There are people in Japan who seem to think nothing of sniffling their nose indefinitely as they sit in a coffee shop, in an office, on a train, or anywhere with other people around. Sometimes surprisingly loudly. I've heard some guys who sound like their grinding espresso in their noses.

Sometimes it can be really grating. Just a few moments ago, a person was sitting near me, sniffling away, and this was one of the loud ones. So I decided to take action. I had a pack of tissues on me that someone had handed to me last night, so I offered it to the sniffler. My hope was that handing over tissues alone would communicate the whole message of "Please use these to blow your nose because your sniffling is annoying."

However, the sniffler took it, and thanked me, and then set it on the table as if it were just some gift. A few more sniffles later, I turned and asked if they understood why I gave it to them. It seemed they didn't grasp it, so I tried to explain. Here's where things got a little murky.

It seemed I couldn't find the right word for "sniffle" to express what I was talking about. I tried:


... and:


... both of which I found in a dictionary. Neither seemed to convey the point. The sniffler looked at me like I was from Mars.

Now, there may be a bit of a cultural miss here. I've been in Japan so long I honestly don't remember if people sniffling without ever just blowing their nose once to just get it over with is a common occurrence elsewhere or not. It seems in any case that in Japan, it's just not something that is given any particular thought. I've been through this a few times and it seems people are genuinely surprised that I notice, or that I can hear it, or whatever.

So it might be possible that I'm using the right words, but assuming a context that can not be assumed, in which case I need to find the right words to convey the situation, not just to convey the single sniffling element.

Bottom line, though, what words should I use to describe sniffling? What words would I use to suggest someone blow their nose, both polite and impolite?

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    lol, I agree there is a cultural difference (I would say that people don't use tissues as often in Japan for various reasons), but I also have heard people say they can't because it gives a sharp pain in their ears. Here is a thread in Japanese talking about it.
    – Jesse Good
    May 9, 2012 at 6:55
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    Not really an answer to your question, but in my experience in Japan blowing your nose in public is considered impolite by some. Though sniffing may be annoying it doesn't seem to have the same feeling of impoliteness, so it's a temporary solution to stop one's nose running until one can get to a private place to blow one's nose. That at least explains it on trains - maybe not so much in a cafe where the toilet's right there.
    – ジョン
    May 9, 2012 at 11:13

1 Answer 1


Looool... Yeah we might say 鼻(or鼻水)をすする or maybe 鼻水を吸い込む(yuck!), and more like (鼻を)ズルズルさせる/言わせる(which sounds more 'wet', yuck!) than グズグズさせる/言わせる in this case... I might say 'きったないなあ(or気持ち悪いなあ)、もう。鼻、かんできてよ!' to suggest someone go blow his nose in the bathroom or somewhere but this might sound too impolite/blunt, so probably you could say like, 'あの、すいませんが、鼻かんでもらえませんか?'

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    Not 「鼻をかんでもらえませんか」?
    – Questioner
    May 9, 2012 at 7:32
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    @DaveMG Of course 鼻を~ is fine, just the を can quite often be left out when you talk...
    – user1016
    May 9, 2012 at 7:42
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    Update: A guy sitting behind me was sitting there sniffling his nose over and over and it was crazy loud and gross sounding. One of those guys who snorts with super deep bass. So, I just handed a bunch of tissues to a guy and as I did so, said すみませんが、鼻をかんでもらえませんか?, and he said, あっ、ごめんなさい.... He didn't actually blow his nose with the tissue (not that I've noticed), but he stopped snorting his nose. Flawless victory! The whole JLU site was worth it for this one moment, as far as I'm concerned!
    – Questioner
    Apr 9, 2013 at 8:37
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    @DaveMG wwwwやったね^^
    – user1016
    Apr 10, 2013 at 20:08

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