Excuse me. 「すみません。」 Sumimasen.

Today, I want to talk about one of the differences between English and Japanese.  Of course, there are many things such as letters, grammar, pronunciation, and so on.
But what confused me is that “thank you” is used in English when Japanese say “I’m sorry.”

You have already learned “thank you.” in Japanese, so I am going to teach you how to say “I’m sorry” in a formal situation. Then, I will talk about the confusion that I experienced.
Japanese people use this word:「すみません」[Su-mi-ma-sen]  when they apologize. (Often, we pronounce it 「すいません」[Sui-ma-sen].) because it is easier.  This word is written Hiragana alone.
As I mentioned above, this is formal “I’m sorry.” ; however, the word has a couple of meanings depending on situations. I’ll explain.
1.[Excuse me.]
We say “Sui-ma-sen” to others, when we start to talk to a stranger.  It is like “Excuse me.” in English.
 (1) For example, when you want to know if a bus/train already left or not at the bus stop/the station, you can ask a question by starting with “Sui-ma-sen”. 
[Sui-ma-sen], but do you know if a bus has already left?
Here is another example.
 (2)  When a person who is walking in front of you dropped something, you maybe pick it up and talk to the person.
[Sui-ma-sen], but you dropped this.

2.[Thank you.]
The second meaning of [Sui-ma-sen] is “Thank you.”  The person who dropped something would say this to you:
(3) [Sui-ma-sen], [a-ri-ga-tou-go-zai-ma-su]. 

[a-ri-ga-tou-go-zai-ma-su] is a formal form of  [a-ri-ga-tou “thank you”]. 
If the person whom you talked doesn’t know you, I would say that 99% of Japanese answer as above.
I will share another example with you.  Imagine that you received a gift from your acquaintance (but not a friend).
(4) This type of [sui-ma-sen] is used when you want to say, “You shouldn’t have.”
[Sui-ma-sen] alone  or  [Sui-ma-sen], [a-ri-ga-tou-go-zai-ma-su]. 
Since [sui-ma-sen] is a formal word, it can express your feelings of gratitude before saying “thank you.”  Only “Thank you” itself is fine, but if a person whom you talk to is senior or an acquiantance, I would say both [sui-ma-sen] and [a-ri-ga-tou-go-zai-ma-su].
Both words convey “your gratitude”, so if you say both, you can show your feelings very well.
3.[I’m sorry.]
The last meaning is “I’m sorry.”  Please remember that [Sui-ma-sen] in this context is used only in a formal situation.  Among friends, we will use a different word. I’ll teach it to you sometime later.
(5) For example, you made a mistake at work, and your customer is not happy about that.  Then, you have to apologize.
[Sui-ma-sen]  or [sui-ma-sen-de-si-ta].
This is a formal apology. 
The second one, [sui-ma-sen-de-si-ta] is past tense.  Either way is “I’m sorry” in English. If you want to aplogize for what you have just done, you might say, “Sui-ma-sen” only.  For something that happened in the past, “Sui-ma-sen-de-si-ta.”is preferrable.  But there is no distinctive difference.  So, it’s up to you.
Now I am explaining why I mentioned there was a difference.
What surprised me was that I heard “Thank you for waiting.” by a customer service staff while I was waiting.  I was puzzled by “Thank you.” 
“I’ve been waiting. Why did she say thank you in this situation?  She should’ve said “I’m sorry. [Sui-ma-sen], not saying thank you.”
In Japan, sales staff definitely says, “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.” at first.  But in the U.S. they say, “I’ll be right with you.”   No apology.  This is the difference.
Wow, people in the U.S. use “thank you.” when Japanese people say “I’m sorry.”
That is a very interesting find.  Then, I started to consider meanings of [Sui-ma-sen] deeply and found out that there were meanings of both “I’m sorry” and “thank you”.  I had just never paid attention.
Until I came to the U.S., I had never given a deep thought about Japanese words. By living in a foreign country, I have been learning English, and at the same time, I understand my mother tongue much better than before.
Language: there is always more to learn, and I love that.
I want to share my language experiences and cultural differences with you more.
Thank you for reading!

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