Japanese Business Phrases at Work: お先に失礼します(Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu)
Finally you’re done with your tasks of the day. The clock is ticking the end of your shift. Among the lucky ones, you are working in a good company. You don’t have to clock in for some 残業 (overtime). Time for you to leave your desk and to get some rest. Be sure to say goodbye to your Japanese colleagues who might not be lucky as you are.
“Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu!
In a Japanese business environment, nothing matters more than salutations. Saying goodbye is a key to get along with everyone. True, you might feel very awkward at first, but you should never skip a polite goodbye.
Meaning of お先に失礼します(Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu)…
Try translating the expression in your mother tongue and you will end up confused. Yes, this is yet another Japanese phrase that loses all meaning if you dare to translate it literally. This is how Japanese workers say goodbye to others when they are leaving the office for the day. But more than saying goodbye, they apologize for leaving before their colleagues. A correct translation would be “excuse me for leaving before you”. From the Japanese culture’s perspective, it shows your care and recognition for others’ work.
For a long time, Japanese workers had to stay in the office until their superiors leave for the day. Times are changing, but the Japanese culture kept the idea that staying at work after your shift is good for the team. Hence the apology for leaving on time, while your colleagues are still working hard.
Osaki ni means “ahead”, “before”. 失礼 means rude or unpolite and the phrase 失礼しますcan be translated as “being rude / doing something rude” depending on the context. For example, when you enter a room you will knock and say 失礼します to apologize for the interruption. If you have to answer an important phone call during a meeting or dinner, you will excuse yourself with 失礼します. Be sure to remember this sentence if you are working in a Japanese company. With Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu, you apologize for going home before your coworkers and you acknowledge that they are still at work.
Replying to Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu…
Your colleague is leaving the office and said goodbye with a graceful Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu. Be a good sport and answer back with a cheerful Otsukaresama desu or Otsukaresama deshita. Yes, even if you have to put up with a late night at the office! As the latter expression means “good work”, be careful not to confuse it with Osaki ni Shitsureishimasu. Such a mistake might deeply offend your coworkers.
Leaving for a Short Trip/Errand…
You are leaving the office to run an errand or to go for lunch? In such cases, of course, you do not need to say お先に失礼します. Instead, you can say 行ってきます (Ittekimasu) or the more formal 行って参ります(Itte Orimasu). Whether you’d like to be precise as to where you are heading or not, one thing for sure is that you should always avoid sneaking out! For example, if you are going to the bank or the convenience store, you will say 銀行/コンビニ (Ginkou/Konbini) に行ってきます/行って参ります.
Those phrases mean “to leave” with the nuance of coming back later. Your coworkers answer back いってらっしゃい (Itterasshai) or the formal いってらっしゃいませ (Itterasshaimase). When you return, politely say ただいま帰りました (Tadaima Kaerimashita)・ま戻りました (Mamodorimashita) or the very formal 戻って参りました (Modotte Orimashita). They will reply お帰りなさい (Okaerinasai) or the formal お帰りなさいませ (Okaerinasaimase).
One advice essential to work with Japanese people would be to mimic the honorific language used by your colleagues in order to be in line with the suitable Japanese etiquette for your company. Remember, you are part of a team now!
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