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When giving a talk on Japanese, How to talk like a ge1sha, I made a terrible mistake: I invited someone who knew something about the language along.

The only times he heckled me was when he reckoned the Japanese I was teaching was too polite. (He also helped explain some concepts I was talking about) While I was aware that the teineigo form of verbs (-です and -ます) were somewhat on the polite side, he said that こんばんは wouldn't be heard in everyday conversation, outside of work environments.

Is this the case? Would this indicate that most textbooks and phrasebooks tend to err on the side of caution, i.e. politeness?

Books where I've seen こんばんは used include the Lonely Planet phrasebook Japanese, Japanese for Busy People (3rd edition), and Mirai, a Japanese textbook for children of ages 10 to 15, and wiktionary.

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    I've definitely heard こんばんは in casual contexts. I think this might be a case of when someone explains a language, they tend to over think things and end up with extremes and personal biases. Happens all the time, with any language and almost any person explaining it.
    – Questioner
    Jan 21, 2012 at 11:23
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    -1: I really fail to see how the self-promotion bit gives any useful context...
    – Dave
    Jan 21, 2012 at 15:44
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    @DaveMG: point taken. I still think the question is already very thin, even by the most beginner-friendly standards. Having it blatantly self-promotional doesn't help.
    – Dave
    Jan 21, 2012 at 17:53

2 Answers 2

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That guy who said that こんばんは isn't heard in everyday conversation is flat out wrong. I really hate when people get up on their high horse about Japanese, especially when they're wrong. Golden rule is, never "heckle" someone over their foreign language ability, because yours will never be perfect either. I've been at this for 11 years and have lived here for 4, and I still learn stuff every single day, which is why I'm on here. People with attitudes like that really annoy me. Don't let those idiots get to you. (/rant)

Back to the question though, こんばんは IS polite, but it is totally NOT "unacceptable," "unnatural," nor "incorrect." I say it sometimes with some of my best friends when we meet up, and I've seen my fiancee (Japanese) use it very recently, when we met up with some of her friends (also Japanese).

If it's been awhile, you can say (お)久しぶり as your greeting. If you're really tight and it's super duper informal, you can say おす, which is probably closest to something like "'sup" in English. But when you greet someone that doesn't fall into one of those two categories, your best and safest bet is to actually just go with こんばんは --- there's absolutely no chance of screwing up the formality level of the relationship with that, and there's also no risk of sounding unnatural or incorrect.

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  • He was heckling me giving a talk (mainly in English), he wasn't heckling me speaking in Japanese. And that's ok for a talk given at Railscamp.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 21, 2012 at 12:48
  • +1, if only for the first paragraph. Well put.
    – Kaji
    Jul 16, 2014 at 8:48
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Is that person a native Japanese? I think he's not. こんばんは is used in normal conversation. By the way, there are several mistakes in your slide:

  • p2. minna-sanminasan
  • ibid. minasan konnichiwa is more natural than konnichiwa minasan
  • p3. Birubiiru
  • p4. Dozodouzo
  • p4. Arrigatoarigatou
  • p9. biru no go-hon → go-hon no biiru
  • p9. puroguramaa no go-ningo-nin no puroguramaa
  • p9. Five amFive o'clock
  • p19. o-to-sano-tou-san

Some are about inconsistency of romanization. Others are obvious grammatical mistakes.

Edit To answer Andrew's question. The construction Andrew mentioned is called floating quantifier construction, and the noun biiru and the quantifier go-hon do not come together as one unit (technically called a constituent), but the quantifier here is something ike an adverb. That is why the order is entirely different from the normal order within a noun phrase. Floating quantifier is observed in various languages. In English, the normal ordering will be:

I ate all of them.

But when you have a floating quantifier, you get:

I ate them all.

You get a completely different word order. A similar (not the same) thing is happening in Japanese.

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  • Thanks for spotting the errors. I need to find myself a spell-checker and grammar checker some time. Regarding p9: If you were ordering five beers, would you say "biiru o go-hon kudasai"? If so, why is the order of noun and counter changed?
    – Golden Cuy
    Jan 21, 2012 at 12:43
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    "biiru (wo) go-hon kudasai" is correct. This is something I just learned and accepted without asking why, so as for the nitty gritty grammatical details as to why, I'm curious as well. I asked a native just now what she thinks of "go-hon no biiru wo kudasai", and she said it's slightly weird, but definitely understandable. To my surprise, she said that in that case you'd wanna go with "itsutsu no biiru wo kudasai" instead of go-hon. When I asked why, she just said, "it's just better," lol, but even then, she said it sounds like you're asking for a beer called "itsutsu," instead of for five Jan 21, 2012 at 13:33
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    "go-hon no biiru" means something like "the five bottles of beer", while "biiru o go-hon" just means "five bottles of beer"; in other words, the difference is something like a definite/indefinite distinction.
    – Zhen Lin
    Jan 21, 2012 at 14:00
  • I like to think of the "gohon" as acting grammatically like an adverb here. It makes the sentence placement and grammar seem more intuitive. Jan 21, 2012 at 15:08
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    @AndrewGrimm: to sum-up Sawa's points: should you be teaching (or attempting to) Japanese to people, given your current level?
    – Dave
    Jan 21, 2012 at 15:47

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