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In Tokyo, I saw this sign next to the smoking area.

A sign with an English language translation included

It says

Please smoke with good manners in the area surrounded by planters.

The part "with good manners" sounds a bit weird to me. Is it just me, or is it not idiomatic?

One can have/teach/forget manners

He dressed well and had impeccable manners.

They taught him his manners.

I'm sorry, I was forgetting my manners.

but "with manners" seems a bit off, doesn't it? How would you say it?

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While you can do things with good manners, it is rare to direct someone to do so in imperatives. Unless addressing children, it is not required to remind people to be polite— a person with good upbringing has good manners out of habit; an poorly raised person cannot tell the difference, anyway.

This may reflect a difference of cultural perception, but I think more likely that it is simply a poor translation from Japanese. A search on "smoke with good manners" mostly returns results from Japan. Considerate would be the more idiomatic adjective to use to remind people to think of others, so a similar campaign in an English-speaking city might be please be a considerate smoker or please be considerate when smoking, phrasings which are common in such signs.

"Be considerate" sign "Please be considerate of our neighbors" sign

When speaking generally of politeness, consideration, and other positive social behavior, good manners are something you have, not something you do (as with one's habits or one's nature). Someone with good manners may be said to be well-mannered, and someone without good manners is ill-mannered; it is more usually expressed that someone has good manners, than that they do something with good manners.

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    I Googled the phrase as you suggest. And though it does seem to be a Japanese thing, very interestingly I found a page with this line: There are people who hate cigarette smoke, so please try to smoke with good manners. Apparently the blog belongs to an American living in Japan. So he must be the one that did all the signs in Japan. (jk) – Eddie Kal Apr 27 at 20:20
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    @AndrewTobilko I think either please be considerate of or please be considerate to would be acceptable. By no means is please be considerate the only phrasing in such signs; others might exhort the public to please respect our neighbors or to be a good neighbor, for example (or resident or "citizen" or member, etc. in place of neighbor where applicable). – choster Apr 27 at 20:43
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    @EddieKal I have not been to Tokyo in over 10 years now, but I remember taking pictures of many such signs. Even the ones that are more idiomatically translated are very poetic, in a way that public admonitions would not be in most of the Anglosphere. One of my favorites was "Inhaled. Burned. Thrown away. If it were anything but a cigarette, it would surely be crying." Japan is a rich country with close U.S. ties, so I imagine the translations were carefully chosen, perhaps to preserve a more sing-song tone, as opposed to being mere Engrish. – choster Apr 27 at 20:51
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    @Andrew Yes exactly, "Please smoke respectfully in the area surrounded by planters." – wjandrea Apr 27 at 21:42
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    @AndrewTobilko Contrary to wjandrea I would not say please smoke respectfully is commonplace in signs, nor any other direction as to how someone should smoke. The only time you see please smoke X is if X indicates a location (e.g. please smoke in the designated areas). This is true of most imperatives, with the possible exception of [please] drive carefully or [please] drive with care. To remind someone to show respect, a sign would say please be respectful, for instance, at a church or cemetery which is also a tourist attraction. – choster Apr 28 at 14:20
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In Japan, there are many odd (and sometimes unintentionally hilarious) signs with translations of Japanese phrases into English. This is a good example, as "please smoke with good manners" is not at all idiomatic. A more idiomatic version might be:

Please be considerate of others when smoking in the area surrounded by planters.

or

Please be courteous when smoking in the area surrounded by planters.

Side note: One of the funniest "Japlish" signs I ever saw was from a train station, which advised passengers:

Please do not run into the train.

Good advice to be sure, but more likely they meant to say

Please to not run onto the train. / Please do not run to get on board the train

Logically, "into" makes sense, but unfortunately the phrasal verb "run into" something means "collide with", usually "head-on". I suspect most people know it's not a good idea to run into trains.


(Edit) For general interest: A direct translation from the Japanese マナーを守って (mana o mamotte) would be:

Please mind your manners when ...

However this is somewhat too strong for a public sign, as it's the kind of thing parents might say their children, or a teacher to her students.

Now children, be sure to mind your manners when we are at the museum, otherwise they won't allow us to come back.

A more nuanced translation would be "be courteous".

  • Nice answer, thank you. I didn't know it and I would never say "run into the train" is incorrect. Is it because you say "on the train" and not "in the train"? – Andrew Tobilko Apr 27 at 21:58
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    @AndrewTobilko to "run into" something usually means something like "crash into", as in "the car went off the road and ran into a telephone pole". The image of someone "running into" a train is the person running one direction and colliding head-on with a train going the opposite direction. It's nice to warn people against doing this, but I think most people already know it would be a bad idea :) – Andrew Apr 27 at 22:06
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    I think that the sign is asking smokers to be considerate of others and to smoke in the area surrounded by planters, not necessarily to be on better behavior when smoking in that area than other areas. – ColleenV Apr 27 at 23:07
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    @ColleenV The literal meaning of "manaa wo mamotte" is "guard/protect your manners", although made much more polite by the ending honorific "goriyou kudasai". The closest literal translation is "mind your manners", but a more accurate translation of the nuance is "be considerate". – Andrew Apr 28 at 0:48
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    @Andrew Finally we start talking translation. 守るhere doesn't mean "guard/protect" though. More like "keep (a promise)" or "observe/abide by (a rule)". That verb has meanings beyond "guard/protect", e.g. 約束を守らなきゃ. My understanding of the マナーを守って directive is similar to 格を守る or 規則を守る, namely "follow the general rule of thumb" – Eddie Kal Apr 28 at 0:58
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It is not uncommon to see "with good manners". For example see Google and Google Books. You can learn good manners, practice good manners, or keep good manners.

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A Japanese speaker might offer a better phrased translation, but this doesn’t seem too bad.

One can use good manners in other actions. A smoker can be mindful of those nearby and carefully dispose of the remains. That would seem to be good manners. As others noted, “be considerate” would be how one would word this in English, typically.

  • "carefully dispose of the remains" +1. Butts, yo. They're talking about not putting your cig butts in the plants. – Mazura Apr 28 at 23:07
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Alternatively, keeping "manners" in the title, it could be phrased as:

Practice good manners while smoking in the area surrounded by planters.

Although "courteous" is what they're trying for with that translation, it is understandable.

  • Do you think smoking areas are the right places to practice (=train, I guess) one's manners? – Andrew Tobilko Apr 28 at 22:20
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    @AndrewTobilko Practice does not always mean train. It can just mean "Use good manners." – Lenne Apr 29 at 0:37
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    @AndrewTobilko I did not take this into account. In certain context (as here) to practice means to execute a skill in which you already know. – SentientFlesh Apr 29 at 12:29
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    @AndrewTobilko Practice is an interesting word now that I think of it, having two ver and two noun forms. Verbs: You "practice" something by performing the action over and over again until you are good enough to "practice" it by using what you have learned. Knowledge can then be applied such as in the "practice (noun) of medicine". I feel, at the core, this word defines the continuum of learning, teaching, and repeating. – SentientFlesh Apr 29 at 12:42
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A native Japanese.

We are so embarrassed that our English literacy is so low despite the mandatory English study span is 6 years in the shortest.

For example, a guidance of a community bus of one of the wealthiest district of a prefecture says,

Abide by Low.

O.K. How can we abide by Low, man! Correct it to Law right now!

But towards 2020 Tokyo Olympic, the English guidance or announcements are getting improved gradually, but especially in rural areas, there are still many signs with strange English.

For example,

Please notify the train crews if you find unclaimed and suspicious objects or persons

Okay, so if I find someone whose behavior seems to be strange, am I obliged to call the crews?

F::k my country's English.


Hahahaha, An another odd guidance from one of the wealthiest districts. (Many native English speakers live here.)

A sign on public transportation

PLEASE STAND AT SEAT AFTER STOPPING.

So do we need to stand up at the seat every time bus stops?

Did the guidance try to mean "Please stand up from your seat after the bus stops"? Oh..my lovely country always full of harmless and innocent but stupid instruction everywhere lol. (Found today)

  • Please, don't be. In Ukraine, we study English for 13 (!) years (school [9 years, compulsory] + university [4 years, optional]), but few people can give you directions on the street. – Andrew Tobilko Apr 28 at 1:51
  • @AndrewTobilko I don't know the situation in Ukraine, but as far as I observed, Polish and Germans speak quite good English. And also please remember a newspaper says, Japan ranked 3rd from the bottom about the English literacy grade in the developed countries – Kentaro Tomono Apr 28 at 1:58
  • I would say yes, as a bomb or somebody who appears to be doing strange things like opening panels they are not supposed to access needs to be reported to the crew. But a strange behaviour like knitting socks from plastic tubes or singing Shakespeare backwards is not suspicous, just strange, and need not be reported. – Lenne Apr 29 at 0:34
  • @Lenne Okay, then, what would "unclaimed persons" mean? lol – Kentaro Tomono Apr 29 at 2:09

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