- サービス (sabisu): free of charge or discount
- Service: action of helping or doing work for someone
According to a Japanese idiom, the customer is not king, the customer is god. From greetings when entering a shop, having your change counted in front of you or bowing, it’s easy to get used to incredibly polished customer service. The respect and humility ingrained in Japanese culture explain it. As well as the unforgiving clientele.
Good customer service is considered a duty and, therefore, something that cannot be charged for, which helps to understand how the loanword “service” evolved into meaning “free of charge”.
There is a drawback and it’s called サービス残業 (sabisu zangyou, free overtime work). Although illegal, this practice is sometimes found in Japanese companies, where overtime work is not recorded and not compensated for, with little law enforcement.
The original meaning would still be used to refer to good or bad service (いいサービス、悪いサービス）or room service ( ルームサービス). With time, サービス has also taken on the meaning “discount”: can you give me a サービス？
This article is part of the weekly Katakana English series, where we discuss Japanese words borrowed (mostly) from English that have acquired a different meaning.
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