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I was at a temple the other day, and as I was leaving and going down the stairs, the ladies that were cleaning the steps said to me 「ご苦労様」. I replied with 「ありがとうございます、おつかれさま」, but I felt sort of awkward after that. Does anyone know how I should have replied?

Thanks

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2 Answers 2

I think that お疲れ様 is the safest option. If you want to make it more polite, you can say お疲れ様です, although I am not completely sure how formal it is. 失礼します is also common when you leave some place. Saying ありがとうございます in that situation sounds a little too heavy to me.

The worst option is to tell the ladies that their use of ご苦労様 is not very appropriate because it is often used when superiors talk to subordinates. :)

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I agree that that's a misuse of honorification often observed, but do you mean it is the worst option to point that out to the ladies besides using it yourself? –  user458 Feb 4 '12 at 21:10
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@sawa: Calling it worst is an exaggeration, of course, but personally I would definitely prefer to misuse than to point it out in that situation, if I have to choose either one. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 4 '12 at 23:59

I wonder if the best option might not have been to say nothing at all. Westerners often feel the need to acknowledge such set greetings when Japanese people often say nothing in return. While this is certainly true in stores, this might have been a slightly more personal situation. Still, a light bow might have sufficed.

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