Thursday, April 05, 2007

Chinese Small Talk

Saying "hello" can be more complicated in China than where I'm from. Hello in Chinese is 你好 nǐhǎo, which isn't complicated to say and is an easy greeting for acquaintances and strangers (and never have I so often talked to strangers). However, when greeting friends Chinese people don't like to say nǐhǎo, instead using their own brand of rhetorical questions. But rather than "how are you?", they especially prefer "have you eaten yet?" or "where are you going?" I've heard of uninformed Chinese students in Western countries asking everyone in English if they've eaten yet. Of course, sometimes it's 9 p.m. and you know exactly where your friend is going when you run into them, in which case I usually just go for the awkward smile and head nod. Also, incredibly obvious comments go over well. I would say by far the most common greeting from a friend you've made plans to see is "you're here!" When it's time to get going, it's general practice to announce "I am leaving," and small restaurants that are familiar with me will almost without exception say 走了zǒule, "so you're leaving" as I head out. Today while I was eating lunch a woman I recognized entered the restaurant with her friends. I finally realized she was the woman who sold me my cell phone. Our entire conversation, which she started, was literally "so you're eating food!" "Yep, I am eating food." These little exchanges are certainly nothing new to me, but I continue to get a kick out of them.

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