Say Yes to Chinese Etiquette – How to Respond Politely in Different Situations

Traditionally, Chinese culture places a high value on humility and modesty. This can make it difficult to say no directly.

For example, when a colleague compliments you, it might not seem nice for you to play down the comment. However, doing so shows that you value their opinion. Similarly, their answer may be vague when a Chinese person dances around whether they will go on a trip. Let’s see the Say Yes to Chinese Etiquette: How to Respond Politely in Different Situations.

Indirect Yes

It’s easy to get caught up in the nuances of Chinese grammar, but there are still some phrases you can use in almost any situation. For example, if someone asks you a yes/no question and your answer is “yes,” you can use (lit. “sorry to bother you”) to show that you’re being polite.

Another way how to say yes in Chinese is (“I agree with you”) or (lit. “it’s no trouble for me”). This phrase is used more after you’ve asked someone to do something for you, like moving to a different restaurant or helping you change your order. It shows that you’re not asking them to do something for themselves and are not worried about hurting their feelings.

In China, the face concept is extremely important. The Confucian doctrine of guanxi, relationships between people, and mianxi, or losing face, have become the foundations of a society that values respect, harmony, and politeness. Practicing proper etiquette preserves these principles and is the most effective way to communicate with others.

The word yeah is considered informal and should be avoided in more formal settings, such as a manager-employee meeting. However, using it in a more casual environment, such as an everyday conversation with friends, is appropriate.

Direct Yes

The English word ‘yes’ has lots of different meanings. You can use a variety of alternatives to express yourself in different situations, depending on the context. For example, yep and yeah are informal options to yes that you can use in relaxed conversations with friends but would be frowned upon in formal settings like the workplace.

In Chinese culture, it is polite to compliment people and make them feel good about themselves. However, it would help if you were cautious about approving people who are higher in status, as they may view it as insulting. It is also impolite to criticize someone in public.

Many foreigners are surprised by the amount of personal information shared during initial meetings with Chinese clients. For example, you might be asked about your age and income. It is fine to decline to answer these questions, but if you do, explain why. For example, you might say, ‘I prefer to keep this private,’ or ‘I would rather not discuss my finances with people I just met.’

Indirect No

When it comes to saying no to something, knowing how to do it politely will help you feel more confident about your decision. It will also allow you to deliver negative information more respectfully, benefiting both you and the person you’re talking to.

The Chinese rely on non-verbal communication, especially body language, to convey their feelings and opinions. For example, a frown can be interpreted as a sign of disagreement. They also avoid eye contact, which is a sign of disrespect. Therefore, smiling and staying composed when speaking with the Chinese is important.

In addition, Chinese etiquette requires that you be punctual and show respect to others. Being late is a big no-no in China, as it offers a lack of respect for the host and other guests. Going into bedrooms without an invitation is also rude, as this is considered a breach of privacy.

In general, the Chinese are very hospitable people, so it’s common to be welcomed with excessive hospitality when visiting friends or family members in their homes. For example, they may buy lots of food and clean their house thoroughly to ensure you are comfortable in their home. When this occurs, it is polite to thank them for their hospitality and offer a reciprocal gesture in return.

Direct No

If you’re trying to say yes in Chinese and are racking your brains for the right word, it might help to remember that there isn’t one specific Mandarin word for “yes.” Instead, most responses can be constructed from the main verb in the question, which means it’s important to consider the context of the situation when responding.

Another great way to respond politely in a no situation is by using the phrase, “Yes, I will.” This sounds formal and sophisticated, but it’s also an excellent option for those who want to save face but feel uncomfortable saying a full no.

This is a common response to questions in the workplace, as it shows that you’re committed to doing something and it’s not an option you’ll give up easily. It’s especially effective for those who don’t have the freedom to speak their mind and may find themselves in a difficult situation at work that they can’t escape from.

Another variation is to use the phrase, “Yes, that’s correct.” This sounds slightly less formal and more like a traditional English reply than Shi (shi), but it’s still an acceptable way to agree in most situations.

In particular, it’s often used in the workplace and when responding to higher-ups in a business context. However, it’s important to note that this could be perceived as insincere and rude if used too frequently.


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