By Eric Larsen
Happy spring everyone! I hope you all had great times over the Golden Week holidays/vacation. I managed to find myself in unfamiliar territory – camping in Fukushima Prefecture with some 25 other camp-goers.
This particular group usually cooks up elaborate and delicious menus. This trip was no different: over three days we ate yaki-soba sandwiches, oat-filled waffles, hand-made Russian-roulette style gyoza (including normal, cheese, peanut butter, wasabi, mustard, and chocolate), soy sauce and kimchi stews, basil onion asparagus pizzas, sweet curry, roast beef, smoked cheese, miso mabo-dofu, wine-infused fish, carpaccio, chocolate mouse cake, spaghetti, and of course freshly picked mountain vegetables. Needless to say, I ate LOTS.
I was stuffed, but needed to keep working my way though food heaven/hell so as to not offend. Luckily, someone taught me:
遠慮する、えんりょする [enryou suru]
えんりょ translates as “restraint,” but also as “discretion” and “thoughtfulness.” Thus, えんりょする has the implication of restraining yourself for the sake of others. When you’re passed a plate of smoked cheese, if you say “えんりょします,” you’re implying that you’re not eating the cheese so that everyone else can get a piece. Very kind, huh?
This is possibly the most Japanese-style (and polite) way to decline someone’s offer. The best part: it’s a Japanese checkmate. As you know, in Japan you must repeat “no thank you” a magic, yet unknown number of times before the person finally relents their offer. But not with えんりょする; most Japanese will leave it at that!
So the next time you need to kindly decline an offer (for anything! not just food/drink), or simply want to look really smart and Japanese-savvy, bust out “えんりょします!”
Wanna share your nihongo knowledge? Send us your favorite slang, dialectal phrases and study habits to firstname.lastname@example.org