addressing strangers

Discussion in '中文+方言 (Chinese)' started by baosheng, Nov 18, 2012.

  1. baosheng Senior Member

    Canada, English

    I know that when you are addressing strangers in Chinese, there are many words you can use.

    For example, to address women:
    小姐 = (used with caution?) for a young woman
    大姐 = for an older woman
    大妈 = for an elderly woman?

    I'm not too sure how to address men though (of similar age, older, or much older). 大哥,大爷.. ? For example, if I want to get someone's attention in the street (who is a stranger and whose profession I am unaware of), what would be the best word to use? (for a young man, older man, elderly man, etc?) I think I've used 先生 before, but I have a feeling that it feels too formal for this type of interaction in Chinese.

    Also, for younger people (younger generation/children?) 小伙子,姑娘/小姑娘?

    I hope my question is clear. Thanks/谢谢!
  2. 长脸大哥哥 New Member

    汉语 中文 简体
    haha =)

    I am interested who told you that 小姐 is not a "safe" word or how you learn it. =)
  3. ridgemao Senior Member

    Mandarin Chinese
    If you says "小姐" to a young lady, it won't has the bad meaning unless you intend to made some bad facial expression or gesture.

    You can say 师傅 to a man between the age of 30 - 60, who doesn't wear a suit.
    I never says 大哥 because it is too polite.
    You can say 大爷 to a man who is older than 60.
    You can say 小伙子 to some one who is under 30 and only if you are older than him.
    I only say 你好 when i want to talk to someone who is at same age of me(i am under 30), if he doesn't notice my calling, I will say 先生。

  4. baosheng Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Oh, many people have told me to use it with caution because of its other meaning. I think it is regional, right? (in some regions, it is generally avoided (unless it is being used with a surname) and in some regions (南方/台湾?) it is still common, without a negative connotation?)

    Thanks, ridgemao, for your informative answer!

    Is 大妈 also the term you'd use to address an elderly woman? I notice that 大爷 has the word "grandpa" in it but 大妈 has "mother". Would there be something like 大奶 as an equivalent to 大爷?
  5. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    There are too many titles. Your choices will be influenced by...
    1. your dialectical habit;
    2. your current place;
    3. your personal manner.
  6. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    You can try to avoid 小姐 as long as you are in PRC. But 张小姐, 王小姐 are polite. 姓+小姐 has no problem.
    大妈/大娘 are for elderly women. But they're also not so safe because: you are calling them "a traditional old woman", very dangerous for a lady who think herself as a "modern not-so-old lady".
    大婶/大姐 are slightly younger, like for 40-60 years old women.
    No there's no 大姑/大婆. There're 大姑 and maybe 大婆 for some relatives (regional), but not for strangers.
    NO THERE'S NO 大奶!!!! OMG WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!!!! You are going to get caught by the police and good luck with that~~ :eek:

    Many words are not so safe. That's why even some Chinese don't like to address people with titles. To play safe, just stick with 您, 请, 这位 and 那位.
  7. 长脸大哥哥 New Member

    汉语 中文 简体
    =) You know more than I expect.

    Anyway, any mistake made by people from foreign countries is not a big deal. Even you say "大奶" to a chinese(in chinese language, we dont have the word 大奶, but we do have the word 二奶, you can look up about its meaning if you are interested enough =) ), he will only find it interesting and give you a warm smile like this =). Anyway chinese people are always friendly and easygoing. At least most of them. =)
  8. baosheng Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Re: 大婶/大娘
    Thanks for the additional suggestions, SuperXW!

    哈哈. Now that you say it, I guess it doesn't sound very good, does it.... (I guess it either sounds like 小三 or something vulgar, right?). Thanks for the word of caution!

    I have to be extra careful though, since I look Chinese, as the majority of Chinese (especially in China) either think I am Chinese (well I suppose I am half.. ) or 西北人. Most Chinese people look at me weird when they hear my '洋化的Chinese' (and still don't associate me with being a foreigner since my pronunciation of words often sounds native). I'm glad most people won't mind though! I usually have "native speaker expectations" to live up to (with strangers, anyway) :D
  9. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    Yah...Actually 大奶 means "big boob"...
  10. sesame_fr Senior Member

    There will be a lot of word to do if you want to know well the way of adressing in chinese. And it is interesting.
    In different regions, you have different ways.
    In Qingdao (one city of Shandong province), they call girls 嫚儿(the prononciation of 儿 is very clear),the young girls 小嫚儿,the young women 大嫚儿。They call boys 小哥儿.
    In the western regions of Shandong province, we use 老师儿 (the prononciation of 儿 is very clear)to adress a stranger. And especially in Jinan city, they use 老师 to call everyone!!!!!
    Just as what Ridgemao explained, I will use 你好 or 打扰了 or 不好意思 or 请问 to address a stranger. Of course, it depends on the situation, just as what SuperXU said.
  11. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    When speaking Chinese I miss the "sir/mister" and "madame/mrs/miss/ms" of Western languages, that are suitable to call everybody without thinking too much...
    Even my aunt after she came back to China, calls stranger ladies "signora"... hoping they understand?

    Actually I've never heard 大婶、大娘。For not so old ladies, I just use 阿姨。

    For old people, in the South we call 阿公 and 阿婆,but it seems that they are not used in the North.
    Another term is 老师, a general term to call strangers, almost equivalent to 师傅。

    My grandpa still calls all strangers 同志, and is for everybody: men, women, young, old.

    And in order to avoid 小姐 I started calling young girls 大姐 (being myself young)... but once a 23-year-old girl got angry because of this. :D
    She asked me the age, then she said: OK... I'll accept, I'm 1 year older than you...
    I don't know how I'm supposed to call the young people like my age.

    Totally agree with you.
    Sometimes I think it's better to be 老外 than a 华侨, at least people don't look at you strange if you make mistakes in Chinese or have a strange accent. People look at me even strangely when I point at something and ask them: how do you call it? (it was a highliter pen = 荧光笔)
  12. phill84 Junior Member

    Amsterdam, NL
    Mandarin - China
    try 帥哥/美女 next time, it's freaking popular in China, though I find it a bit irritating :D
  13. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    They'll love you if you are a 帅哥/美女 too. But it could be strange if you are a "big uncle" type and calling a young girl 美女...
  14. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    As everyone can see, there's a lot of varience in different regions. My answers were from the point of Beijing/the north. The southern people can understand these but seldom use, vice versa.
    Oh 阿姨 seems universally polite, thanks for the suggeston. It's good to call any woman whose age is 1. above 40; 2. 20 years older than you (say if you are 10, it's ok to call a 35 years old woman 阿姨).
    I think 师傅 is exclusively for man, especially for those who's doing technical works and is going to help you to mend your bike and stuff. 老师 is mostly for "teacher". I don't think it will work for "strangers" in most regions.
    And you even started calling young girls 大姐 to avoid 小姐...This is just...lame...囧
  15. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Hi SuperXW, while it's normal that we could disagree on other regional usages, sometimes we also disagree about Beijing usage.
    In Beijing 师傅 is not used only for those who do technical work, it's also the most common words when addressing random people on the road, asking for the time, asking for information, for road, etc. I've heard also when calling women, for example when passengers call the female ticket-vendor on buses.

    In the South 老师 is not used only for teacher, it's equivalent to the Northern 师傅 for those who do technical work,e.g. 装修老师、剃头老师(理发师)、裁缝老师, etc.
    For extension, it can be also used to address random people on the street, to show respect, just like the 师傅 above.

    And thanks for the lame...囧... That's why it's bad to be a 华侨 in China, to be looked strange when I use some words wrong... 囧
    Maybe I understand 大哥 and 大姐 wrongly, I've interpreted them as "people with more or less the same age as me", then adding 大 is for showing respect. At least, that's what my mom taught me when I was a child.
    Maybe in China 大姐 is usually used for people like... say 10 years older than you...
  16. phill84 Junior Member

    Amsterdam, NL
    Mandarin - China
    That piece of suggestion was only meant for Youngfun, who apparently is a 帥哥 :D
  17. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    No, actually I'm not a 帅哥,I'm a young 屌丝。:D
    Probably because I look older than I am really (some people even say I am 30 -.-), so young girls aren't happy if I call them 大姐。
  18. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    English (UK)
    Is 大哥哥 a word? And when do you use it? We've got one contributor to this thread with the name 长脸大哥哥 :)
  19. 长脸大哥哥 New Member

    汉语 中文 简体
    Yes, it is.

    If you are 3 to 5 years younger than me, you can call me 大哥哥

    If I am 3 to 5 years younger than you, then I can call you 大哥哥
  20. BODYholic Senior Member

    Chinese Cantonese

    那天搭巴士回家时,在车上远远的就听见有位女生在问司机先生。因为嗓门大,听得很清楚。她一开口就“师傅....”。我虽然坐着,也几乎摔了一跤!在新加坡这年头,还能听到有人叫"师傅"。也实在是 old school. :D 应该是外地人吧。

    Here we don't or hardly address people with those terms.

    Calling someone 小伙子, even if he is younger, sounds coarse in my region. We might use 小伙子 to refer to a person but usually not right in his face. Unless, of course, we intend to pick a fight. As for 姑娘/小姑娘, it really sounds like you are calling someone who lives in a kampung (甘榜).

    小弟/小妹 is common in Singapore.
  21. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    小伙子 and 姑娘/小姑娘 are very common in China, usually when a middle age person calls a young person.


    Strangely, many addressings used in the North are also found in Hainan: there 10 years ago we were already advised by the guide not to call the waiters 小姐 because it would be an insult, and it is normal to call the coach/bus driver 师傅。
  22. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    English (UK)
    Thank you, this has reminded me of the opposite "小弟弟" now.
    Welcome to the forums, 大哥哥! :D

    The guide must have been trying to speak standard Putonghua to you.
  23. Lucia_zwl

    Lucia_zwl Senior Member

    哈哈~想起一个段子:一天坐公交车,车刚开出站台,就听见车外有人喊:“师傅(师父)~~等等我~~~~” 这时旁边靠窗的一个哥们儿打开车窗朝那人喊:“八戒,我们和师父先走一步~” :D:D:D this situation I would say 大哥
    大哥哥 is a childish word...a 3- or 5-year-old child may call a young boy (10~20 perhaps) 大哥哥
  24. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    Yeah...Try to call someone 大哥哥 when you are out...

    Gosh why do we have so many terms while none of them is safe!?
  25. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    English (UK)
    This quote that I've found seems to bear out what you said:

    What would happen? Would you get beaten up?
  26. SuperXW

    SuperXW Senior Member

    No, not that serious. But people will think you are weird because basically only innocent lolitas call others 大哥哥.
  27. xiaolijie

    xiaolijie MOD

    English (UK)
    Thank you!
    "Innocent lolitas", I like the phrase you used :D
  28. Youngfun

    Youngfun Senior Member

    Pekino, Ĉinujo
    Chinese/Italian - bilingual
    Actually the guide told us about the local Hainan usage. Then, the girls that made a demonstration of local tea also told us not to call them 小姐。
    In Hainan they use 阿妹, or also 阿姨 even for young woman, as both the guide and the tea-girls told us.
    At that time 小姐 didn't have a the other meaning, so the people in our group would forget and call the waitresses 小姐 that would look very embarassed! LOL

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