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Reviewing some basic keigo forms, I was wondering what happens if you express yourself too polite... I heared that is not uncommon for (elder) couples to use keigo to express their uttermost respect towards their partner and this is generally perceived as "cute"/positive by Japanese people. Conversly in most Indo-European cultures beeing overly polite to people close to you would sometimes be considered cold/distant/rude.

So my questions:

What would be the general reaction of Japanese people, if one were to use too polite language forms for a given situation? Are there certain kinds of situation in which beeing too polite would be particular positivly/negatively perceived by Japanese people?

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    This is a good question! Keep in mind that the answer will have a LOT to do with your perceived Japanese language skill level. People's reaction to overuse of polite language by a novice Japanese learner vs a skilled JSL speaker vs a native speaker will generally be very different. – mamster Aug 6 at 19:48
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    And the inverse: the better you are at managing this, the less you’re treated as a learner (more so than many other dimensions of proficiency). – Darius Jahandarie Aug 6 at 21:53
  • In a casual setting, the reaction would be pretty much the same as if you were in bar with your (non Japanese) friends and asked them: "Would you terribly mind if I were to humbly allow myself to pour you a drink?" – Tommy Aug 7 at 2:44
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Unsurprisingly, a sudden switch to polite speech or keigo usually means a psychological distance, anger or a serious mood.

However, if a couple uses keigo on a daily basis, that's another story. Traditionally, the concept of gender role was much more prevailing than today in Japan, and it was not uncommon for a wife to use keigo to her husband. In Sazae-san, you can hear Fune regularly use mild keigo to her husband, Namihei. (Of course they are regarded as a stereotypical, good old example of a happy Japanese family.) Even today, some people are very slow to switch to plain form depending on his/her character, and a few may keep using keigo even after a marriage. It usually means nothing.

  • "psychological distance, anger or a serious mood" ... or a good-natured fun, like passing salt with a grin and かしこまりました. :) – Amadan Aug 7 at 4:45

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