1. When meeting someone for the first time
你好 / 您好
(nǐ hǎo/ nín hǎo)
Chinese people don’t really say 你好 in real life. It can come off as overly formal, or even awkward. But you’ll still hear it in professional contexts. It’s most frequently used when meeting someone for the first time, such as being introduced to a new business contact. We often say 您好 when shaking hands.
Hi, Hey, Hello
Members of the younger generation often prefer to use more informal l greetings than 你好. Keep in mind that these are very casual and should not be used in formal settings because they can be seen as nonchalant or disrespectful.
2. When meeting someone that you often see
- General time-related greetings:
早 / 早安 / 早上好
(zǎo/ zǎo ān/ zǎoshang hǎo)
These are very short and straightforward greetings. Just like in other languages, you can use them based on the time you see each other. The best way to respond to these is to just repeat the greeting back to them. Pay attention to 晚安, which is used just before bed.
- Around mealtime
(Nǐ chīle ma?)
It’s not an invitation to lunch. This greeting is basically the same as “hello.” It actually dates back to ancient times. Back then, whether or not someone had eaten was linked to their overall health and wellbeing. Let’s look at an example dialogue:
A: 你吃了吗？Have you eaten yet?
(Nǐ chī le mɑ?)
B: 吃了，你呢？Yes. How about you?
(Chī le, nǐ ne.)
A: 还没呢。Not yet.
(Hái méi ne.)
(Nǐ qù nǎr?)
Where are you going?
This might seem a bit rude and nosy at first, but it’s fairly common in China to ask someone where they are going if you see them leaving their house. Actually, most of the time, they don’t really want to invade your privacy. It’s just a simple way to show they care and say hello. In response, if it’s not too personal, then you can tell them specifically where you’re headed.
If you don’t want to talk about it, you can just say:
(Wǒ chūqu yóu diǎn shì.)
I’m going out to handle some personal business.
Alternatively, if you have an idea where they might be going, you can ask them more specifically：
Are you going out?
Going out to play?
(Shàngbān qù a?)
Going to work?
(Shàngxué qù a?)
Going to school?
And if you see them coming home, you can say:
(Xià bān le?)
3. When you haven’t seen each other for a while
(hǎo jiǔ bú jiàn)
Long time no see!
This greeting is used when you haven’t seen a friend or acquaintance for a while. Keep in mind that the length of time is relative. You can say it if it’s been a few years or only a few weeks.
(zuì jìn hǎo mā)
How have you been?
This is a great follow-up to 好久不见, although it can also be used as a standalone greeting when accompanied by their name.
Here are some similar expressions:
(Nǐ zěnme yàng?)
How are you doing?
(Nǐ hái hǎo ma?)
How are you?
And here are a few appropriate ways to respond: