Thursday, December 14, 2006

What? Not even hello?

My new Chinese colleague here in Cork tells me that nobody really uses ni3hao3 when they greet each other. Even less ni3hao3ma?
I'm devastated! The very first thing I learned in Chinese and it isn't really Chinese. I can understand that I have to discard much of what I acquire in the process of learning, according to the useful Aikido metaphor of Shu-Ha-Ri.
But now what the hell do I say when I meet a Chinese person and want to just say 'hi'? My new colleague says that I should just jump into conversational Chinese. Ask what the other person is up to. Say something topical. This is more intimidating than the language itself! Now I have to have a whole list of questions, topics and stories prepared, ready to be deployed at the drop of a hat, honed carefully and adjusted according to the person that I meet. This is the kind of social skill that is normally only demanded of diplomats and those running for public office.


Chris said...

I know the feeling, I wouldn't worry too much though. I think as a foreigner we can get away with using ni3hao3 a bit too much. When I think about it I rarely say 'hello' in English.

Ni3 chi1fan4le ma? (have you eaten) seems quite popular and unlike English isn't seen a precursor to inviting someone out on a dinner date.

A Chinese guy I met for coffee a few times would just use ni3 zen3me yang2 (how's things) or usually just zen3me yang2 but I think that is quite relaxed and informal.

Brendan Lawlor said...

I've heard the chi1 le ma? one alright, which my lao3po2 finds quite hilarious. I like zen3me yang2. I think I'll surprise my colleague with this one ;-)

Thanks Chris
(PS: I've nicked you idea, but returned the compliment viz links to other Mandarin learner blogs)

Chris said...

That's alright I nicked the idea from Repulsive monkey I think :)

liulianxiaoyu said...

In formal situations (When i interview with my clients or answer business calls.), i always say "你好!".

In addition, when i meet a friend whom i am not very familiar with, i also first say "你好!",then say something like "最近怎么样?"、“最近过得怎么样?”、“工作顺利吗?”、“工作忙不忙?”、“孩子好吗?"、“你父母身体好吗?”.

when i meet or call a very close friend, i may not say "你好!". I just say "最近怎么样?"、“这两天忙不忙”、“最近生活怎么样?”、“周末有什么安排?(if i call him or her on Thursday or Friday)”、"这两天心情好点儿了吗?(if i know he or she was not happy in the past several days)", or even directly talk about what i want to tell him or her such as "**,这个星期天你有没有空?你有空的话,我们俩一起去逛街吧?(**, will you be free this sunday? If you are free, would you like to go out for shopping with me.)"

When my bf and i invite his friends(i am not familiar with them) to my house for dinner. I will say "你好!快请进!" when i answer the door, then may say "今天外面挺冷的吧?" or "你先坐一下,晚饭马上就好了。". If i do not answer the door and just meet him or her in my house, i may just say "你好!" or "你好!我是***"。

When my bf and i invite my close friends to my house for dinner, i may just say "来啦?"、“进来吧。”when i answer the door, then say something like "你来得正好,晚饭刚刚做好" or “你先坐一下,晚饭马上就好”,etc.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Fantastic! Hang on, I'm running out of space on my arm.

Liping said...

I think saying "nihao" is like when a young man meets a young woman for the first few times, he says to her: "Hello. How are you?" . Not saying "nihao" is like after they fall in love, they go straight to "where do you want to go today?" or "what do you want to do tonight?". Whether to say "nihao"s or not depends on the relationship between the speakers with some references to particular situations.

For most of the Chinese people you will meet in China, I think "nihao" will be readily accepted as an appropriate greeting, for you don't know them that well. As a matter of fact, if I (a native Chinese) meet at a party some Chinese whom I don't know well, I will say "nihao" first thing. For closer friends, I will address them by their names followed by other more personal questions such as:

"haojiu mei jian le, mang shenme ne 好久没见了,忙什么呢?(Long time no see, what are you busy doing?)",

"zuijin mang ma 最近忙吗?(Are you busy recently?)" ,

"rizi guo de zenme yang 日子过得怎么样?(How are your days - how are you keeping?)",

"jijimangmangde, qu na'er ne 急急忙忙地,去哪儿呢?(In such a hurry, where are you heading?)"

(Chinese characters are used here to compensate the missing tones.)