The terms “business world” and “China” are becoming synonymous. In global trade, the Chinese Renminbi is now more widely used than the Euro. The 95 Chinese companies in Forbes’ Fortune 500 are fast approaching the US’ 128. French is no longer the language of diplomacy and money; it is Mandarin. Whether you are negotiating international trade deals or selling homes in your community, you will likely work with Chinese clientele. You don’t have to be fluent in Mandarin to impress— simply learn some key phrases to dazzle your Chinese investors.
- 谢谢 (xiè xiè) – “Thank you”
This is the most important word in Mandarin! Before marching into that meeting, you should know “xiè xiè”. This common and crucial word is often mispronounced by Westerners, so here’s a useful trick. Try saying “shee-yeh shee-yeh” through a wide smile, to get the sound just right. Simply thanking your clients in their native tongue will show respect and professionalism.
- 大家好 (dà jiā hǎo) – “Hello everyone”
This is a phrase you shouldn’t plug straight into Google Translate. It literally means “big home good.” In practice, it means “hello everyone,” an elegant way of addressing a group. They will be amazed that you can greet them with something other than “nǐ hǎo!”
In my experience working on a Chinese talk show shooting in Hollywood, I often use “dà jiā hǎo” to address my viewers familiarly. It comes off as casually polite and inclusive.
- 老板 (lǎo bǎn) – “Boss”
Have you ever wanted to call your boss an “old block of wood?” The Chinese have been doing it for centuries! The term “lǎo bǎn” literally means “old plank,” and is the Mandarin term for “boss.” Don’t worry; there’s no negative connotation. It shows great courtesy and respect. You can use it to address your manager or CEO, or the owner of a shop you enter. The proprietor of a business will be flattered when you greet him with “nǐ hǎo, lǎo bǎn!”
But what if your boss is a “she”? Female bosses can also be “lǎo bǎn,” though there is a more specific term. In old China, “老板娘” (lǎo bǎn niáng) referred to the boss’s wife. She was the true master of household and business finances. Today, “lǎo bǎn niáng” can be the male boss’s wife or the boss herself.
- 没事儿 (méi shìr) – “No problem”
If you’ve worked in foreign business, the following situation is all too familiar: your client bumps into you and apologizes profusely. Not knowing how to respond in their language, you laugh awkwardly and make frantic hand gestures to show that you’re “all good.” Let’s move past this, shall we?
When someone tells you “I’m sorry” (duì bù qǐ), you can respond with 没事儿- “no problem.” You can also use it when someone arrives late or has to cancel a meeting; it can mean “no worries.” This phrase can remedy uncomfortable situations and break the ice.
ShaoLan mentions in Podcast #007 that “méi shìr” is pronounced differently in different regions. People from Beijing often say it like “méi shàr.” (This summer I lived in Tianjin, a city about 40 minutes outside of Beijing, and picked up this Northern twang.)
- 干杯 (gān bēi) – “Cheers”
No business deal is complete without a glass of beer to celebrate it! Be the first to say “gān bēi!” and seal the deal. The Chinese word for “cheers” is more of a command than an exclamation: it means “empty the cup.” Don’t worry, you don’t have to drain the glass. It does, however, show respect to your guests. There is a cultural protocol for toasting in China:
- Raise your glass with both hands.
- Say “gān bēi”
- Hear your entourage happily shout it back.
- Empty the cup!
This guide will take you from the first hello to the last drink. Click picture to listen to that specific episode!