Addressing strangers

To round out my little series on relationship terms, here are common ways of addressing strangers in Chinese. (See also Chinese Family Tree, Terms of Endearment, and Mates)

All terms are general neutral unless specified.


Workers with specific skills (e.g. taxi driver, shoe shiner, etc)

Young people talk

  • *měinǚ 美女 = pretty girl
  • *shuàigē 帅哥 = handsome guy

Walking down the street (not in a business)

Could also be used for friends of the family

  • bóbo 伯伯/dàye 大爷 = uncle (man older than father)
  • shūshu 叔叔 = uncle (man younger than father)
  • dàniáng 大娘 / dàmā 大妈 = auntie (woman older than mother)
  • āyí 阿姨 = auntie (woman younger than mother)

*NOTE: While I hear people say these, I don’t say them myself because I’ve been told they can have negative connotations or may make some people uncomfortable.

9 Replies to “Addressing strangers”

  1. I always feel a bit strange about using the last set of terms – ayi etc. – given that as a laowai, it’s pretty obvious that they aren’t going to be my aunt (uncle, etc). Anyone else feel like this?

  2. In reply to Max, yeah, but on the other hand they will use those terms in relation to us even though obviously we aren’t their auntie or uncle or whatnot. For example, last week after I helped a 5 or 6 yr old girl into the seat next to me on the bus, her mother instructed her to thank me. In the cutest little girl voice imaginable, she said “Xie xie, ayi!” Too adorable.

  3. Interesting about your note on XiaoJie making some women uncomfortable.., while in a US city’s china town one day.., I need to point to get a waitress’ attention behind the counter.., not being terribly imaginative.., I referred to her as xioajie.., the reaction was one of vocal annoyance.., more so than discomfort 😐

    I’ve just returned from Beijing where oddly enough I hear that Shauige is ok..,

  4. Shuaige is fine, Xiaojie is not.

    If you’re getting someone’s attention behind the counter like that, you can use “Xiaomei” if you want; it’s a little bit ‘qingshi’ but not too bad.

  5. If I was walking down the street, I don’t think I’d address a child as 小家伙. I’ve heard it used in negative connotations such as when the child is rude, the elder would say “你这个小家伙!

    I’m not sure though, it may only be in certain regions, but I personally would want an elder to call me 小家伙 – I’d feel as if I’d done something wrong or to offend.

  6. xiǎojiě, duōshao qián? is one of the worst things you could say to a girl! I’d be very careful with that one!

    Cool site Albert, I’m taking a fair amount of words from you for my vocab list. Thank you!

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