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Here is the message I just sent out to my friend:

酒吧的哥哥也期待你再来。

I referred to the bartender as 哥哥, but the bartender saw my WeChat, and said the following (the exact sentence might not be same):

哥哥不行!我比你小呀!

He is a bit younger than I (he is around 20 I think). And since I'm older than he, he said it is not correct to say 哥哥.

However, I asked then if it is OK to say 弟弟, but he said it is not OK in China to imply another person younger (which is insulting I think). So I asked again then what I should call you in the conversation with my friend, and he said he also seemed not to know the correct word.

He eventually said 朋友, though I asked again, the what I should if the bar is what I go to for the first time. He yet again seemed to struggle to answer my question.

Eventually, I asked if then it is OK to refer to him as 小哥哥, and then he said "随便你".

So my question is, in such situations where I must refer to someone who I know that is younger, how should I refer to him in the conversation with another person? Is 小哥哥 the correct word or is there possibly better word?

  • Apart from the answers, it is common to use 小伙子/小伙 in northern China to refer to some male who is looking much younger than you. Especially those who are about your son's age. – Kevin. Fang Aug 27 '18 at 0:34
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You can use 兄弟 instead, no matter he is elder or younger. 兄弟 is like the word "buddy" in English.

小哥哥 isn't suitable, and it sounds childish.

  • Is 小哥哥 childish? Then at what situations can I use it? I think it is perfectly a valid situation... – Blaszard Aug 25 '18 at 14:19
  • @Blaszard I wouldn't use 小哥哥 among adults. I may talk to my little daughter, saying: "你去和你小哥哥一起玩吧。" May be it's different in other regions outside of the mainland, so you should check with locals to confirm. – dan Aug 25 '18 at 14:29
  • @Blaszard This word "小哥哥" now kind of have some flirting meaning… unless you are a girl [or may be a guy] and try to be cute in front of someone, this word is definitely not recommended as daily references. – xbh Aug 25 '18 at 14:31
  • @Blaszard However you might be able to call him 酒吧小哥 instead, although he may not accept this as well. – xbh Aug 25 '18 at 14:36
  • If you are a girl, then 兄弟 may not be the most appropriate one, either. – xbh Aug 25 '18 at 14:38
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A bartender is basically a stranger, calling him 兄弟 is a bit too close

'小哥' would be more suitable (not 小哥哥, that's for kids), you are not saying he is your older brother, you are saying he is a big brother of someone.

'姐姐' mean older sister, but you still call woman who is younger than you '小姐'

Calling a kid 小哥哥 (litter big brother) or 小姐姐 (little big sister) is also acceptable, you are not saying he or she is your big brother or big sister, you are stating they are someone's big brother or big sister.

In Cantonese, we can also call people much younger than you '姐姐仔' or '哥哥仔', (a way people from older generation show affection to people from younger generation)

If a ten years old boy takes his four years old sister to a candy store, it is perfectly fine for the store owner calling the boy 哥哥仔(小哥哥)

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帅哥/美女 is now generally accepted to refer to people from around 16 to say 40. I'm about to refer you to this question 帅哥/美女 to get attention of someone who isn't handsome/beautiful but realised it's also your own question anyway.

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For convenience, I collect my comments here.

This word "小哥哥" now kind of have some flirting meaning… unless you are a girl [or may be a guy] and try to be cute in front of someone, this word is definitely not recommended as daily references.

However you might be able to call him 酒吧小哥 instead, although he may not accept this as well.

If you are a girl, then 兄弟 may not be the most appropriate one, either.

Also personally speaking, if you are not that familiar with the bartender, then 兄弟 might also sound not that right. In some region 哥们 would be an equivalence to "buddy" in English. However I myself would never use these casual expressions if the one I am or about to talking to is not an acquaintance.

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If you are sure he is younger than you, then using 弟弟 might be alright if you just want to be casual and don't care about being super polite. If you really want to be polite you can perhaps use 先生.

Then as others have said, 兄弟 or 帥哥 is cool for a happy medium.

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