Sincere and sesame forms of flattery

Today, I have read an article in The Japan Times about forms of flattery in Japan. There’re some useful idioms you need to know when respond to a flattery. For example:

光栄です。 It’s an honor.

どうも、身に余る光栄でございます。It is a great honor, indeed.

But how do the orthers think about flattery. More likely, the others were thingking:

うわべだけのお世辞だ。   That’s a left-handed compliment.

手前味噌       self-flattery

So, actually I’ve always found giving and receiving compliments in Japanese to be one of the trickiest aspects of the language. Maybe you should be reluctant to engage in お世辞 for fear some words might be misinterpreted as 胡麻すり (literally “gringding sesame” but meaning to be a toady or sycophant). Perhaps it is better not to be praised at all than ほめ殺される (to be damned with faint praise).

In Japanese companiese, maybe your supervisor at work will remind you not to 尊大に捕まえる (act self-importantly), using an old saying that goes [能ある鷹は爪を隠す] (The skilled hawk does not bare its talons).

But as a student, I have received many compliments from my teachers. Today, my teacher said: “チャン君、凄いね。難しい漢字が読めるなんて、日本人より日本語が上手かも” (Chan, very good. You can read these difficult Kanji words. You might be good at Japanese even better than Japanese boys).

Opp! What could I say?

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