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I have read somewhere that "你好" and "你好吗?" are mostly textbook greetings and are not used by native Chinese, at least not on daily basis. I would also find it hard to believe that two friends who know each other for years would still greet each other with 你好!:)

So, what do the Chinese use? For acquaintances? Friends? Relatives? Family? People you've just met? How much does the level of closeness with the other person determine the greeting?

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3 Answers 3

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This is a very interesting question. I am sure you can understand that even in English there are tons of ways to greet one single friend. It also differs from regions. Below I am listing some of the typical/common ways we greet people.

  1. People you've just met:

    • 你好!= hello.
    • 很高兴认识你! = very glad to meet you.
  2. For acquaintances:

    • 你好吗?= how are you doing?
    • 忙吗? = are you busy recently?
    • 最近忙什么?= what have you been up to recently?
    • 身体好吗?= Are you well/healthy?
    • 吃过饭了吗?= have you eaten? — This is very typical and old-fashioned Chinese way to greet. It has been used by the older generation more frequently. Chinese won't be surprised if they are greeted this way when the timing is not applicable. Seldom will they misunderstand this as a lunch/dinner invitation. It is just a greeting....)
  3. For close friends:

    • 嗨/嘿!hi/hey.
    • 怎么样/你怎么样?= how are you doing?
  4. For relatives:

    for close relatives, we don't even greet a lot. Just call "Mom/Dad". for relatives who we don't get to meet a lot, we use the similar greeting as acquaintances.

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Great, exactly what I was trying to get, a list of several commonly used greetings (because there is no way everyone is using the same thing!) –  dr Hannibal Lecter Dec 17 '11 at 16:25
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in addition to these “你吃饭了吗?” (have you eaten rice?) is fairly common. –  Matthew Rudy 马泰 Dec 17 '11 at 19:28
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Only foreigners would say 你好吗? (How are you?) Native Chinese speakers never use that for greetings. –  David Lin Dec 18 '11 at 5:34
    
@david lin Not really. We say that all the time. As I said, it differs among regions and age groups. –  baoye Mar 25 '12 at 2:48
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This is not a complete answer, but will probably supplement others you get.

While working in Beijing I always heard colleagues greeting each other in the morning with just 早 (zǎo) instead of the full 早上好 (zǎo shang hǎo).

This is quite similar to what we do in English, using "morning!" as a greeting instead of "good morning!"

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I've heard this when I watched 饮食男女! –  dr Hannibal Lecter Dec 17 '11 at 16:26
    
I guess that's a Chinese TV show or film? –  Cocowalla Dec 17 '11 at 16:32
    
Indeed it is: imdb.com/title/tt0111797 Very nice movie, good listening practice, clean speech. Of course, I only understood a few sentences of the entire movie :) –  dr Hannibal Lecter Dec 17 '11 at 16:36
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In the addition to the above two, 早好 is a third option. –  Bjorn Dec 21 '11 at 19:10
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About 你吃饭了么:

It is maybe more common to say 你吃了么? or even simply 吃了么?.

And it is not necessarily rice, but any meal (except breakfast).

So the translation to English should be Have you eaten?

This is used more commonly during the time period after lunch or after dinner.

There are jokes about this, e.g. two guys met near toilet but asking each other 吃了么?. :P

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They use the same greeting (have you eaten?) in Thailand –  trideceth12 Dec 18 '11 at 2:22
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