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I learned that the equivalent to "bon appetit" in Chinese is "慢慢吃" (perhaps also "请慢用"). This is a polite thing to do in English.

But since it literally means "eat slowly", I'm wondering if some Chinese might interpret it literally when coming from a complete stranger. Especially if they are actually eating quickly.

Should I think twice before using this phrase with strangers to attempt to be polite?

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    For what it's worth, I've heard this from waitresses in the past. – user5714 Aug 16 '15 at 1:57
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    On the other hand, if you said 吃慢一點, it would definitely sound like you were correcting someone's eating habits. – wpt Aug 16 '15 at 4:35
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Usually you would say "bon appetit" at the beginning of the meal. Same applies in Chinese: you can say either 慢慢吃 / 请慢用 / 请 / 慢用

The only time it might cause confusion is when you say it during the middle of the meal

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  • Sometimes I say it when I walk in a room and somebody is eating a snack. Is this OK too? – hippietrail Aug 16 '15 at 4:58
  • @hippietrail usually not, but depending on the context, it might. – o.k.w Aug 16 '15 at 6:15
  • @o.k.w: Usually not OK?? – hippietrail Aug 16 '15 at 7:58
  • @hippietrail Usually you wouldn't say "bon appetit" to someone eating a snack right? There's nothing offensive, it is just a bit weird – hello_harry Aug 16 '15 at 14:29
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    @hippietrail If breaking the ice / silence is your goal. You can say 吃零食呐? (hmm..having snack?) This is good because you can use in other casual situation. Example: You meet your neighbour watering the plant. Then you can say 浇花呐 See the pattern? Just add "呐" to whatever action they are doing. Hope this helps – hello_harry Aug 16 '15 at 17:14
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慢 generally has positive connotations of being deliberate, such as 慢走, "walk slow", which is commonly said before someone departs.

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It is a polite expression, not liable to cause offence, something like 'enjoy your meal'.

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  • Just on a sidenote, we don't really say "enjoy your meal" in English, though English-teaching courses always seem to include it. – hippietrail Aug 16 '15 at 2:14
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    @hippietrail waitstaff at a restaurant often do :) but if the speaker is also going to eat, definitely not, they'd say something like "Let's eat!" – Ming Aug 17 '15 at 1:02
  • @Ming: That's true. Definitely in the US the waitstaff say it. Some of us sometimes like to say "bon appetit" - it's fun for some reason. But we don't know French so we generally pronounce the final "t". But yeah otherwise we might say "let's eat", "dig in", "tuck in", or a bunch of more colloquial variations. Especially if it's a bigger informal group or family get-together. Also, we're used to foreigners saying "enjoy your meal" even if we don't say it ourselves. – hippietrail Aug 17 '15 at 3:43
  • For me, in the US a simple "enjoy" is more commonly heard. – Tony Aug 22 '15 at 7:12
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Basically you can use it whenever you want to say enjoy the meal.

Most common use is by waiters. In Chinese dining, dishes are served in turn, not all in one go. So waiters say 请慢用 every time they bring a new dish to your table, no just right before you start. Same applies if you are cooking for your guest.

It is also used when you need to leave the party early. When you are leaving, even if people are about to finish the meal, you can still say 我先走一步,你们慢慢吃 (I'm off, you guys enjoy)

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  • ah, definitely try to use polite word to a stranger, so 请慢用, instead of just 慢慢吃 – jf328 Aug 18 '15 at 15:56
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I think it's all about when you say it. If you say it before the person starts to eat, it's just a polite way to say "enjoy your food". If you say it when he/she already started, it could sound like you are correcting the way he/she eats.

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