Is it appropriate to say "hey man" to a passerby?

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Hihowareyou

Member
Chinese
I heard this story in a chinese forum. That the Op came across a foreigner on a bike in the street, and just to say hello to that guy the op said "hey man", then the biker was quite offended and bawled out the op. So i'm curious is it inappropriate to say "hey man" to a stranger? May someone please explain it to me? Thanks very much.
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Welcome to the forums, Hihowareyou!


    Yes, it's inappropriate to say "hey man" to a stranger.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    If you don't want to sound as though you're making homosexual advances or begging, I suggest you do not use it.

    In general, tourists have learned to be wary of anybody singling them out on the street.

    There are many links concerning the accursed "hey" on our dictionary page. See hey

    Finally, I, and a lot of old codgers, consider "hey" to be rude and devoid of the mutual respect mature human beings show each other. In other words, it's not "cool."

    Welcome to the forum.

    (cross-posted with Loob)
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It depends on the two people.

    A. If they are strangers they need to be:

    1. about the same age
    2. dressed about the same - probably casually
    3. Of a similar culture (the sort of culture that uses the greeting 'Hey man' !)

    B. If they know each other well then it is not a problem but only people of a certain age group are likely to say it.

    C. It is most likely to be said by old hippies EDIT or possibly by people from other specific cultures
    D. The tone of voice is important

    (cross posted with everyone)
     
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    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
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    Wordsmyth

    Senior Member
    Native language: English (BrE)
    "Hey", as an alternative greeting to "hi", is a relatively recent usage. There are still plenty of people (particularly in the UK) for whom it's just a rather abrupt way of attracting attention — often as an admonition or with a note of annoyance. That's another good reason to be very careful about when to use it.

    Ws:)
     

    nodnol

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'll pick up on posts 3 and 4. I very much agree with post 3, but I'd say selling drugs, not begging, and leading them to a strip bar that they will leave penniless rather than making homosexual advances.

    It could also sound as if you are trying to ridicule them.

    Why do you want to speak to a passerby? If it is because you are asking for some assistance, then you should be as polite as possible, whoever you are speaking to. [EDIT If the Chinese person was just looking for an opportunity to practice his English for free, maybe they could use the same sort of phrases that drug dealers or other crooks would use, since the English or American person should easily be able to tell the difference between a friendly student and a street hustler; but it would probably be better to say something like 'Hello Sir! The weather is good today!']


    Here is my own explanation: If you say 'hey man' to someone, you are forcing them into a role. It is as if you are saying they are your cousin, and because cousins do personal favours for each other, this person will want to do a favour for you. Therefore, it suggests that you might want to take advantage of them.


    A. If they are strangers they need to be:

    1. about the same age
    2. dressed about the same - probably casually
    3. Of a similar culture (the sort of culture that uses the greeting 'Hey man' !)
    In these cases, looking someone in the face, smiling, and approaching them then asking 'Do you know when the rock concert starts? / Where did you buy that burger from?' would be better than prefacing the question with 'hey man'.
     
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    dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    I very much agree with post 3, but I'd say selling drugs, not begging, and leading them to a strip bar that they will leave penniless rather than making homosexual advances.
    On which planet? If I thought that every time I heard "Hey man" I'd be in a very advanced state of paranoia by now.
    If you say 'hey man' to someone, you are forcing them into a role. It is as if you are saying they are your cousin, and because cousins do personal favours for each other, this person will want to do a favour for you. Therefore, it suggests that you might want to take advantage of them.
    In this respect, why is it different to 'Hello mate', which is generally accepted?

    As I said before on another thread, I don't like it, I don't use it, but I am primarily a BE speaker and this does prejudice my opinion. It is common parlance in some places (e.g. here) and will be heard and repeated by learners of the language.

    Edit. I think much of my thinking about this is summed up very succinctly in A.3. in Biffo's earlier post (#3). There are many everyday circumstances in which I would not bat an eyelid were I to be addressed this way.
     
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    Dexta

    Senior Member
    English (British and Australian)
    If I were on a street in China and a local walked up and said, 'Hey man', then I would most likely reply, 'Yes?', thinking that he was going to tell me that it is not safe or it's illegal to leave my bike here, or something of that nature. I would not assume he is a gay, drug-dealing pimp.
     
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    Hihowareyou

    Member
    Chinese
    I'll pick up on posts 3 and 4. I very much agree with post 3, but I'd say selling drugs, not begging, and leading them to a strip bar that they will leave penniless rather than making homosexual advances.It could also sound as if you are trying to ridicule them.Why do you want to speak to a passerby? If it is because you are asking for some assistance, then you should be as polite as possible, whoever you are speaking to. [EDIT If the Chinese person was just looking for an opportunity to practice his English for free, maybe they could use the same sort of phrases that drug dealers or other crooks would use, since the English or American person should easily be able to tell the difference between a friendly student and a street hustler; but it would probably be better to say something like 'Hello Sir! The weather is good today!']Here is my own explanation: If you say 'hey man' to someone, you are forcing them into a role. It is as if you are saying they are your cousin, and because cousins do personal favours for each other, this person will want to do a favour for you. Therefore, it suggests that you might want to take advantage of them. In these cases, looking someone in the face, smiling, and approaching them then asking 'Do you know when the rock concert starts? / Where did you buy that burger from?' would be better than prefacing the question with 'hey man'.
    In fact, He just wanted to say a casual "hi" and that would be all. But he thought "hey man" would be much cooler, probably picked up from some american TV series .
     

    Hihowareyou

    Member
    Chinese
    If I were on a street in China and a local walked up and said, 'Hey man', then I would most likely reply, 'Yes?', thinking that he was going to tell me that it is not safe or it's illegal to leave my bike here, or something of that nature. I would not assume he is a gay, drug-dealing pimp.
    They (especially the youngsters) may just want to greet you since they can't really tell much difference between "hi" and "hey man".
     

    dadane

    Senior Member
    English-London
    They (especially the youngsters) may just want to greet you since they can't really tell much difference between "hi" and "hey man".
    And nobody, I hope, would be offended by this, if they are they shouldn't be allowed a passport (my opinion only). The usage of 'hey man' amongst native speakers is often regional or considered indicative of a low social status, I hope this clarifies the previous comments. If heard from somebody who is clearly a non-native speaker we would interpret it as a friendly greeting, at least I would. :)
     
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    nodnol

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I'll acknowledge a few posts: #13: On which planet? If I thought that every time I heard "Hey man" I'd be in a very advanced state of paranoia by now. I don't know what the initial phrases were, but unless budget flights to Central Europe are actually interplanetary but no-one told me (and believing that would really be paranoid), it was on Earth; #13 In this respect, why is it different to 'Hello mate', which is generally accepted? and #14 thinking that he was going to tell me that it is not safe or it's illegal to leave my bike here, or something of that nature. IN MANY CONTEXTS I'd recommend skipping the hey man (or replacing it with excuse me or similar) and getting to the friendly advice as soon as possible, so as to not be mistaken for someone whose 'friendly advice' consists of recommending a bar where you will get mugged by their pals (to keep up the 'paranoid' theme Sdgraham and I have got going).

    In further response to #3, and also to #17:
    Politeness is not out of fashion, but young people who are strangers are (for example) more likely to smile at each other than people aged over 20, and may not feel the need for certain verbal formulas that adults use to express their good intention. In the same way, any Brit could read the intention of the working-class/ lower perceived status person in #17 (-- someone who would be perfectly capable of using more formal language, but who in using the formula that they use among equals, is, in a way, showing increased respect).

    They (especially the youngsters) may just want to greet you since they can't really tell much difference between "hi" and "hey man".
    A foreigner in China would soon get used to this. And, #14, my comments were not specific to China, and may indeed be less applicable there then elsewhere. ...But I would prefer something more formal than Hi. What is wrong with 'Hello?' ...I do not consider it a 'mistake' for a non-native speaker to be too formal or too polite; I don't even think it would make them look 'weak' if a stranger called me 'sir'; although 'sir' would be unsuitable if there was any chance that we would become real friends.

    PS: hey man : In SOME contexts, from SOME speakers, man can sound collusive, not just casual/friendly. In Seinfeld, the gang want to know whether The Sniffing Accountant is hooked on cocaine; Kramer suggests that if The Sniffing Accountant uses the word 'man' a lot, this is a sign that he is a drug user, that he spends time among drug dealers and other 'street' characters. This may be why the man was offended by the original poster on the chinese forum.
     
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