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Why do restaurant employees in Japan speak only to Japanese people?

Why do restaurant employees in Japan speak only to Japanese people?


Food is one of the things we as husband and wife hold most dear in our daily life.



As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.”



Eating high-quality food is one of the most important elements of leading a high-quality life.





While our daily life is rather unglamorous, the one luxury we allow ourselves is eating out. Finding a cute restaurant and eating there once a month is more than enough to keep us happy.





For restaurants that we have been to plenty of times, there’s no need to worry — but for places we are visiting for the first time, there’s something we can’t avoid thinking about.

That is to say, the restaurant staff’s response toward my husband.

When an employee comes to take our respective orders, whether that person looks and talks only to me (Japanese), or faces my clearly foreign husband and listens while he orders — this greatly impacts our impression of that restaurant.




“Please allow me to repeat your order. One of this, one of that, one of those things, and one of these. Will that be all?” If the employee says these lines while occasionally glancing in my husband’s direction, we each heave a sigh of relief.



What I’m getting at is that for many restaurants in Japan which my husband and I visit (just the two of us), the employee will speak only to me (clearly resemble Japanese) and not to my husband (clearly not Japanese). This interaction always dampens my husband’s mood.



But most likely it’s nothing more than a Japanese person’s lack of confidence in speaking English (“What if they say something back to me in English and I don’t know know to respond? What should I do?), or the employee naturally protecting themselves (“Well since I don’t understand English, why would I needlessly do something embarassing?”). If this happens to you as a foreigner, it doesn’t necessarily mean the employee is looking down on you.




The employee may have learned from experience that, “Well if I speak Japanese with the Japanese customer, there’s no way I will get the order wrong” and they are simply acting from that belief.




My husband always wants to speak Japanese in public places, so I certainly try to be quiet when he’s placing our orders, but…. well…

In the end, I learned that when you’re studying Japanese, you don’t want to let a chance to speak the language slip by!