When Asian dramas became a regular part of my life, I thought for a stereotypically thin people, they sure are obsessed with food. I did not understand why the characters always asked one another if they had eaten.
As it turns out, “Have you eaten? 吃饱了吗? (Chī bǎole ma?) “and “Are you full? 吃饱了没? (Chī bǎole méi?) “are very similar to the English expression, “How are you?”
When we ask someone how they are, we are merely being polite. We are not looking for a rundown of every acquaintances’ situation in life. Likewise, Asians are not looking for a tally of your meals for the day.
How should you respond?
In response, you can say, “I’ve eaten, how about you?” 我吃了, 你呢？(Wǒ chī le, nǐ ne?)” This is similar to how English people respond “fine” to the question, “How are you?”
If you say that you have not eaten yet (还没吃。Hái méi chī.), your eastern friend may think you need help and that they should invite you to a meal to show an interest.
Don’t feel bad if you have gone into a lengthy description of your dietary habits when asked this question. Similarly, “How are you?” is view much more personally by Chinese persons. If you ask, many will give you a rundown on how life’s treating them. I love learning about these little cultural differences. Don’t you?
How do your Chinese friends greet you? Tell us in the comments below.