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How do Chinese People Greet Each Other

I seldom hear Chinese people say “Ní hǎo” to each other, but I have never been sure just what they say.  In this video Constance and Fiona share their observations .  I double-checked these observations with some of my Chinese friends and a most of them said the video is accurate.  In the text below, I summarized the main points of the video, and noted some disagreements.

The first situation is when you are meeting someone for the first time, or the situation is formal.  After exchanging enough information to correctly pronounce each others names, Chinese people will just say “Ní hǎo”,  followed by the name of their new friend. for example …

  • Ní hǎo [persons name]
  • Ní hǎo [family + title]

But when greeting someone you know and see on a regular basis, they highlighted this pattern: 

  • [person’s name] hǎo
  • [Lǎoshī] hǎo  (Teacher)
  • [āyí] hǎo (Aunty – any woman between 40 and 60)

(Some of my Chinese friends prefer “ní hǎo” to the more casual “hǎo”.)

The second situation is greeting someone you already know, and are not intending to have a conversation.  This often based on the time of day.

In the morning, it is usually just “Zǎo”. (Yes, only Zǎo, but, again, some of my Chinese friends say they prefer “Zǎoshang hǎo”)

During any part of the day people greet by mention the time of day (not shortened) followed by “hǎo”, such as

  • [Xiàwǔ] hǎo  (Good afternoon)
  • [Wǎnshàng] hǎo (Good evening)

For slightly less superficial greetings  there is the “potential conversation starter”. 

This is usually just  a simple non-judgmental observation of what you see, so you listener always an easy way to end the conversation by just agreeing.  If you simply state something obvious, your listener can simply say “yes” and be on there way. In this way,  you are signalling that you are willing to have a conversation, without putting any pressure on them.

Another way is to express your interest in their well being
For example, at lunch time:

  • Simple question: Chī bǎo le méiyǒu (Have you eaten?)
  • Short answer: Chī bǎo le  (Eaten.)

Or later in the day you can say things like:

  • Xiàbānle  (You are off work)
  • Jiē xiǎohái ā  (You brought your kid back)
  • Xiǎohái fàngxué lā  (The children are out of school)

The third situation is with close friends. Show they you that they care. Show they notice changes.

  • Nǐ pàngle (Looks like you are gaining weight)
  • Nǐ zuìjìn shòu hǎoduō (Looks like you are losing weight)
  • Zuìjìn qíshí hěn bàngle (You complexion looks great)
  • Nǐ zěnme zài zhèlǐ (What brings you here?)

The fourth situation is ending the conversation gracefully:

  • Wǒ xiān zǒu (I’ll go first)
  • Xià cì jiàn (See you next time)
  • Gāi tiánliào (Let’s chat again)
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