Yesterday I did a brief survey-style quiz on Twitter with the following single question:
Quick Japanese Quiz: What is a polite way to ask someone to begin eating a meal?
Answer choices: (note: the romaji didn’t fit in the original post due to length limitations)
- 食ってくれ [kutte kure]
- いただきなさい [itadakinasai]
- 召し上がってください [meshiagatte kudasai]
- お腹にお入れいただけませんか？ [onaka ni oireitadakemasen ka?]
The correct answer here is the 3rd choice, 召し上がってください [meshiagatte kudasai]. 召し上がる (meshiagaru) is an honorific verb that gives extra respect to the listener, and “~te kudasai” is a common way to say “please ~”. This happens to be a set phrase that is one of the most common polite ways to ask someone to eat.
I should also point out someone pointed out on twitter that お召し上がりください is used by some people for extra politeness, though it is technically grammatically incorrect.
For this quiz, around 60% of people answered the correct answer (out of around 50 responses), which is nice.
I’d like to briefly talk about the other three answers.
食ってくれ [kutte kure]
This phrase is somewhat harsh, if not rude. The first reason is the verb 食う (kuu) has a connotation of being casual and impolite. To get a rough idea, think of the English phrase “chow down”.
As for ”くれ”, it is a form of the verb くれる that can be used to ask for requests (i.e. “食べてくれる？”), although it is not particularly polite. But in the “くれ” it feels a bit harsh to me, if not rude. If I was to make a non-literal translation, I would try something like “Shove it in your mouth!” or “Down the hatch!”
Fortunately only around 4% of people answering chose this option.
This is a form of the verb いただく, which is a moderately polite verb meaning “to receive” (もらう is slightly less polite), and is also used to describe eating (as in the common phrase いただきます that is said before a meal). However this verb is generally used by the one doing the eating (receiving), not the one asking it to be eaten (received).
〜なさい is technically a command form, though it is also used in expression like ”おやすみなさい” that are not really commands (and feel a bit polite).
Overall though, いただきなさい is literally a command asking you to receive or eat something, and is definitely not polite. (Nor is it a common phrase for this situation.)
お腹にお入れいただけませんか？ [onaka ni oireitadakemasen ka?]
While the “kutte kure” item was added to purposefully make a rude answer, this final answer is on the opposite spectrum, and on the surface sounds quite polite.
But the problem is this expression is not common and just doesn’t sound natural since it literally means something like “Would you mind putting (this) in your belly?”
Interestingly, the number of people who chose this was only slightly above the number for the “いただきなさい” answer, which sort of makes sense because both sound somewhat polite on the surface.