2016-08-27newbie

Could You Please...?

When asking for something in English, you would often use 'can,' 'could,' or 'would.' For example, when ordering food in a restaurant, an English speaker would say 'Could I have a steak?' or 'I would like to have a steak please.'

A mistake I often make (and I think many foreign students do so, too) is to literally translate these sentences into Chinese. For example gěifènniúròumiànma (Could you bring me a plate of beef noodles?) or qǐngláifènniúròumiàn (Please bring one plate of beef noodles). While grammatically correct, these sentences are too polite for the context of a Chinese restaurant. You can simply say like this:

Hover over any word to show translation
I, me, my
yào
to want, to ask for
one
fèn
classifier for gifts, newspaper, magazine, papers, reports, contracts etc
niú ròu
牛肉
牛肉
beef
miàn
flour, noodles
 
gěi
for the benefit of, to give
I, me, my
lái
to arrive, to come round
one
fèn
classifier for gifts, newspaper, magazine, papers, reports, contracts etc
niú ròu
牛肉
牛肉
beef
miàn
flour, noodles
 

I want a plate of beef noodles.
Bring me a plate of beef noodles.

Character set
Pinyin

This might sound a little rude in English, but not so in Chinese.

Similary, when asking a friend for a small favour, say pouring you a soda, there's no need to be overly polite. Instead of saying gěibēima?? (Could you give me a glass of cola?) it is more appropriate to say:

Hover over any word to show translation
bāng
to help, to assist
I, me, my
dào
to invert, to pour
one
bēi
cup, classifier for certain containers of liquids: glass, cup
kě lè
可乐
可樂
(loanword) cola
 

Please give me a Coke.

Character set
Pinyin

The reasoning is that you are friends who have a close relationship, so there is no need to be too courteous. In fact, being too polite towards Chinese friends may make them think you don't really regard them as friends.

Lastly, there is often no need to thank people in Chinese. 'Thanks' and xièxie both mean the same thing, but there is a subtle difference in interpretation. Whereas the English 'thanks' is more lightweight, the Chinese 谢谢 carries a slightly stronger connotation, perhaps comparable to 'thanks a lot.' When you thank a waiter who has just served you your food, they will often say yòngxiè (You're welcome - No need to thank me). This is out of courtesy, of course, but saying thank you actually really isn't needed.

Author pictureThis blog is provided by GoEast, Professional Chinese Language Training. Kevin writes columns for the GoEast Blog on studying Chinese, Chinese culture, and life as a foreign student. He has studied China and Chinese for over five years, first in his home country the Netherlands, then in Beijing, and now attends Fudan University's Chinese Society department.