你吃了吗？Nǐ chī le ma? – “Have you eaten yet”? Many newcomers to China briefly fall into a communicative shock when this phrase is shouted at them for the first time by Chinese colleagues or superiors passing by, usually at lunchtime. The problem is that before you as a “Laowai” have sifted through your Chinese, answered in detail and explained your meal plans, the Chinese interlocutor has already disappeared around the next corner of the corridor or behind the next office door. And you wonder: What was that all about? Don’t worry, just a “situational greeting”! Because actually, your Chinese counterpart just wanted to say a quick “hello”.
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