Saturday, February 17, 2007

What!? Not again!

I thought I was safe with ni hao. I was wrong. I thought I was safe with using first names. I was wrong. I thought I was safe with xin1nian2kuai4le (新年快乐) but again, my Chinese colleague tells me I'm wrong.

Maybe this is a regional thing (he's from Da4lian2 大连). But according to the man I address in a tongue-in-cheek fashion as xiao3wang2 (小王) - he's neither that young nor am I that old - 新年快乐 is used on the 1st of January only. One should say guo4nian2hao3 (过年好), and should say it after the day of the Chinese New Year has passed (or at least not before it).

What's going on here!

On a different note, xiaowang also calls me the "second most proficient Chinese speaker in the company". Guess how many Chinese people work in my company...


Chris said...

Hmmmm I guess there are regional differences, and also some valid reasons for what he says, but considering you are just learning I would say he is either kai1wan3xiao4 (joking) or being overly strict. Either way even if his English is very good I personally would be tempted to respond with the occaisional 'ungle' (or simlar nonsense) and perhaps slip in the odd Spanish or Gaelic phrase just to keep him on his toes ;)

Chris said...

Forgot to mention, I view my early language aquisition as 'low definition' ie I don't have the fine definition words. I can say I am hot when really I am warm. The colour is brown or pink when really it is tope or magenta. I have just two cats and a dog becasue for now I do not want the pain of also explaining the additional pink-tounged skink and giant land snails.

I am also quite happy to recieve similar from foreign learners of English. I guess I am really trying to say don't sweat it and also in my limited experiance if your collegue was a Chinese women then you would have mostly recieved encouragement :)

John said...

All the Chinese I've met say xin1nian2kuai4le (新年快乐) and they all say it before New Year and right up to Lantern festival. I think this is kind of silly actually. It's like you saying you should never say Merry Christmas until after it's over.

At one point I also had a guy helping me learn some Chinese at work. However after a bit over a month I realised he had been telling me all sorts of rubbish. In my case the guy was from Malaysia and I don't think his Chinese was really as good as he made out. So instead of admitting he didn't know something he would just make up stuff. 小王 is actually from China, but after this bit of advice I would be cautious.

liulianxiaoyu said...

I do not agree with Xiao Wang. We say “新年快乐”or“元旦快乐”on 1 January. We also say "新年快乐" on Spring Festival. Actually, I got many messages including "新年快乐" and I sent many messages like that.

In addition, I do not think "过年好" is used after the New Year. I remember that in my hometown people often say "过年好" on Spring Festival Day.

I am not sure how many years he has not been in China.

en...... Maybe it is just a regional difference, just as Chris said. I have never been in Dalian(大连)

liulianxiaoyu said...


Actually, I got many messages including "新年快乐" and I sent many messages like that yesterday.

Brendan Lawlor said...

Very encouranging responses, and making a lot of sense there.

I think he might be being a little too strict with me, or perhaps saying things for the sake of saying something. Perhaps he's trying to help me be more colloquial. But I clearly need to say pink, before I can move onto tope. (Well actually, when it comes to colours even in English my vocabulary is limited. And so far the only other men I have met who could tell their 'burned tuscany earth' from their 'cape palliser' were either italian or gay. ;-)

There is a certain skill in helping other people learn your mother tongue. Most people who have learned another language understand how to present their own to a learner, both in the words that they use and the corrections that they offer. I think my colleague might not quite have the swing of that. But what the hell. He's offering to speak a sentence a day to me before I head to China, and I can filter.

heilong said...

The reason for 'Guo nian hao' is because the year has past, 'guo' repesenting a past event, its like saying last year was good. Dont think of it as an exact translation of happy new year which is what 'xin nian kuai le' is for. Xin nian kuai le' is/was a western import. Guo nian hao being said after chinese new year makes sense in this context. And since Xin nian kuai le is a western import is more fitting for our western new year.

Hanyu'sWay said...

You can definitely say 新年快乐 on New Years day and a few days afterwards. On New Years Eve when the clock strikes 12 everyone would raise their glasses and say 新年快乐 to each other if you are at a party. If someone has to leave the party before 12 then the host and the departing guest would also say 新年快乐 to each other. For the same reason, if you encounter someone a few days before the New Year's Day and you don't expect to see each other for a while until after, then you are likely to say 新年快乐 to each other as a well wishing. Another occasstion to say 新年快乐 way before the New Year's Day is (in older times) if you send greeting cards before the New Year's Day. But you usually say 祝 新年快乐。