Actually, “你吃了吗(Nǐ chī le ma) Have you eaten yet?” is a traditional way of greeting others. Sometimes the speaker may not really care whether or not you have had your lunch or dinner, instead, the phrase will just be used to start a conversation, similar to how native English speakers might say “Nice day, isn’t it?” or “How’s it going?”
Usually when others greet you with “你吃了吗(Nǐ chī le ma)?” you can answer: “吃了, 你呢(chī le, nǐ ne) Yes, how about you?” or “还没有, 你呢(hái méiyǒu, nǐ ne) Not yet, and you?” Then you can move on to any other conversation.
You can learn more at Put Your Money Where Your Stomach Is.
There are many other expressions used to greet people in Chinese. Do you know of any others? We invite you to share with us, and if you have any questions or suggestions about future topics you’d like us to cover, please let us know!
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