It was mentioned in a comment that 「どこからきた?」 is not only informal, but outright rude. The way the comment is written makes me think that this goes beyond grammatical politeness and would be improper even in -ます form. Is that true?

A naive translation to English (I'm not a native speaker) could perhaps be "Where do you come from?" or "Where did you come from?" which seem to sound fairly neutral with no rudeness in them...

What makes the Japanese sentence rude? Is there some generic guideline that would apply not just to this sentence? So that we don't avoid it here while committing a similar rudeness elsewhere

Perhaps it has something to do with directness of the question and having listener as a subject on top of it. But in my materials it seemed like a preference (especially for highly polite speech) rather than a hard universal rule, they mentioned it briefly and not discussed in much detail...

Thank you!

  • 1
    I believe this a different question from the referenced one and that the sentence in question was mentioned but not explained in it. I cannot post comments to ask for clarification there, but I think it warrants a standalone question anyway, even though it may be asking for a silver bullet... – NoxArt Jul 11 '16 at 19:18
  • 2
    I wouldn't say it's rude per se, but it definitely depends on context. However, if you are an adult and you use plain language with strangers or in otherwise inappropriate situations, you could definitely be seen as a rude or condescending person. – Kurausukun Jul 11 '16 at 19:59
  • 2
    I didn't see the original post but my guess is that using the verb "くる" to discuss where someone was born is very a-typical and sounds like it objectifies them. There are natural, polite expressions like "ご出身はどちらですか” which are much more appropriate for this. – Locksleyu Jul 11 '16 at 21:55
  • 1
    As I had been learning English, I was a little surprised when I learned that English speakers say "where are you from?" when they ask for one's attribution instead of wondering how to get there. – user4092 Jul 11 '16 at 23:09
  • 1
    I feel どこから来た? and どこから来たんだ? are rude but when my friends say that, I don't feel rude. どこから来たの? is casual and friendly. どこから来たんですか? and どこから来ましたか? are polite. And they mean "Where did you come from?". When we talk to unfamiliar persons, we usually use polite form likeです,ます. So many people may feel rude, when unfamiliar person talk to them without です,ます. – Yuuichi Tam Jul 13 '16 at 11:02

There are similar sentences that are used in confrontational settings or in order to insult somebody (e.g. お前らどこのもんじゃ or お前らどっからきたんじゃ, basically it amounts to "You stranger!" or "What kind of inferior group do you come from?"), so that similarity might be the reason.

Though there are certainly situations where it's completely fine. E.g. 「今日はどこから来たんですか?」(from where did you travel here today?) is perfectly polite. Using it to ask generally where a person is from would indeed sound a bit rude IMO.


"Using it to ask generally where a person is from would indeed sound a bit rude IMO." - would you be able to say why?

I think it's because the verb 来る is too casual to inquire about something so important (in traditional Japanese culture). Presumably similar to why we have spacial verbs when it relates to the emperor. E.g. if an emperor dies, he doesn't 死ぬ because that is too casual. Rather, he 崩御する. Or consider 生誕. This word means exactly the same thing as 誕生 but it's reserved for important people.

Generally the idea in Japanese culture is that using special words == more respect, and thus casual/direct words == less respect.

would it be a different case when rephrased like「{name}さんはどこから来ましたか?」

It makes clear that you are trying to be respectful, and therefore it will be interpreted as asking where you literary came (traveled) from (today). That would be mundane enough to warrant the use of simple verbs.

That said I think it's common to hear expressions like 「〜さんってどっから来たの?」when referring to a foreigner (e.g. ゾマホンさんってどっから来たの?). In my personal opinion there is a hint of racism there but other people might have different opinions.

  • I'm sorry for late response and thank you for reply. "Using it to ask generally where a person is from would indeed sound a bit rude IMO." - would you be able to say why? Or - would it be a different case when rephrased like 「{name}さんはどこから来ましたか?」 – NoxArt Jul 17 '16 at 10:19
  • 1
    @NoxArt: Added some edit. Hope this helps. – Enno Shioji Jul 17 '16 at 11:24

The potential for rudeness in this sentence will depend upon a combined number of factors: setting, status, enunciation, race, and gender. (More are possible, but I will only cover these.)

Setting: if you are in a classroom setting, host family, or other 'protected learning' environment, this will not likely be perceived as rude. Other settings could be more problematic.

Status: this will be a big issue. Japanese society still has lingering traces of the social stratification which used to be common a few hundred years ago. In modern times, these traces have generally degraded to be a function of simply age, societal and/or business position, and relationship. The lingual form presented is a low form, generally used among intimate/friendly people of equal status, or used from people of higher status towards people of lower status. Using this sort of a phrase "upwards" is a big no-no. If someone uses this towards you, it is a clue as to what they think your status is in relation to them. This usage could also used by those attempting to be deliberately short or rude towards someone else.

Enunciation: despite official Japanese being a fairly mono-tonal language (with the exception of a lilting accent being placed on double consonants), the reality is that emotional context is conveyed by intonation and enunciation, pretty much just like every other culture out there. Lump body-language and facial expressions in here as well. Also, smiling does not always convey friendliness in Asia, but has many other possible meanings.

Race: if you are not Asian appearing, most Japanese will give you a pass on this sort of usage, assuming that you are either ignorant, or have simply not been taught proper polite usage ("proper" usage being difficult even for Japanese natives). They will probably praise your Japanese efforts as well.

Gender: if you are female, this sort of usage might even come across as being cute, especially depending upon non-verbal cues. Sorry guys.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.