Preferred Business Communication in China
This is written for an English speaking audience who are taken to have a different (probably “Western”) culture and ways of communicating than here in China. It covers what sort of communication can be expected in China, what tensions and misunderstandings may arise, and how to respond.
"Hello" – the problem
Being an obviously (Caucasian in particular) non-Chinese on the streets of China requires a lot of patience and tolerance, or else one may soon feel angry with and a distaste for the Chinese. Tolerance is one of the great virtues of the Chinese people, which allows so many people to live their lives in close proximity with a relatively low level of stress. The frequent shouts of “hello” may seem to be a friendly gesture at first, but soon can become irksome. In the majority of cases the shout of “hello” has no purpose other than to try out the single word of familiar English that the unthinking shouter has, and to see what reaction the foreigner has. Some Chinese, being very friendly in nature, cannot resist the urge to try to communicate with a non-Chinese. Unfortunately their attempts can often come across as ill-timed and rather obnoxious. Often shouts come from behind or way off to the side, are poorly pronounced and accompanied by giggles or a grin. Sometimes the shouts of “hello” are from someone who wants to sell something or someone who wants to warn of a danger or let you know you’ve dropped something, and this is the only way they know to get the “foreigner’s” attention.
“Hello" – the response
Usually the best way to respond to the multiple random greetings is a friendly “hello” or ignoring them completely if it is obviously someone trying to sell something you don’t want.
When you use Chinese
Don’t say “nihao” unless you want to start a conversation in Chinese or you want a (often not-well-considered) comment about how good your Chinese is. If you use your Chinese, ignore the almost routine comments about how good your language skills are. They are seldom a good indication of your linguistic correctness, but just an encouragement to keep studying and a mark of appreciation for trying to learn Chinese. These comments often follow a mistake, so ignore the apparent insincerity. Helpful criticism and correction are seldom given as it is seen as impolite and may make you lose face. In fact, when you are understood and there is an absence of such comments, then you have probably achieved the required level, and are starting to be treated like a Chinese speaker, instead of a foreign student. We have produced a guide to the Chinese language with a number of useful phrases.
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