Sweden is, nowadays, a very informal country. If I go see a doctor, talk to my teacher or meet the prime minister, I'd call them all by first name. "Mr." this and "Dr." that sounds quite archaic to my ears, though I'm more used to it in English.
In Chinese, however, there seems to be quite a bit of this formalness left in the language. This frightens me somewhat. How will I know whether I can use 老王 or whether I should use 王先生, for example? Or just use the full name? I'm a bit fearful of offending people, since I have no experience to go by. Is there a CPod lesson or Qing Wen on this?
crystal_counselorDecember 22, 2009, 09:11 AM
王先生 is a bit formal, and it's usually used in business or when you meet someone for the first time. And 老王 can be used for friends or your colleagues(ESPECIALLY for your close friends or colleagues).
andrew_cDecember 22, 2009, 09:12 AM
The introducing-oneself-to-the-family lesson touches on this pretty directly.
You shouldn't be fearful of offending anyone, just pay attention and follow other people's example. Also, remember, you are a 老外, expectations range from quite low to non-existent of you operating in accordance with Chinese customs. Furthermore, when introduced, if you are really not sure, you can politely ask, 请问，我应该怎么称呼您呢？
- I've never heard anyone actually use 先生。
- For someone roughly the same age, who you aren't friends with, and for which there is no formal relationship, you can't go wrong just using their full name, no title, no nickname.
- If you are friends, you should consider dropping the surname and use a nickname or if their first name is two characters then just their first name , otherwise it sounds a little too formal (depending on the sound/length of the name there's flexibility here) This is the case when calling someone 老王 would be appropriate. You can get creative here, Chinese is a lot more fun than English in this way.
- Once you are dealing with people who are roughly the same age of your parents use *only* their surname with uncle/叔叔 or auntie/阿姨, or something like that. Never use their given name. Just to play it safe, default to 您, instead of 你.
- Regarding elderly people, I have been discouraged from using forms of address intended for elderly people, to avoid implying they're old, and to just stick with uncle and auntie.
- In academia, professors/teachers/advisors are always addressed as surname+老师. Even professors who go on a first-name-basis in English, they are much more formal in Chinese. Peers should be referred to indirectly as 同学, or certain variants which account for seniority. But don't use those as a form of address and just call them by a name/nickname based on how friendly you are.
simonpetterssonDecember 22, 2009, 10:30 AM
Good stuff! Many thanks, both of you! Yeah, the 您/你 thing is a bit confusing to me, too. What's the rule here? Is it age? Percieved social status? How well-dressed they are?
Interesting that the 先生 seems so rarely used, considering it's amongst the first things one learns as a Chinese learner. I guess most language programs are directed at business people, though.
What about 小姐? Is that used? I understand it's used to address waitresses? Is this regardless of age? Does it apply to other service personnel, like a receptionist? It'd feel weird to address the 40-year old woman at the information desk as 小姐. Or 阿姨, for that matter.
oranginaDecember 22, 2009, 02:56 PM
I use 先生 and 小姐 often. I think "Ms." is a better translation for 小姐 than "Miss" as it helps me know when to use it. Ms. is not quite so diminuative. And since 姐 is older sister, there is the respect there in the term. I do forget to use 师傅。
Interesting, it seems America is somewhere in between Sweden and China with terms of address. I wouldn't usually call my doctor just by their first name, but Dr. Linda or some such thing sounds fine. Same for professors. As for Mr. and first name (e.g Mister Jess,) somehow that is friendlier than first name alone, if you can pull it off.
andrew_cDecember 22, 2009, 03:35 PM
Let me add a disclaimer. Everything I'm saying is based on my own experiences, I have very significant contact with Chinese life, but I'm not actually in China, so it's not comprehensive.
I've been told to never use 小姐, due to its other meaning. When I am at a restaurant with my friends they always have addressed the waiter or waitress as 服务员.
xiaophilDecember 23, 2009, 01:56 AM
I might add, I'm not actually disagreeing with you. Different places say different things. I sometimes hear 服务员 but in Shanghai it is usually 小姐. Anyway, maybe those Chinese you know in America have been affected by the locals? Who knows I guess.
crystal_counselorDecember 23, 2009, 07:41 AM
In a business situation,小姐、先生 are most common. If I call to book a ticket, for instance, they call me "吴小姐" no matter how old I am.
I used to be an English tutor when I was in the university,when I saw my student's mother who might be too old to be called 小姐， I just said "你好，。。。。。。。"because it's not appropriate to call her 阿姨 since I am the teacher of her daughter.
crystal_counselorDecember 23, 2009, 08:01 AM
I mean not only foreigners are confused sometimes, but also are Chinese.
lily_counselorDecember 23, 2009, 12:41 PM
In most part of China, 小姐 do not have a bad connotation. This word is common and polite when addressing a young lady. For aged ladies, it's polite to address them 女士。
But in some southern coastal provinces such as Guangdong, 小姐 has another meaning. They used to call a young lady 靓女 or 美女, no matter she is beautiful or not.