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So a Japanese teacher told me that あなた (anata) was a bit rude. But today I talked with a Japanese and she used あなた ... so, I'm a bit confused (we just met in a language exchange app).

So I suspect あなた isn't actually rude. Maybe it's the standard "you" (even if you just met that person)? I'm not sure ...

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The word あなた is used for people you don’t know the name of, or that you’re very close too.

In Japanese, as soon as you know a person’s name, you’re expected to use that, even when talking directly to them.

Japanese people on language exchange apps don’t mind using あなた because they expect people to be not good enough in Japanese yet to make that distinction.

Just know that normally only good friends (or even lovers) use あなた. And that you probably shouldn’t use it anymore as soon as you know the person’s (sur)name.

I’ll give examples from my own experience in Japan.

Every time I met a new person, they’d call me あなた (or an equivalent to it). But as soon as they knew my name they stopped using it. After I became close friends to a couple of people, I got called あなた again by those people, or just my name without a suffix.

  • This is good information. Additionally, some people will not use あなた or きみ or any other such pronoun, they'd prefer to know your name and use that, to avoid miscommunication. Both being referred by あなた or being asked my name happened to me as well while in Japan. – psosuna May 18 '18 at 19:04
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It's rude depending on who you address and how. Most people aren't on a first-name basis or on a "you" basis unless they are close enough to do so. To assume that you can say あなた to just anyone could make some connections with some people a little too close for comfort.

That being said, it's a bit on a person-to-person basis, but I suspect that the reason why your instructor has said it is rude is because, in a typical "business" or "formal" setting, whenever addressing someone, you'll want to address them by their family name followed by an appropriate suffix, unless instructed by that person to do otherwise.

Be also aware that the pronouns "I" and "You" are much less common in Japanese than they are in western languages, in part because the Japanese language is structured in such a way that if a subject or topic is known it can usually be omitted from a conversation as it is understood that that is the subject or topic. This is in direct contrast to how we use them in western languages. Compare and contrast this very simple exchange:

In Japanese:

田中: 吉田さん、おはようございます。お元気ですか。
吉田: 元気です。 田中さんは?
田中: 元気です。 今日はいい天気だね。
吉田: そうだね。 そういえば、今晩会社員さんたちと居酒屋に来ませんか。
田中: いいですね。 では、またね。

It's a bit "textbook"-y, but notice the absence of pronouns.

In English, a similar exchange:

Tanaka: Good morning Mr. Yoshida. How are you?
Yoshida: I'm well, thanks. How about you?
Tanaka: I'm well, thanks. Today has good weather, doesn't it?
Yoshida: Yes it does. Now that you mention it, won't you come with the coworkers to a pub tonight?
Tanaka: Sounds good. Then, see you later.

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Conservative answer

あなた is generally acceptable to use in "同期"-type relationships, or where you are in a position where you are "先輩"-type or higher. But even then, I feel like it's used sparingly, like when names aren't known yet (as @Otsukisama mentioned), or when the speaker is being critical (seriously or jokingly) of the listener.

From my experience, generally speaking

Given that, I would never call a boss or superior あなた.

If I would use あなた、it would be to 同期 or 後輩. If I ever used it with 先輩, it would be "jokingly condescending", provided we were on that level.

Otherwise, it was always last name + さん.

In your case

Speaking to your experience on the language exchange app, the nature of your relationship is "equal" because you're both language exchange app users; kind of "in it together" when it comes to language learning. That would be a 同期-type relationship, where using あなた is acceptable between the both of you.

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This is from a mix of personal experience and what I've read online:

Generally, it's best to refer to someone by their name. If you don't know someone's name, you'll have to refer to them by a pronoun or a title of some sort (or just avoid referring to them directly through the magic of context). If you know you're going to be acquainted with this person, you might as well ask their name. If you're working at a company, it might also be considered condescending to call a superior あなた (especially your boss). So in general you should put in the effort to remember their name, or if you have to you can use their title. See this little skit: https://bizkeigo.koakishiki.com/settai/scene-5.html

If you don't know someone well, you should call them by their last name + さん. Once you become friends with someone, they might tell you to drop the さん, or to call them by their first name or a nickname. To be safe, you should wait for them to give you permission or you'll start sounding too over-familiar. Essentially, you both should decide what you are comfortable calling each other. Different people will have different comfort zones when it comes to this, and it may also vary between text messaging / the internet and real life. But try to avoid calling your friends あなた, especially people you are pretty familiar with, as you may accidentally give the impression that you are distancing yourself from them.

As for using あなた, 君 etc between two lovers, I'm pretty sure people have mixed feelings about this. According to one article, couples who don't know refer to each other on a name basis are more likely to break up.

https://woman.mynavi.jp/article/131202-51/

And according to this article, only about 10% of married women (a sample size of 449 women in their 20s to 60s) refer to their husbands as あなた (even though it happens in movies and dramas all the time).

https://sirabee.com/2015/11/26/64338/

I think the misconception that lovers ought to refer to each other as あなた is widespread, even among Japanese people. Here's a post made by a girl who was bothered by her ex-boyfriend calling her あなた, asking what his reasons might have been:

https://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q12115260772

And finally, here's a long article on the different ways couples call each other:

http://belcy.jp/1561

One last thing is when referring to a general audience, 皆さん is frequently used. あなた is used too, but more as a rhetorical technique (making the reader/listener feel as if you are speaking to them directly). As such in real world presentations, you'll most likely hear 皆さん, but in internet articles あなた is frequently used. Some teachers might use あなたたち as well but it could sound condescending. For an example of a presentation, here's a TED talk. He uses 皆さん to refer to his audience.

https://youtu.be/EzXvih454dM

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