The assumption that China, and thus Mandarin, will be at minimum a huge influence over the world in the coming years is pretty much standard wisdom at this point. However, Mandarin is a complex language, not easily learned, especially if you’re not linguistically inclined. So here’s a ‘crash course’ in some Mandarin phrases that go beyond your standard tourist sentences about bathrooms and ordering in restaurants – the sort of phrases that will surprise and impress the Chinese you meet!
Beyond Tourist Mandarin
Nǐ zhēn niú! (‘You’re outstanding!’). The word ‘niú’ literally means ‘cow’, so it might be strange to call someone a cow for being outstanding, but in English we often use dog in phrases meant to convey greatness (top dog), so it’s not that strange, if you think about it. When someone does something really nice for you, use this phrase and astound them!
Yìqǐ chīfàn, wǒ qǐngkè (‘Let’s go out to eat, my treat.’). When you’re traveling on a budget, there are no sweeter words – but it’s also nice to be able to make the offer, especially if you’re being hosted by Chinese friends or have just made some new ones in the course of your travels.
Nǎlǐ, nǎlǐ! (‘Not me!’). The Chinese are a very polite people, and they don’t simply accept compliments – our Western attitude that it’s polite to graciously acknowledge praise is the complete opposite over there. If you use this phrase when complimented, you will get a surprised and very positive reaction from the locals!
Zhēnde! Wǒ yìdiǎn dōu búkèqile! (‘Really! I’m not being polite at all!’). It’s common for Chinese to appear a bit pushy to Westerners, especially when socializing. This is because it’s polite to decline whatever you’re offered, so it’s ignored as such. If you really don’t want another round of drinks or another serving of dinner, use this phrase to make them believe you!
Bùhǎoyìsi, yǒushì. Yàozǒule (‘I’m sorry, I have something to do. I must go.’). Again, a polite way of extricating yourself from an activity or gathering without giving away too much detail, which is frowned upon in China.
So there you go – not your everyday phrases, but guaranteed to impress the Chinese!