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An answer to "What is the most natural way to refer to someone when you don't know their name and don't have a close relationship with them?" suggests that お宅 may be used to refer to the second person.

When is (or was) the use of お宅 appropriate? Because rikaikun defines お宅 as:

  • your house; your home; your family; your husband; your organisation; you (referring to someone of equal status with whom one is not especially close)

There is some conflict with the fact that the answer to the other question was voted down.

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Just a guess, but it may have been voted down because calling someone an オタク is derogatory in Japan (though I personally disagree with downvoting something just because you're offended by a word that was used). –  Ataraxia Oct 1 '12 at 14:29
    
@phoenixheart6 In what way is being called an オタク derogatory? –  Chris Harris Oct 1 '12 at 14:32
    
I guess derogatory isn't the right word, but I learned that being called an オタク is more insulting in Japan than it is here, where it is often used endearingly. It apparently refers to someone with an unhealthy obsession with something. \I can't say exactly how insulting it is though, as I've never field tested it in Japan (for obvious reasons). –  Ataraxia Oct 1 '12 at 14:37
    
I'm not 100% sure, but I think those are two different "otaku". オタク is a noun that can usually be translated as "fanboy". お宅 is a formal reference to a "home", which can be used as a pronoun. (@Flaw: I'm aware that it can be used as a word for 'you', but I'm not sure enough of the boundaries of acceptability to offer an answer) –  jkerian Oct 1 '12 at 15:21
    
@jkerian yea, those are two different things. I was talking about the former オタク, I never said anything about お宅 (did you follow the link posted in the question?). –  Ataraxia Oct 1 '12 at 15:23

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

When a politician of the political party in power talks to a member of the former Government political party, he/she may say 「お宅の党の政策のつけが今こちらに周ってきているんですよ。」. It is less polite than saying 「~さんの党の政策のつけが・・・」. It sounds equal to say 「あなたの党の・・・」 here but 「お宅」 implies that the relationship between the talking person and the second person is not close and rather estranged compared to 「あなた」.

Another situation would be when a neighbor who you do not know very well asks you, 「お宅の庭の木の実が周辺に散らばっているので片付けてもらえませんか?」. It's less friendly to be told than 「~さん、木の実が周辺に散らばってるので・・・」. So it implies that the talking person does not necessarily wants to talk to you unless he/she wants to solve the issue. Here also 「あなた」 could be used like 「あなたの庭の木・・」 but the differences are subtle and I think 「あなた」 can give a sense of acknowledging the person while 「お宅」 does not. So I would say in general 「お宅」 (used as the second person) implies unfamiliarity towards the second person.

If a customer is called 「お宅」, it sounds really rude. For example, a waiter at a restaurant asks the customer an order then says 「お宅、ご注文はお決まりでしょうか?」. It should be 「お客様、ご注文は・・・」. But if an illegal drug dealer says 「お宅、何にするか決まった?」, it sounds appropriate.

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