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I sent new year greetings to my Chinese teacher last week, writing "新年快乐! 恭喜发财!". When I saw her today she thanked me, but said I should never write 恭喜发财 to a teacher, because it's a greeting only people obsessed with money would use.

Is 恭喜发财 generally understood this way? Who could I / should I write or say 恭喜发财 to? Also, if it was indeed inappropriate, how bad was it? Did it just sound awkward, or was it worse?

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3 Answers 3

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恭喜发财 may not be the best greeting word from student to teacher, but it's not awkward - the intention is always good.

For example, parents usually wish children with good health, striving and studying. If a parent greets children with wealth, you may find them funny, fashionable or friend-like, but definitely not mammonish or evil.

In old Chinese traditions, there were strict rules about etiquette and word usage. A small misuse can be considered a big issue. But that time has long gone.

It might sound a little sarcastic if you say 恭喜发财 to someone who is obviously in an opposite situation, otherwise it should be fine to say it to anyone.

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  • It's interesting actually. Whenever someone says that to me, I always feel that person's being sarcastic. I am not rich, so there is nothing to be congratulated for. :P. Feb 15, 2013 at 21:52
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恭喜发财 is a customary New Year's greeting... I would think it's generally understood to be said during these times. She may just have an issue because you wrote it to her... Usually this is a spoken term, followed by "红包拿来" ("Red Envelope, please!")... but it's usually just kids that get the red envelops...

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  • I think the translation is more like "give me a red envelope or else!" :). Feb 16, 2013 at 2:13
  • @JamesJiao 红包拿来 sounds more demanding to me, more like "now where's my red envelope!" :)
    – NS.X.
    Feb 16, 2013 at 8:42
  • @NS.X. I think most kids are spoilt like that nowadays. Feb 16, 2013 at 9:37
  • @JamesJiao Just in case you don't know yet, the fashionable word to call them is 熊孩子. baike.baidu.com/view/2335491.htm
    – NS.X.
    Feb 16, 2013 at 21:33
  • @NS.X. Thanks! I've missed many of these new trendy terms since I left China. Feb 16, 2013 at 21:54
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Honestly, she may have just been a bit uptight. I don’t see how 恭喜发财 can be in any way awkward or inappropriate. But on the other hand if you had said, “利是逗來” then maybe. HK culture, this is very common.

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