False Friends

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Our trip to Now and Zen's "2nd Street Noodle Bar" was a big success and so many people came I don't think we all even saw each other!  The wait was almost an hour long for some people but it was worth it.  Of course, paying compliments in Japanese can be difficult, especially if you want to try to use a "loan word" in Katakana.  Japanese is full of what the French call "faux amis," or false friends, words that don't mean what you think they mean.  If you told your teacher that you weren't hungry because you just went for a "snack," she might be a little surprised.  A スナック is a social bar, with a classy atmosphere- basically a place where office workers, normally male, go to relax, buy expensive drinks, and chitchat with young ladies.  If you do go to Japan, someone might meet you and immediately decide you look "smart."  That has nothing to do with your intellect, mind you, it's just that スマート means "slim" or "elegant" and can be applied to both men and women.  Don't worry, though, if you are called "naive."   ナイーブ means sensitive, delicate, gentle, simple, or honest.  However, if you are offered an overnight stay at someone's "mansion" don't get too excited.  マンション just refers to a small apartment.  


Of course, you should always be careful, even with native Japanese words.  Don't call your new friend "sweet," for example.  Amai (甘い) means someone is being shortsighted or naive (the way we mean naive!).  Better that you call him "bitter."  Shibui (渋い) describes a person who is cool, handsome, and mature - a real Ken Watanabe type.