ISB Blog


Important Mandarin Phrases for Foreigners to Know When Shopping

chinese shop keeper greeting

When it comes to Beijing, there’s no shortage of shopping opportunities. From markets and malls to street food stalls there is something for everyone (and a great deal around every corner if you put in a little effort). If you are new here or considering a move to China, you’ll quickly find yourself falling in love with the local shopping experience. While the language barrier can be intimidating at first, shopping locally can be the kind of fun experience that will leave you hooked on China. It doesn’t hurt that bargaining for wares is also one of the best ways to learn to speak like a local.

We asked the Chinese Department at the International School of Beijing (ISB) to give us the top five Mandarin phrases a foreigner should know when shopping.

Asking if they have an item

Nǐ yǒu méi yǒu (你有没有) Pronounced Nee-yo-may-yo

This is a great phrase to know in more than just a shopping environment. Not only does it ask the question “Do you have something?” but the seller will answer with a wo you 我有 or a wo mei you 我没有, which means I have or I don’t have. It’s simple and easy to pronounce so you shouldn't have any awkward "lost in translation" moments yet.

Finding out the price

duōshǎoqián? (多少钱) Pronounced Dwoh-shaow-chi-en

This is a given. You can't buy something without asking the price. Be prepared that as soon as you've uttered this phrase, a calculator will come out and the bargaining process will begin. Keep in mind that in most of the markets where you can bargain, the seller will start off by giving you a price that is a lot higher than you should expect to pay. Most brick and mortar shops on the other hand will have fixed prices displayed and bargaining isn’t allowed. But you never know, sometimes it can be about feeling out the shop to see if they're up for bargaining.

How to say the item is too expensive

tài guì le (太贵了) T-eye–gway-le

Have this phrase locked and loaded for when that salesperson gives you their first inflated offering price. Belting out a quick "tai gui le!" will initiate the bargaining process. Let the game begin. Always keep in mind, if a salesperson agrees to your price too quickly – you're paying too much! Just walk away and come back to try again later.

How to ask for a lower price

pián yi yì diǎn r ma? (便宜一点儿吗) Pronounced pee-an yee yee dee-are-ma

Once you've expressed that it's too expensive, one tactic in bargaining is to first ask the seller if they can make it a little cheaper. Tai gui le (太贵了) Pianyidian(r) ma? 便宜一点(儿)吗. If they refuse to budge on the price, another tried and tested tactic is the "walk away". If you start to walk away from the seller, the price might miraculously start falling. While they see this move all the time, if the price is really inflated they won’t risk you going to another seller and will agree on your price.

You may have noticed we've placed a 'R' in brackets at the end of dian – this is for the Beijing dialect which places an "r" sound at the end of many words. There's no rule on which words take the "r" sound but you'll eventually hear it enough times to know which words have it. In this case you would drop the "n" sound and replace it with the "R" pronouncing it like a pirate "Aarrh".

Accepting or declining the deal

Yào bú yào (要不要) Pronounced Yaow-boo-ya

Like the phrase "you mei you" this one can be used all together or in parts. If a seller says to you "ni yao bu yao" it means, Do you want it? Then you can reply "wo yao" I want it or " Wo Bu yao" I don't want it. It's as simple as that! Bu Yao is great to know because often when shopping the seller will approach you and suggest items you really aren't looking for.

Lastly, knowing your numbers can also be very helpful when negotiating the price, however if you don’t know them, a simple hand signal or typing it into a calculator is commonly used. Let the shopping begin!

If you are planning on staying in Beijing for an extended period of time, then you’ll need to know more than a few phrases about shopping. Visit our blog post about basic Chinese phrases or download ISB’s official Beijing City Guide to learn more phrases you can use to make your stay in Beijing easier.

Posted by dkriger on Friday December, 29, 2017

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