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philipbeckwith

小姐 always bad in China?

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philipbeckwith

I'm hoping someone can clear this up because I'm curious. So I lived in China for six years. I moved back to the US about 9 years ago. While I lived in Shanghai, when I went to the restaurants, people always called waitresses 小姐 when they wanted to get their attention. Now flashback maybe two years ago, I started hearing how you should absolutely never call a woman that in China because it means w**** now. I talked to someone from Taiwan about it, and she said it's perfectly fine in Taiwan. I've also heard that it is okay to use that term in Hong Kong. I asked my Chinese wife, and she didn't know for sure, but then again she hasn't lived in China for a while. Now my question is is it uniformly bad to use this word everywhere in mayland China now, or is it still okay in some regions, like possibly Shanghai? Thanks in advance!

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amytheorangutan

My mum still uses 小姐 to this day but she’s from older generation and our family was from the south so I think it’s probably fine in the south but not so much in the north? 

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Demonic_Duck

In much of southern China, especially Cantonese-speaking parts, it's pretty common as a term of address (小姐请问一下…), and no cause for offense or ambiguity when used as such. In northern China, this usage is basically unheard of.

 

On the other hand, using it as a description of someone (她是个小姐) is unambiguously saying they're a prostitute. I wouldn't translate it as "whore", because that's a term of abuse, whereas 小姐 is a fairly neutral descriptor for someone who sells sex.

 

In this respect, you can think of it as a little like "madam". "Excuse me, madam" — a polite if rather formal means of address. Contrast with "she's the local madam" — she runs the brothel down the street.

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xinoxanu

This is what I've come to understand over the years:

 

  • 小姐 is fine in Taiwan.
  • Generally speaking, avoid using 小姐 in Mainland China, but you are welcome to use the term if you add the person's name (王小姐) or in formal situations where noone would think of a double entendre. If you are a female customer at a high-end place you will be addressed as 小姐.
  • If you don't know the person very well (like a clerk on a supermarket) it's better to use 阿姨 if the person is 35-40 or over and 姐姐 if younger. Don't try to use 姐姐 if the person is clearly middle-aged, because you will come up as rude. 阿姨 is fine and doesn't have negative connotations... But you shouldn't use 阿姨 with younger girls if you value your life, though.
  • If it's a grandma, use 婆婆 (and 奶奶 in SW China). 夫人 is technically the polite version to address an old woman, but I've yet to see that used in real life.
  • Even if the woman looks younger than you, don't use 妹妹. That's a textbook rookie mistake: 妹妹 or 小妹 are only used to address little girls, close friends and actual family members, regardless of the people involved being sisters or not.
  • If you are unsure and there are other titles available, such as 服务员, 老板 or 老师 better use them instead, but you should be fine with 阿姨 and 姐姐 in 90% of the situations you encounter.
  • I've heard 小姐 before being used by some guys to pick-up girls, but it comes up as flirty rather than offensive. Your mileage may vary.
  • Bonus: nobody really cares about the words that come out of a foreigner's mouth unless you've been here for a long time and nobody will ever think you are calling someone a "prostitute" because you addressed a woman as 小姐. That doesn't apply, of course, if you are actually looking for a prostitute after eating some street 烧烤 at 4am - then it's fine to ask for a 小姐 with that meaning in mind.
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philipbeckwith

It sounds like maybe the South is okay with it still. Shanghai is relatively south. Perhaps if I went there again I would still hear 小姐. I think I might switch over to 服务员 just in case.

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889

I was once quietly pulled aside and told to stop using it until I learned to get my tones right.

 

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thelearninglearner

@889 I'm guessing the one I circled in red is why? 

Screenshot_20201009-130124_Pleco.jpg

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Takeshi

I'm pretty sure 小姐 is still fine in Southern China. In HK it is the most normal form of address (in Cantonese).

 

Actually, this thread made me think of another word, 小姐姐. I'm hearing this a lot on tik tok. What exactly does it mean? Is it used by non-gen z or outside of tik tok ever? On tik tok people seem to be using it to address strangers very often, but it's obviously scripted, so I guess they know it is a tik tok context.

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889

Same tones!

 

Must have been the particular impatient way I was saying it, shouting in the noisy restaurant trying to get the attention of the 服务员. From that point on, though, I've always tried to steer away from using the word.

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roddy
8 hours ago, philipbeckwith said:

I started hearing how you should absolutely never call a woman that in China because it means w**** now.

This is a perpetual topic. I'll do a search in a minute and you can have a look at some historical context. All I'll say is to pay attention to what those around you say, and mimic if appropriate (you probably shouldn't copy the way your boss's boss talks to your boss, for example), and that I suspect a lot of the concerns around this are overblown - they certainly were back when I was in China, but that's going back some way now and things do change...

 

2014  2013 2008 2006 and there will be others. The discussions on 同志 often run alongside and may also be of interest.

 

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Jim

I hear it used regularly if not super frequently in its ordinary meaning here in rural Beijing. Context is king I think, plus don't think it occurs to people who don't really have the sex industry on their mental map that it's a word to avoid. 

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abcdefg

小姐 is frequently used in Kunming to summon or address a waitress in a friendly, informal way. I have never seen it give offense when used in the appropriate context. 

 

The more local 本地 term among native speakers in this region (Kunming/Yunnan) is 美女 for female wait-staff and 帅哥 for male wait-staff. Example: "美女,麻烦你加一点茶水。" 

 

This is true regardless of the gender of the speaker. It is considered a little bit “country" or "uncouth" however, and more and more educated younger local Chinese, 九零后 and maybe even 八零后, seem to be shifting away from this tradition and opting for more "neutral/formal" terms of address, such as 服务员。

 

Such customs are constantly evolving. Best just to copy local usage at one specific time and one specific place. Personally what I do if in doubt is to err or the side of being slightly clunky but correct. If you try to be hip, that's when it's easy to mess up and accidentally give offense.

 

(Footnote: Even if you do mess up in China by sayiing something wrong, it's not the end of the world. As a foreigner, you will probably be forgiven.) 

 

 

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889

"As a foreigner, you will probably be forgiven."

 

And if not, well, just be prepared to make a quick avoidance move when your 八宝茶 or 铁板日本豆腐 is being served.

 

“对不起先生,很对不起。”

 

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xinoxanu

Right, 美女 is also a thing in Chengdu, but can't really be used freely. Have a look at the rules:

 

  • Street vendors use it when trying to score an aggressive sale.
  • 阿姨s use it when trying to score an aggressive sale.
  • 阿姨s use it when it's their turn to be condescending with staff.
  • Farmers use it non-stop when they come to the big city.
  • City boys and girls use it when they go to the boonies for that extra-farmer swag.
  • People without any sort of filter use it as well.
  • 小姐 pimps use it (for marketing purposes) when harassing random 帅哥s with their 美女 girlfriends on the street. 春熙路 at 2am is truly the surreal place to be.
  • Catcalling.

Honestly calling a 20-something 帅哥 is kinda aggressive as well and pretty hilarious unless you are at a KTV of sorts. In the real world, for maximum damage is better to use 叔叔, that'll teach them right!

 

PS: Chengdu > Kunming, Chengdu > Chongqing and Chengdu > Shanghai > Beijing. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise. 😛

 

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ChTTay
On 10/9/2020 at 7:30 AM, xinoxanu said:

Generally speaking, avoid using 小姐 in Mainland China, but you are welcome to use the term if you add the person's name (王小姐) or in formal situations where noone would think of a double entendre. If you are a female customer at a high-end place you will be addressed as 小姐.


I find 女士 used more often in high end restaurants and hotels (or anywhere vaguely expensive where you’re their customer).
 

Honestly, never hear 小姐 in Beijing or the parts of Henan I go to fairly regularly. Those annoying guys on the street selling haircuts mainly use 美女 😂 Waitresses and waiters are usually just 服务员 here. 
 

There are other numerous options of addressing someone so I don’t know why you’d even want to run the risk of using 小姐. Just pick another one. 

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abcdefg

I'm in Texas now, having left Kunming at the start of the pandemic. My ear is still adjusting to regional informal speech customs. 

 

Yesterday I stopped in at a small cafe for coffee and a slice of apple pie after getting a haircut nearby. Waitress stopped by to check on me a few minutes after bringing my order. She asked, "Do you need some more coffee, Honey?" 

 

We were complete strangers, but this is a small town in the American south. I smiled, nodded, and made sure to leave her a suitable tip. 

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Jim

Where I'm from in England, matronly ladies in shops will address you as "my lover". These are the best customs.

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889

I hope you returned the endearment.

 

"Hey, Honey, can I have a refill here?"

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philipbeckwith

I live in Michigan. They tend to call "hon" at diners. I don't seem to recall hearing then say "honey." Perhaps that is an un said distinction around here and the Midwest.

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