Dos and Don'ts

Lucky and Unlucky Numbers: The Chinese put store in the power of numbers and have a general dislike for the number four. Some buildings will not have a fourth floor. Lucky numbers are six, eight, and nine.

Business Cards: In a town that thrives on commerce, exchanging business cards is an important formality. Offer your card with both hands, printed side up and facing the receiver for easy reading. Accept someone else's card with both hands and give it due attention before putting it away. Don't write on someone's business card.

Hong Bao: Translated as "red envelope," these packets of cash, usually crisp new bills, are given out at weddings, holidays, and other occasions. For weddings, give an amount equal to what you'd spend on a gift but in a sum involving lucky numbers (6,8,9). Buy the red envelopes at corner newsstands, or for nicer versions that can double as souvenirs, at a stationery store.

Tea and Chopsticks: When dining in company, fill others' teacups before your own. When being served, tap the table lightly with the tips or knuckles of your forefinger and middle finger to wordlessly indicate both "thanks" and "that's enough." Leave your cup more than half full if you don't want it refilled constantly. With chopsticks, more formal restaurants have separate resting places for them; don't rest them on your plate. Avoid spearing food with your chopsticks or pointing them at someone.

Phrase Book

Leih hou (pronounced lay hoe): Both words are said with rising tones, and the phrase means both "hello" and "how are you?" When someone says this to you, it is perfectly acceptable to simply say leih hou back to them.

Jou sahn (joe san): "Good morning," and a greeting often said with hearty enthusiasm from across the room or across the street

Mh goi (saai) (mm goy): Meaning "thank you (very much)" this phrase is very useful and nearly all-purpose. It can also mean "please" or "excuse me," for getting the attention of the waiter or waitress in a restaurant or to ask someone to move out of the way. Note that this thank you is for services rendered.

Do jeh (daw je): The "thank you" reserved for when someone gives you a gift

Mh sai (mm sigh): "No need to" or "not necessary." This can be used for when someone is offering you something you don't want, or when someone thanks you and you want to say "you're welcome."

Gwai lou (also spelled gweilo) (guai loe): Once a derogatory term for outsiders, it literally means "ghost fellow." Now, many foreigners use it to refer to themselves.

Gei do chin (gay daw cheen): What is the price?

Maaih daan (my dan): Bill or check. You can say this alone or add "mh goi" when calling for the check in a restaurant.

Dik si (deek see): A transliteration of the English word for taxi

Hai li douh lohk (hi lee doe lock): Meaning you want to "get off here." The first two syllables rise in tone, while the second two fall.

Yam cha (yum cha): Literally to "drink tea," but usually refers to having a dim sum meal

Tai tai (tie tie): A woman of leisure married to a rich man

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