Ee! O-hashi wa o-jôzu desu nee!
Wow! You're really skilled at using chopsticks!
If I had ¥100 for every time I've heard that, I could pay someone
me instead of having to use chopstick
But as I don't, I'll have to content myself with a commentary
and an anecdote
The basics of using chopsticks are,
indeed, very easily learned -- most people grasp the concept within
a single meal, although it does take a week or two to learn to
apply just the right pressure, both to grip the food
securely and to stop straining your hand. When you can eat raw
silken tofu with chopsticks, you'll know you've made it to
the first level.
However, there are a number of food items that require some
serious chopstick-fu to eat. Number one on the list for
is small fish served whole, either grilled in salt and served hot
(shioyaki) or, worse yet, the half-dried kind the Japanese love
to eat for breakfast; these require the ability to cut with
chopsticks (this involves pressing the tips together and poking
up and down like a sewing machine), pick out small bones,
pry up larger ones, and keep the fish on the plate at the same time.
Other perennial favorites include most things floating in oden,
esp. whole boiled eggs, and hamburger patties.
Nevertheless, I've never gotten compliments for successfully
tackling something difficult to eat; they tend to get rolled
out when I end up with fish bits over half the table, eggs on the
floor and tofu in my lap. Then again, this makes sense in a
roundabout way: only when they see you being visibly inept do they
remember that using chopsticks is (or should be) difficult, and
thus you must be complimented for making the effort.
liontamer's suggestion isn't bad, although I'm not sure I could
pronounce tsukamaeraremasu too well after a few flasks
of sake -- I'd probably end up saying I can
flies with chopsticks
But a friend of mine has developed a wordless and devastatingly
effective response. When complimented, he in proper Japanese style
humbly disagrees and says that he is an abject failure who
couldn't chopstick to save his life.
Then he switches his chopsticks to his other hand and continues
So one infernally hot day in July I found myself in Tunis.
I'd spent the day pottering around the ruins of Carthage with
two Japanese acquaintances I'd met at the hostel
(I still remember having to translate the words "votive stelae" into
Japanese), so in the evening we
returned to the city and went out for a bite to eat.
The meal was unremarkable to the point that I can't even remember what
we ate (undoubtedly something involving harissa), but dessert was a
slice of honeydew melon, a ludicrously expensive luxury in
Japan with prices reaching ¥10,000 per fruit -- but which costs
a few fractions of a dinar in Tunisia. So I slid my knife between
the pulp and the skin to separate them and then proceeded to
carve the pulp into bite-sized chunks, only to be greeted with
amazed looks and cries of...
Wow! You're really skilled at using a knife!
d. Was this some kind of bizarre joke? I mean, we'd just
eaten the entire meal with knives and forks, and Japanese people in
general (and those adventurous enough to travel solo in Arab
countries in particular) seem perfectly adept
at using these Western
But they aren't, really. Take a close look next time you see a
nihonjin grapple with a knife and fork: you'll probably notice that,
instead of using the slightly serrated but dull blade in a sawing motion
to cut through something, they tend to push the blade straight
down, the way you'd use a heavy, sharp chef's knife -- or chopsticks.
And these are the only tools most Japanese use to cut. Since
most Western-style restaurants in Japan serve their food presliced,
the dinner knife is not really needed for cutting and the Japanese never
learn the correct technique for using it. Cutting the perfect parabola
needed to disembowel a slice of melon requires
practice, and (as they proceeded to demonstrate) they still needed
quite a bit more.