In which countries/cultures is "You look tired" a compliment?

A travel for work and I often hear the phrase "You look tired" delivered as a compliment. The underlying message seems to be "You are working very hard".

In the US people might very well get mad at you (although they might not show it) if you tell them something like that.

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    In English from people who speak it as their second language. Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 17:43
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    care to share where did you hear this? Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 18:54
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    In the US, if you know the person, saying "You look tired" in a sympathetic tone is an invitation to share whatever has been going on--car broke down, work is busy, etc.
    – mkennedy
    Commented Mar 20, 2019 at 20:11
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    As above, I would see it as a sympathetic comment rather than a compliment And not the first thing to say to someone unless a friend or relative.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 11:18
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a survey, not a question, and it's asking about multiple countries, not about travel. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 10:00

3 Answers 3


In Japan it is a standard greeting, for example when you meet someone in the evening and have a drink, when you finished work for the day, when congratulating someone for having finished some project:

お疲れ様です otsukaresama desu

which means something like "you are tired", but is better translated to something like "Good work!"/"You're working hard!"

This greeting is polite and can be used both to people close and not-so-close, as well as your superiors.

On a similar note, in Japan it is actually okay to sleep during meetings, to some extent. There is a specific phrase,

居眠り inemuri

which literally means "present sleep", i.e., the person is sleeping but still present in the sense that if his name is called he will promptly wake up and reply to whatever question he is asked. This is a sign of working very hard, and is therefore not necessarily (depending on circumstances) seen as a bad thing.

  • Exactly what I was looking for! Is this something common in Asia? Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 20:29
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    IMHO it's more a farewell than a greeting. The canonical usage is when somebody is leaving the office at the end of the day: they say Osaki ni shitsurei shimasu (お先に失礼します, roughly "Sorry to leave before you") and everybody responds Otsukaresama desu (literally "You are tired", but meaning "Thank you, you've worked hard"). And AFAIK this is only used in Japan. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 20:40
  • @jpatokai by "greeting" I simply meant as a general way of... what is the general word for greeting+farewells? Anyway, you are correct that it can be used for farewells, but is also used for greetings. Especially instead of "kanpai" when saying cheers during the first drink of the day.
    – a20
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 20:57
  • @Gevorg having lived for the major part of my life in Japan, I know Japan, but I do not know much about other Asian countries.
    – a20
    Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 20:58

A Google search didn’t throw up anywhere where this is a compliment except for Nigeria https://www.quora.com/Is-it-rude-to-tell-people-they-look-tired

  • Maybe Google doesn't know everything after all! ;) Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 14:03
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    Or, possibly, it is correct in that it is not a complement anywhere but Nigeria. This question might get better answers at the English language stackexchange. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 18:21
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    Everything is possible. I don't think that the "English language" site applies here though. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 19:48
  • You clearly indicates this was English usage in comments on the original post. The ELU stack can help identify which regional variants of English have this "positive" connotation. Commented Mar 21, 2019 at 23:48
  • @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas they clearly indicated they've heard it in English from people speaking it as a second language. That absolutely isn't a reason to think it's common in any regional variety of English, or that ELU is the appropriate place to ask.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 10:32

I don't think Americans would be any more sensitive to this than anyone else.

If you've been working hard and look it, it's more a sign of empathy than a compliment. I wouldn't be offended by this in the least if I actually was tired.

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