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Chinese people don’t greet because they are polite
Culture, habits, manners, preferences, are different and should be different from places to places; that way, we would have plenty of options to adopt the ones that resonate most on us.
I come from a culture where greetings became part of my quotidianess since a very young age. I clearly remember, maybe at 5 years old, when my first teacher insisted every morning that we should greet whenever we enter a classroom or any building, or when meeting a person.
The punishment for those who forgot to greet was simple: Standing for 5 minutes on a corner and repeating, “I must greet every day”.
Fortunately, I never had to go to a corner. For me, obeying rules was something that came spontaneously and progressively became second nature. I was afraid of being scolded or rebuked even in a slight way.
That trait, habit or rooted manner of my behavior was deeply affected when I first came to China.
I remember when I entered in a classroom and said, “good morning!”, few students opened their mouths to at least make a sort of noise. I thought they didn’t hear properly, so I repeated it. The improvement was notorious but still there were some who looked at me without saying a single word.
“That’s because it’s their first time to see a foreigner and they may be intimidated”, I thought.
The next day in an elevator, there was only a man and I said, “Ni hao”. The man remained looking at the ground and made feel as if I didn’t exist. That situation was starting to worry me, so I retried and said again “Ni hao”, and this man shamelessly looked at me and said “nothing”.
My reasoning was:
- Perhaps he didn’t understand my two-word Chinese greeting
- Maybe he had hearing impairment
- There was a chance he had a bad day
- He was scared of me
- He didn’t want to talk
- We wasn’t used to greeting
I forgot that incident and continued with my activities.
However, a few days later, I was looking for an address and greeted a middle-age lady to get some help. When she heard my favorite Chinese, word pronounced with the highest level of correctness, ‘Ni hao’, she cast a glance at me and quickly turned around and disappeared at light speed.
Well, “there must be something wrong with me”, was my conclusion.
So, after talking to some Chinese friends, I found out the answer. Chinese people don’t greet as foreign people usually do. They ask other kind of questions when meeting a stranger or when getting together with friends. The most of common greeting among Chinese friends is “Ni Chi fan le ma?” or the shortest version “Ni Chie le ma?”
Wow! That’s was a very helpful piece of information since I was about to get an incurable severe trauma!
Through time, I was getting used to this habit. I mean, I started to accept with patience that people kept silent when I greeted them; however, I did not, and I will never stop expressing others a sort of joyful salutation.
When traveling to other countries, especially in North America, I realized this type of behavior of not greeting was not exclusive to many Chinese people. This “reaction” is wide-spread all over the world. That forced me to research about the reasons a bit deeper.
Two common denominators I found for people to greet or not, were the personality and the level of education. All extroverted Chinese people with any kind of higher education were always “ready” to warmly respond to greetings.
Some may think, but Chinese people are shy, humble and not much prone to show their emotions freely. That’s an accurate statement but not for new generations who are assimilating foreign cultural habits and progressively adopting many of them.
Another aspect that I noticed was that only the starting point was hard (as in many things in life), because after I was able to break the ice, I was inundated by kindness and stupendous treatment that Chinese people gave me, and consequently, that transformed my stay in China in a memorable and formidable experience.
If you have some experiences or opinions on this regard, please share them on the comments below, so we can all learn from each other.
- Do you usually greet strangers?
- Why do some people greet, and some others don’t?
- Have you experienced a ‘non-greeting trend’ in certain countries?
- What can you lose if you greet or if you don’t greet?
- Is greeting a good trait or something meaningless?