Japanese Etiquette: "After You", どうぞ、お先に (Douzo Osaki ni)


Japanese Etiquette & Manners
Please go ahead…
Going the extra mile to be even more Polite

Japanese Etiquette & Manners

Travelling abroad forces us to reconsider our manners and to think about the other culture’s rules. For many expatriates in Japan adapting to the local culture is not always an easy change! Behaviors, rules, manners can be diametrically opposed to their owns. Nonetheless, Japanese etiquette is an important door to understanding Japanese people’s mind and heart. It is always wise to learn about it.


At first glance, Japanese etiquette may be difficult to fully understand. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that Japanese are very polite and care greatly for details in their manners: “where to sit in a meeting room”, “which seat should you take in a taxi with a client” or “where should you stand in an elevator” are all delicate situation in which you should know your “place”.


Please go ahead…

Whether you are working in Japan or you are coming for a short business trip in Tokyo, having some rough knowledge of Japanese etiquette and some words is a great help. A simple sentence said at the right time could impress your client and have a positive impact on your relationship with Japanese.

Let’s learn in context: here you are, at the building office, in the elevator with your client and… How would you say “after youin Japanese?

Well, two simple words: Douzo, o saki ni どうぞ, おさきに. Let’s see an example to understand how to use this new expression in context:


A: どうぞ、お先に。
B: すみません。

(In an elevator)


A: Douzo, o saki ni. (After you)
B: Sumimasen. (Thank you)


Going the extra mile to be even more Polite

Actually, it would be even better to say douzo o saki ni while pressing the button to open the door. This expression is an indication of Japanese’s people respect for each other. However, you have to be careful! Saying only “o saki ni” means in Japanese… That you will be getting off first! Which is exactly the opposite of what “douzo o saki” conveys. You can translate “douzo o saki ni” by “after you”, but also “please go first”, “go ahead”.

When Japanese people use the elevator, they have surprising manners for foreigners. You might have witnessed that when they arrive at their desired floor, they do not get off immediately but hold the door and wait for others to get off. If anyone remains in the elevator, many Japanese people will slightly bow as they get out, as a sign of courtesy. Remember well this piece of advice about Japanese etiquette and you will agreeably surprise Japanese people around you!

Keep learning about Japanese etiquette: 

– Learn how to say thank you: about the ins and outs of arigatou
– Learn the proper way to apologize!

Image credit: mrhayata
source: Flickr

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