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False Modesty or Being Humble

Awareness / アウェアネス

Hello. My name is Duncan Brown and I am an English Facilitator, here a some of my thoughts about learning the English language.

What is false modesty? It’s behaviour that seems humble but is seen as fake and unflattering. For example, you compliment someone on their dress and they reply, “Oh this old thing? It wasn’t expensive and it doesn’t fit me well”. Depending on your culture and personality, this reply can be seen as sincere or insincere.

Japanese etiquette vs Western perception

Looking at that example, I have experienced Japanese women responding that way but was I wrong to give a compliment in the first place? Westerners are mostly ignorant of the Japanese etiquette of humility and genuine modesty. In Western culture, paying an honest compliment is a good way to start a conversation. Not only is it a nice thing to do but it can break the ice and raise other topics too.

By responding with an answer that is played down or disagreeing with the speaker’s compliment, you can appear to be insincere, that’s fake modesty. Or, you could be seen as having low self-esteem because you can’t see what the speaker does. Culturally speaking, either response isn’t positive.

“I’m wonderful, aren’t I”

The other extreme is making the compliment more than it was by adding boastful information. “This dress was very expensive, I bought it as I look great in it!” Whatever you think of that response is up to you, this answer could be sincere, a light-hearted joke, or even embarrassment! This is another response that can give the wrong message.

The easy solution & more

Believe it or not, I’m a little shy, for years I was embarrassed at receiving a compliment and would downplay or dismiss any given my way until I discovered a short, polite way to respond. Say, “Thank you”. This short answer acknowledges the speaker’s opinion, stops further embarrassment, and by accepting the compliment, gives you a little boost to your morale.

To improve on those replies, return the compliment as long as it’s sincere because people can see and hear a white lie when it is said. “Thank you. I like your shirt it really suits you”

Cultural misrepresentation

Having the best Japanese etiquette when speaking English can misrepresent you; by being genuinely humble, westerners may judge you incorrectly with false modesty.

ー オンライン英語コミュニケーションプログラム ー