American Directness and the Japanese
American and Japanese ways of speaking are so different that they often cause culture shock to both Americans and Japanese who visit each other's country. Most Japanese who come to the United States are at first shocked and have a problem with the American direct way of speaking.
Culture shock occurs because most Japanese cannot easily escape from the formula "politeness= indirectness." Compared to the American way of speaking, Japanese speak much more indirectly. Directness is considered a form of impoliteness in Japan. Therefore, when we want to be polite, we speak and act very indirectly. For example, we seldom say, "I'll go to a bathroom," except when we are with close friends. Usually, we say, "I'll go wash my hands." Especially when we are at the table or with an important person, we say only, "Excuse me. I'll be back in a minute" because we do not want to remind other people of the bathroom, which is considered a dirty place, even though it is actually clean. Also, other Japanese can infer that we are going to a bathroom from this phrase. But Americans cannot. They ask where we are going since they have no idea what we are going to do: make a phone call? buy something? Yet, in this case, these questions make Japanese frustrated, wondering why these Americans do not understand our polite expression.
Basically, expressing our desire directly is not considered polite, and culture shock happens to Japanese when Americans expect us to express our feelings honestly. Concerning appetite, when we are guests, we are unlikely to say, "I'm hungry." We put up with hunger until we are asked, "Aren't you hungry?" Even when we answer the question, we want to stay polite, so we never say, "Yes. Very much." Instead, even if we are starving, we will say, "Uh..., yes, a little." An American host or hostess may notice that we are reserved and ask us to feel at home, but their kindness causes difficulty, especially to middle-aged or older Japanese because they cannot easily find another way to express their respect for the Americans.
Japanese are shocked by American unreserved behavior because the American way of speech is very direct. They do not hesitate to express what they want since directness is honesty for them. They will say, "I'm hungry. Why don't we go and eat something?" Japanese are surprised to see Americans in the presence of guests say, "I'm hungry" or "Can I have another glass of...