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Some Unique and Confusing Chinese Expressions That You Will Definitely Meet in Daily Life

Beyond the most commonly taught greeting, 你好/您好(nǐ hǎo / nín hǎo), there are some other commonly used greetings and expressions, that may not be included in textbooks, but will often come up in daily life. You’ve probably heard some of these expressions but don’t know why they’re used or how to use them, and some may even seem offensive at first. Here let’s see several commonly used expressions as well as how and when to use them.

(1) 你吃了吗?(Nǐ chī le ma?)

You may already know that another common Chinese greeting is 你吃了吗(Nǐ chī le mɑ). But do you know why Chinese people say that and when you should use it? Let’s start with an example.

      

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.)

There is a lot of delicious food in China, and Chinese people really love to enjoy that delicious food. As the saying goes, Food is the soul of the people, and Chinese culture is centered around food. So around breakfast, lunch, or dinner time, you’ll hear conversations like this because that is how they show their concern. If you visit someone’s home during mealtime, a hospitable host will invite you to join them . However, we generally do not just randomly pop in at mealtime without an important or urgent reason.

(2) 出门啊?(Chū mén a?)

If you live in China, you might hear conversations like this between your Chinese neighbors:

      

A:你去哪?Where are you going?

Nǐ qù nǎ?)

B:我去超市买点东西。I am going to the supermarket to buy something.

(Wǒ qù chāoshì mǎi diǎn dōnɡxi.)

Or:

      

A:你去做什么?What are you going to do?

(Nǐ qù zuò shénme ?)

B:我出去有点事。I’m out to deal with some personal business.

(Wǒ chūqu yóu diǎn shì. )

Where you go and what you do is private, so you may feel a bit confused. Isn’t it rude for neighbors to ask such questions? In fact, just like how British people love to talk about the weather, we Chinese people ask others where they’re going and what they’re doing as a form of small talk. Maybe your neighbors see that you are going out, so they strike up a polite conversation, just to avoid embarrassment. They don’t really want to invade your privacy. Sometimes when we see our relatives or friends on the street, we also ask them where they’re going and what they’re doing, just to show that we care and as a greeting.

Of course, when faced with such a question, if we’re talking to a nice person, we don’t mind being specific. If you don’t want to talk about the details, it’s usually enough to just say  I’m going out to deal with some personal business. A decent person will understand that  you don’t want to answer and won’t ask you for more details.

Let’s look at another example of a conversation between neighbors. If I want to go to the supermarket and run into my neighbor at the door, we’ll have a conversation like this:

      

A:呦,出去啊? Oh, going out?

(Yōu , chūqu a?)

B:是啊,去超市。扔垃圾呢? Yes, to the supermarket. Taking out the garbage?

(Shì a, qù chāoshì. rēnɡ lājī ne ?)

A:对,今天大扫除。Yes, I did a big house cleaning today.

(Duì, jīntiān dà sǎochú. )

Isn’t that an interesting conversation? My neighbor saw me going out, and he already knew what I was doing, so why did he still ask me? I saw my neighbor with a garbage bag. He must’ve been going to take out the garbage. Why did I ask him about what I already saw him doing?

This kind of dialogue is quite common in Chinese, and it is a kind of greeting to ask questions while already knowing the answer. Let’s look at some more examples:

吃饭呢?Having dinner?

(Chīfàn ne?)

看书呢?You are reading?

(Kànshū ne?)

出去买东西啊?Going out to buy something?

(Chūqu mǎi dōnɡxi a?)

你去上课呢?You are going to your classroom?

(Nǐ qù shànɡkè ne?)

This kind of greeting usually comes up when you see someone you’re familiar with. We don’t usually say你好(nǐ hǎo) to people we know well, but then how should you say hello? So, ask them about what they’re doing to initiate a courteous conversation and be smooth. Usually, it will be a short conversation, especially if you simply run into someone, but of course you can continue to talk about other things if you like.

(3) 多喝热水。(Duō hē rèshuǐ.)

How do you show your friends and family you care? Usually, to show that we care about others, we offer some good advice that we believe will help. Let’s look at some examples:

      

A:上课啊? Are you going to class?

(Shànɡkè a?)

B:对,最近真冷啊!Yes. It’s cold these days!

(Duì,zuìjìn zhēn lěnɡ a!)

A:是啊,多穿点。yeah, you should put on more clothes.

(Shì a , duō chuān diǎn.)

B:你也是。You too.

(Nǐ yě shì.)

Or a conversation like this:

      

A:怎么了?What’s wrong with you?

(Zěnme le?)

B:感冒了。I caught a cold.

(Gǎnmào le.)

A:多穿点,多喝热水。Wear more clothes and drink more hot water.

(duō chuān diǎn , duō hē rèshuǐ.)

Advice like wear more clothes, drink more hot water, and eat more may sound like a mother’s advice to her children, and it is true that Chinese parents often tell their children these things to show their love. But among friends, neighbors, and other acquaintances, we also say this quite often. Not because we think you don’t care about your health and need to be reminded, but just to let you know, I care about you, and I hope you’re doing well.

If you want to show concern for your Chinese friends, you can also say:

早点睡。Go to bed early.

(Záo diǎn shuì.)

按时吃饭。Eat regularly.

(Ànshí chīfàn.)

注意身体。Take care of your health.

(Zhùyì shēntǐ.)

(4) 你爸妈身体好吗?(Nǐ bàmā shēntǐ hǎo mɑ ?)

We also care about the health of others, not only about your individual health, but also your loved ones too. For example:

      

A:最近怎么样?How have you been?

(Zuìjìn zěnme yànɡ?)

B:挺好的,您呢?Fine. How about you?

(Tǐnɡ hǎo de, nín ne?)

A:还不错。你爸妈身体好吗Not bad. How are your parents?

(Hái búcuò,nǐ bàmā shēntǐ hǎo mɑ ?)

B: 谢谢关心,他们很好。Thanks for asking. They are all fine.

(Xièxiè ɡuānxīn,tāmen hěn hǎo.)

When we ask people about their health, we expect positive answers. If we receive some bad news, the next thing we do according to etiquette is call or visit the sick person and bring them some fruit or flowers to show our concern.

Maybe you expect others to ask about your health, but you may wonder, If you care about my parents, why not ask them directly? In fact, when I saw a friend who also knew my parents, he would ask about how they’re doing, and when I saw my parents, I would tell them that he had asked about them.

However, inquiring about the health of family members is limited to people you know. It is not proper to talk about someone’s parents if you do not know them well.

(5) 慢走。(Màn zǒu. )

If you’re hosting, how about politely seeing off your guests? Let’s look at an example.

      

A: 慢走。Take your time and be careful!

(Màn zǒu. )

B: 谢谢,别送了。Thanks, don’t bother to see me out!

(Xièxiè,bié sònɡ le .)

慢走(màn zǒu)  is not telling the guest to walk slowly. It is telling them to pay attention and be safe. We also have examples of doing other things slowly:

慢用。(while serving) enjoy your meal.

(Màn yònɡ.)

您慢慢看。(while shopping) take your time.

(Nín mànmàn kàn.)

(6) 您过奖了。(Nín ɡuòjiǎnɡ le.)

Above, we have covered some expressions that can be used to start a conversation. Finally, let’s talk about how to respond to compliments.

      

A:你太厉害了! You’re excellent!

(Nǐ tài lìhɑi le.)

B: 哪里哪里。/您过奖了。/运气好。It’s nothing. / I am flattered! / I am just lucky.

(Nǎ lǐ nǎ lǐ./ nín ɡuò jiǎnɡ le./ yùn qi hǎo.)

Modesty is considered a virtue by Chinese people. If others praise us, we usually don’t say thank you directly but use more modest expressions, such as “we are lucky” or “it is not a big problem, anyone can solve it, and I just happened to solve it.” However, young people these days also respond to compliments by replying with a direct thank you.

Did you find the expressions we shared today helpful? Are there any similar expressions in your country? Or are there any special greetings that are quite different from ours? Please share some of your country’s greetings, etiquette, or expressions with us, and we can appreciate our different cultures together.

Lynn Cheng

Lynn Cheng

Lynn got a Master degree majoring in Teaching Chinese as A Second Language. She taught Chinese in the Philippines for 2 years. Now she works at TouchChinese as a Chinese teacher. Her passion for education and language teaching impress all her students. She is eager to share the beauty of the Chinese language and culture to more learners.

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