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I was told in class by a Japanese teacher that なるほど can not be used when talking with people above, but in the same lesson we listened to a CD (training material) where a student was saying なるほど to his teacher.

Here at work I often hear my Japanese colleagues saying なるほど when talking with customers (consulting). Can I do the same?

EDIT: A Japanese friend just told me she would never write it to a customer, even by email, but it is perfectly acceptable over the phone as an 相槌 (sound given during a conversation to indicate comprehension).

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Technically speaking, なるほど is something of a casual/frank word. However, it seems that native speakers can be confused as well, and there are plenty of people who use it anyway in business settings. Apparently it's not a particularly noticeable faux pas, but one to be avoided. Some of the commenters in that thread suggest replacing it with something like (depending on context) 「かしこまりました。」or「そうでしたか。」.

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Thanks for the link, an interesting read. I find that none of the listed alternatives capture exactly the nuance of なるほど. I am guessing that is also why people try to "import" it into 丁寧語, they could leave it out or substitute something else, but it doesn't quite give the same nuance. –  dainichi Aug 23 '13 at 4:38

If you use it with the correct pronunciation in a form like なるほどですねぇ it could be quite polite (not very polite nor formal anyway).

Just saying なるほど like when with friends instead, it implies equality.

Of course it depends on the kind of customers and the kind of company.

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Thank you! But actually, a Japanese says なるほどですねぇ does not sound natural, even though some people use it. –  Nicolas Raoul Jun 5 '11 at 13:17
    
In the office where my wife works they use it with old customers. –  Uberto Jun 6 '11 at 8:16
    
I realize that some people use it, but なるほどです sounds strange to me. An artificial です to try to make it 丁寧語. To me, なるほど is an interjection, not a noun (or a 形容動詞). Compare なるほどだ. This is definitely not standard. –  dainichi Aug 23 '13 at 4:35

It depends on the person that you are talking to, though I would not dare to say なるほどね to my manager, and なるほどね is definitely not language for when you are doing Business to Business sales with Japanese people.

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My colleagues are Japanese, and do say なるほど to customers (who are usually 部長 of some large company). –  Nicolas Raoul Jun 3 '11 at 8:20

You can use なるほど in business if you are agreeing with their ideas/understandings. Especially in the middle of the conversations, like

お客様:年度末にリスク高い工事は避けた方がいいじゃないですかね。
(I think we better not do risky stuff around end of financial year)

社員:なるほど、確かにそうですね

ref: - http://home.alc.co.jp/db/owa/jpn_npa?stage=2&sn=52

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In my experience in university, なるほど is used normally between students and professors alike. Also, between professors. Although I normally use そうですか instead, because I've been also taught that なるほど is more informal.

I don't think that it'll give problems with costumers. In fact, I received a lot of なるほどs from store clerks.

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