Were I in a situation where I want to get the attention of a waitress in a noisy restaurant, I kind of feel like calling-out: "お姉{ねえ}さん、すみませんが、ビールもう一本お願いできますか?". I think that I've seen this done in a movie, as well as seen native speakers do this in front of me (but only at a bar where everyone was pretty drunk).

However, I think I've been told that addressing a waitress, or waiter, as お姉さん, or お兄{にい}さん, is impolite. Is this correct?

Addressing a waitress as お嬢{じょう}さん is off the charts impolite, right?

Say that I am at a beer garden and want to get the attention of one of the waitresses by saying お姉さん, what would be an appropriate substitute? Is just not addressing her at all the only way?

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    It's おね さん and おに さん (long vowel, note ねえ in the first case, one of the few examples of a long え vowel being lengthened with え rather than い). – Earthliŋ Jul 21 '14 at 2:21
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    That would depend on so many factors -- how you speak in public in your native language (Are you rowd? Reserved?), how old you are, how old the waiter/waitress is, what type of bar/restaurant you are at, etc. As a Japanese-speaker, I have never addressed a waitress as お姉さん -- Never. Like you, however, I have heard it used both in fiction and real life. I just find it difficult to tell you how to speak because that is like telling you how to live. – l'électeur Jul 21 '14 at 2:37
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    "I just find it difficult to tell you how to speak because that is like telling you how to live." woah. This says a lot about the way culture and language are so tied together in Japanese. I would never feel the same way about English. – user14298 Apr 29 '16 at 9:16

I wouldn't do that. It's true that some people use お姉さん, but you'll be taking unnecessary risk. For a example, some older women might get offended for being called that way, and some younger women might get offended, too! It's like calling somebody "Hi young woman!".

Of course some people will like it. If you say お姉さん to an 大{おお}阪{さか}のおばちゃん, you might get that beer for free :) That will also constitute a kind of joke. But unless you are using it for this effect, I would stay clear.

Addressing a waitress as お嬢{じょう}さん is off the charts impolite, right?

You have to be very old for this to be ok, like > 65. I.e. you have to be classified as おじいさん/おばあさん. Even then the other person must be very young, like < 25.

If the other person is really young (like < 8) then it's ok for a non-おじいさん/おばあさん to use it. However it will sound very old fashioned.

  • I'll do my best to make eye contact, gesture, and say "すみません" or "ごめんなさい" as loud as I can to get the attention of a waitress. But, if I get frustrated, I'll let go an "お姉さん". Because my Japanese is poor, they should cut me some slack I think. – user312440 Jul 21 '14 at 14:38
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    @user312440: FYI ごめんなさい would be a bit weird, a loud すみませーーーーん! is the standard protocol :) They definitely will cut some slack, I think most will actually find it funny. – Enno Shioji Jul 21 '14 at 14:45
  • Saying "ごめん" to get the attention of a waitress does sound very strange. So, does "ごめんなさい" really sound equally strange? I've been sounding very stupid for awhile I guess. But, doesn't "ごめんなさい" have a slightly broader meaning and more usage cases? – user312440 Jul 22 '14 at 0:00
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    @user312440: Not to call a waitress. It can be used when you pass (ごめんなさい通してください) or when you visit somebody (ごめんください), but both sound old fashioned. It's stronger than すみません and is generally reserved for stuff that actually needs apologies. – Enno Shioji Jul 22 '14 at 7:09
  • As an additional note: I already caught a Japanese customer (of a certainly advanced age) call the waitress/owner of the bar お母さん. Personally I would also stick to すみません... By the way I believe すみません does not have to be pronounced loud, but more importantly to be pronounced on a sound frequency that is not covered by the noises in the shop (so usually very low for men, or very high for women). Also of great importance is the intonation: it is probably more important to emit the typical intonation of the "waiter call すみません" than to pronounce distinctively the sounds in the word. – wip Jul 24 '14 at 17:37

Until a few decades ago, we used to hear guests call waitresses “お姉ちゃん” or “お姉さん.” But we don’t see or hear someone calling a waitress by the term, “お姉ちゃん” or “お姉さん” today. We address waitresses in restaurant mostly raising a hand, and by saying “すみません ‐ Excuse me” or sometimes “ちょっと、済みません - Pardon a moment” instead of calling them “お姉ちゃん / お姉さん,” which is regarded as rude. おばさん is out of question.

Same thing applies to the addressing word to female staff in sales / service establishments in China, where we used to address them by 小姐‐ xiao jie, equivalent to “お姉さん” 20 years ago. I heard it’s rarely used today, and “服務員!- service staff” or ”對不起 - Excuse me” are used instead.

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