese, always they would respond "Nihongo ga o-jozu desu ne" ("Your Japanese is good"). In a restaurant, izakaya, department store, whether it was the third, fourth or fifth poor soul they had summoned to try and understand me, the reply to merely stammering out the time of the day would be the same. "Nihongo ga o-jozu desu ne."
This should be a rave. They are trying, no doubt, to encourage me. And, I'll admit, I use the same tactic in my classes, praising students profusely for the simplest of constructions, never mind the articles and prepositions since they're not so important at this stage (and yes, I am an English conversation teacher). However, should ever the day come when I do in fact utter a reasonably complete, well-phrased Japanese sentence, politeness perfect for the occasion, nothing the other party says will convince me of the fact.
Encourage me, yes please. Let me stumble through my sentences without breaking out into English or sending immediately for someone who can. But please leave the praise for the praiseworthy. It's not just language. I practice a noisy instrument on my balcony. I am not good. Windows shake, cups shudder on shelves, birds flee crying from the trees, yet when I have finished, every dog in the district howling like the Day of Atonement is at hand, there are often one or two locals standing on the road outside politely clapping -
"o-jozu desu ne."
Not so long ago I had a common gaijin experience. I saw a very smartly attired mannequin in a store window. It had the desired effect, and I walked in to see if I could acquire the jacket. My first mistake was to say "here" while pointing at "that thing over there." There then followed ten minutes of hesitation, silences, embarrassed laughter, giggling and constant rustling through the pages of my pocket dictionary. My only coherent utterances were "large" when I meant "too tight," "anything delicious" instead of "anything bigger," and "thanks" rather than "where do I go in this #%^$% country to #%@# find something to %$#&* fit me?" Leaving, I hesitated a moment in the doorway. I turned to the prim, doll-like shop assistant, whose face was flush with suppressed laughter. Bowing slightly, I remembered a stock phrase - "I am sorry, my Japanese is very bad." She looked at me a second, and a slow smile spread upon her face. "Nihongo ga o-jozu desu ne."
Many thanks to James Gard for this Rave.