Previously, I posted about a temporary student who was preparing to work in a major international hotel. She had planned for four lessons with me then to sally forth into the exciting new world of information dispersal. It turns out that it was a bit more intimidating than she expected and she decided to come back for another round of lessons.
She told me that she hadn't actually had to offer any information to foreigners yet but she has had to field questions from Japanese guests. The types of questions that she's been asked will be a problem for her if they are in English so she wanted to learn how to deal with the same types of questions in English. I must say though that I felt pretty good when she said, "now I know why you were teaching me those things!" I grilled her pretty hard but now she knows the guests may turn up the heat even higher.
One of the things she asked me about was how to get across various greetings that she is expected to offer guests. People who don't reside in Japan may not know this but it is common for the staff at restaurants and shops to say "irrashaimase" (which is the equivalent of "welcome" in English but there is no direct translation). This is more of an acknowledgement of a customers' or guest's entry into the establishment than a true greeting. My student is required to say "welcome", welcome back", or "good morning/afternoon/evening" to foreign guests when they enter the hotel.
My student wanted to confirm that the translations that were used for these greetings were correct because she noticed that quite a few guests seemed rather embarrassed when such greetings were offered. I explained to her that part of the problem is that westerners aren't used to being addressed each time they enter or exit a place. Usually, people greet you as you approach them for an interaction (like signing into the hotel). If you greet them, they also feel obliged to respond. With multiple greetings from various staff on multiple floors (this is a huge hotel with various annexes), it requires the guest to respond again and again or feel rude in not replying.
The most interesting thing she told me about this greeting business was unrelated to dealing with foreigners and had to do with a Japanese guest. It seems that the hotel believes repeat guests deserve special recognition. For new guests, it's okay to simply say "welcome" and "welcome back". For repeat visitors, the staff are supposed to recognize their faces and say "good morning/afternoon/evening." Even new staff members have to do this and it is accomplished by having pictures of those guests' faces and making the staff memorize them.
In one instance, a new employee failed to recognize a middle-aged Japanese businessman who was a repeat guest and he was so incensed by the young woman's failure to offer a more familiar greeting (she just said "welcome") that he insisted the hotel fire her. The hotel moved her out of a position where she would greet guests but it is amazing how childish this man was. When an employee failed to coddle him in the fashion he expected, he tried to get her fired for a very inconsequential "slight".