As you may or may not know the Japanese have a lot of set phrases that are polite to say throughout the day. Living alone, I don't get to use the ones for leaving and coming home but I do have to say the ones at work. For example, I say a loud "Good morning!" or "Ohayogozaimus" to everyone in the teacher's room every day.
When I leave I say just as loudly but somewhat apologetically, "I'm sorry for leaving before you" (osaki ni shitsure shimasu) Then they respond with "Wow you worked hard today!" (O-tsukaresama deshita) Or sometimes they just say sayonara. I actually get kind of offended when I don't get an o-tsukaresama deshita when I leave. I mean I know I'm just part time and leaving before it gets dark but still I taught 4-5 classes so I deserve a "you worked hard today" goodbye.
They say o-tsukaresama at other times too. When a train arrives somewhere they thank you for your hard work sitting there patiently while the conductor drove the train. The hair stylist tells me thanks for your hard work after she has washed my hair, which always confuses me because shouldn't I be saying it to her instead? And a teacher told me that after I finished washing my hands the other day. She was waiting for her turn at the sink so it's possible she was being sarcastic about how long it takes me to wash my hands but I couldn't be sure. I've encountered very little sarcasm here that I'm unsure it even exists. But who says thanks for your hard work after washing their hands? I mean really.
Anyway, I was explaining all of this to my dad the other day - the ins and outs of Japanese greetings in the workplace and how they don't say things like "Have a good weekend!" on a Friday evening when they leave work because they know they will all be back on Saturday morning. They don't even say "Have a good night" because apparently no one should want to be anywhere other than at work. My dad pointed out that we would never apologize for leaving early in the US. We're much more likely to say "See ya later suckers!" as we waltz out the door at 4:59 on Friday afternoon.
He asked me if I ever smiled when I said "sorry for leaving before you."
"Oh no," I told him. "You have to look like you feel awful about leaving them behind to do all the work. You can't look happy about it."
There is no "See ya later suckers!" in Japanese although if you did translate it it would be something like "O-saki ni suckas!" which for some reason makes me laugh. Maybe it's the thought of my uber-polite coworkers shouting the word suckers and looking happy to be going home that is ridiculous enough to put a smile on my face. The only problem now is that since this conversation I have a mental picture of me shouting O-saki ni suckers! as I leave the teacher's room everyday to go home. It makes looking apologetic hard.