Every culture has its own set of unique customs and traditions to greet each other. Greeting is a way of communication which allows people to begin and end any conversation. Chinese people use different kinds of greetings in different situations therefore cultural sensitivity along with knowledge of language is required to get along with them effectively. Chinese people greet each other in two different ways. The first type of greeting is the Exchange Greetings which are generally used among people who are not familiar with each other and meeting for the first time. The second type of greetings is the Question Greetings which are usually used on casual occasions with people who know each other.
The most simplest and most used form of exchanging greetings in Chinese is “Ni hao” which means Hello. The response of Ni hao is also Ni hao. Another way of addressing people is Nín hao. Nín hao is the polite form of Ni when addressing or speaking to elders or seniors to show respect exactly as we use “Tum” and “Aap” in Urdu language. Here Ni is “Tum” and “Nín” is “Aap”.
Chinese people use different expressions depending on the time of the day e.g. for “Good Morning”, Chinese people use “Zao shang hao”. Similarly, “Xià wu hao” is used to say “Good Afternoon”. When people meet each other in the evening and say “Good Evening”, they say “Wan shàng hao!” and for good night “Wan’ān!”. All these expressions are responded to in the same way.
When meeting people for the first time on formal occasions, the commonly used expression is “Rèn shí ni hěn gāo xìng” that means “Nice to meet you”. The reply to this expression is also given in the same way.
Another expression “Hao jiu bù jiàn” meaning “long time no see” is used between friends who have not seen each other for a long time.
Question greetings include expressions which are used in different situations. “Ni hao ma?” is the expression for “How are you?”
“Ni qù nar?” which literally means “Where are you going?” is used among acquaintances when the explanation is required and if you are going somewhere you can reply to this expression with “Ni qù nar (the place you are going to).”
Most of the foreigners going to China get confused by the expression “Ni chī fàn le ma?” which means “Have you eaten yet?” as if Chinese people are really inviting you for dinner or lunch. Although it’s a simple question about eating but it is used as a form of greetings on different occasions. The reason why food has become a topic of conversation is hidden in Chinese history when there was not abundant food and everyone was concerned whether their friends had enough food. It is a way of expressing care and friendliness for the people you know well and is often used around mealtime. The response is mostly short, e.g Yes or not yet. In Chinese it is “Chī le, or Xiè xiè.”
Some General Expressions
Chinese people use different expressions to greet people which include direct questions about work, health, family status etc. These questions are considered rude in other cultures. These questions are not intended to inquire about personal affairs of people. These are only polite expressions to promote relationships and friendships. These include:The reply to such greetings is usually simple and short:
The writer teaches Chinese Language at NUML, Islamabad. She has studied Chinese Language from Tongji University, China.