I've heard laoban being used multiple times when addressing shopkeepers. But who exactly do you refer as laoban?

For example, I suppose it's safe to address your boss as laoban regardless of where you work, but if you're a costumer should laoban be used only for the boss/owner, or can one safely refer to any employee like that?

In a school setting, for example, if the director is the owner can you call them laoban? What if it's the receptionist and you don't know who the boss/owner is? What if you work at that place?

As far as ways of addressing go, are there more than one laoban in a given shop?

In these scenarios, what would be some other forms of addressing if there are better ones?


4 Answers 4


Laoban is often used in daily speaking language.

People working in shop or restaurant often use this to address their customer to show some "respect" or to make you feel good. Like in the car washing shop, they often call you "Boss".

The beginning uses the word was from late 80's, start from the south part of China, maybe GuangDong.

If you are working in a high-tech or similar place normally don't directly use this word to call your boss. But it's absolute normal use it when chatting with your colleague.

For University, graduate school students often use laoban to address their director teacher.

Normally in daily life, you can use laoban to call anyone is in the manager place. Like you can call your partner laoban.


Generally, laoban is to address male and for female it's laobanniang 老板娘

In university, students often refer to their supervisor (male or female) as laoban when talking with other students. When addressing their supervisor directly or in formal situation, it's Prof. X (eg, 王教授)

Nowadays, people address company owner as X总 (eg 王总), or anyone as C-level. And in fact to show respect and be flattery, people start to address each other X总 no matter the employment status.


老闆 (zh-Hant) or 老板 (zh-Hans), is the shopkeeper of a store, a restaurant, etc, even a street stall seller, or the few top leaders of a company/corporation, or the title of a businessman, etc. In other words, he/she must be the founder or owner or top leader of his/her business or career, no matter how much scale the business or career is. If a 老板 is male, you may call his wife as 老闆娘 or 老板娘. If female, you may also call her as 老板.


老闆 (老板)【lao2 ban3】 can be used when a customer addressing shopkeepers. On the other hand, 老闆娘 is used when a customer addressing a female shopkeeps.

While Cantonese Culture is different. 老闆 (娘) is used when a customer addressing shopkeepers OR a shopkeeper addressing a customer (a wealthy or normal customer). Not just that, people often use 事頭【si6 tau4】 or 事頭婆 【si6 tau4 po4】 (for female) when calling a shopkeeper or a customer. 老世(細)【lou5 sai3】 can also be used to address 老闆 too.

Remember 老闆 or 老闆娘 can be used when business trading, a girl addressing her boyfriend or addressing the boss you are working with.

However, in some cases, 老闆 can be used as vulgar or in prostitution.

- Vulgar: 你老闆!(Similar to 你媽的 or you mother f*cker.)

- Prostitution: It is similar to business trading, paying for some goods or services, like 老闆,你今晚要不要特別服務 or Boss, do you want to have some s*x tonight?

It seems 老闆 these words can be used in everywhere, but be careful when you are using these, because different situation it would bring different meaning.

As you said in a school setting, for example, if the director is the owner can you call them laoban? We usually call him 校長,校監(different from 保安)

What if it's the receptionist and you don't know who the boss/owner is? We usually call him 經理,老總(rude)

What if you work at that place? We usually call him 經理,老總 (polite),老闆

Note that 老總 is considered BAD when a customer request to see workers' boss. May be the services they provided are bad. 老總 is considered POLITE when a worker calling his/her boss/team leader.

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