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What's Chinese for 'hello!' ?

(China Daily)

08:12, November 22, 2012

In most language textbooks for the use of foreigners, the standard Chinese greeting is ni hao ma? This is how foreigners who have learned Chinese before coming to China greet a person they meet here.

In Xu Lin's article about Confucius Institutes published on Nov 5, I was shocked to see the "question" in the headline as the title and wondered how much Hanban (Chinese national office for teaching Chinese as a Foreign language) was responsible for this fundamental mistake.

Not only 25 years of observation, but also the answers I have got from native Chinese speakers - educated people - on the topic show that ni hao ma? as a translation of "hello!" is wrong.

Ni hao ma? probably comes from the American "how do you do?", which is not quite in use today. Once more, it seems that most Chinese think all foreigners are Americans.

When you meet your neighbor in the stairway, do you ask him about his health, business and family? No Chinese would say ni hao ma? to a person who has just been introduced to him/her. He/she would not say that to an old friend either unless it is a long-time-no-see situation. Ni hao ma? is a question, not a greeting.

Among acquaintances, Chinese greet with expressions referring to life, such as: Have you eaten?, Why have you got up so early?, or Are you going out?

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