Lesson 3, Topic 4
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Cultural insights

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Greetings in China

While in this lesson you have learnt a standard greeting dialogue, actually in China you are very unlikely to hear the phrase “你好吗?” (“how are you?”) in everyday conversation. Instead, Chinese people are more likely to greet each other by asking “have you eaten yet?” or “have you been busy recently?” – these show a greater care and interest in your friend’s wellbeing.

However you are not expected to respond to such questions perfectly honestly! Just as in English you shouldn’t reply to “how are you?” with a lengthly description of your health issues (!), in Chinese there are expected responses to reassure your friend that you are well, without burdening them. Let’s check out some examples…

Dialogue 1: Have you eaten yet?

Listen

Chinese

English

      

嗨Katie!

Hi Katie!
      

Tom,好久不见!

Tom, long time no see!

      

你吃饭了吗?

Have you eaten yet?

      

吃饭了!你呢?

I've eaten! How about you?

      

我也吃饭了!

I've also eaten!

Food is an incredibly important part of Chinese culture, so this is in fact one of the most common greetings – particularly between good friends. 

As you can see from this dialogue, each person responds by saying that they have indeed eaten, so they can now continue with the actual conversation. Note that according to Chinese culture, if you say that you have not yet eaten, your friend may feel obliged to invite you for a meal.

However, if you are meeting up with a friend for lunch, saying you’ve already eaten would itself be quite awkward! Let’s see what else you could ask…

Dialogue 2: Are you busy?

Listen

Chinese

English

      

Tom,你好!

Hello Tom!
      

Katie,你忙吗?

Katie, are you busy?

      

不太忙!怎么了?

Not too busy! What's up?

When meeting up with friends or colleagues, it is common to ask how busy they have been recently with their studies or work. This is also a great greeting if you are interrupting someone to ask for a favour, and want to check they are not too busy first.

Summary

As you can see from these conversations, there are a variety of ways you can greet a friend or colleague in China. However, it is always important to remember that these initial greetings are just simple small talk, and you should reply in a way which does not put any burden or obligation on the person you are talking to!