You don’t have to be a polyglot to enjoy the thrill of mastering a couple of foreign language phrases that will win you nods of approval from locals. English is widely understood by people in Hong Kong, but it’s the complex and melodious tones of Cantonese that permeate the local cafes, dim sum houses, and the busy streets of this metropolis. If you think Mandarin is an impossibly difficult language to learn with four tones, then Cantonese, with six tones (and some say nine) is harder than rocket science. Here are some phrases to try and master if you want to impress yourself and the locals.
Mm Goi 唔該
Meaning: Please/thank you/ excuse me
This is probably one of the most versatile phrases that you can learn that’s relatively easy to pronounce. You’ll hear it within moments of landing in the airport. Use it when you’re trying to get across the crowded street in the form of ‘excuse me,’ when you’re requesting for an item or information, or simply to say ‘thank you’ in appreciation.
Mm Sai Hak Hei 唔使客氣
Meaning: You’re welcome
Mm Goi is easy to learn and may not be that impressive, but Mm Sai Hak Hei can be quite a mouthful, and if you ever are thanked in Hong Kong, you’ll surprise by replying with this phrase.
Pehng Di Laa 平啲喇
Image Credit: Wikimedia
Meaning: Could you make it cheaper?
‘Pehng Di’ means cheaper, and with the addition of ‘la’ you magically transform this into a request for a discount. This is an indispensable phrase to be used in the markets, and though it doesn’t quite guarantee a discount, it could win you some smiles, and we all know putting a seller in a good mood puts you in a good place.
Hou Geng 好勁
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Meaning: Amazing/super/outstanding. Usually refers to a person’s ability.
Ever wanted to praise somebody for their superb skills? Try ‘Hou geng’ for instant flattery. You could say that about the dim sum chef, the street performer, or the craftsman that you’re buying your painting from. Just to make sure you get your point across, say it with a thumbs-up gesture.
Sai Mm Sai Ah駛唔駛啊?
Meaning：Is that really necessary?
Asked in an exasperated tone, this phrase can be used to express your frustration or bewilderment at someone making a fuss over nothing. For example, if your local friend insists that you dress to the nines to head to a fancy bar when you’re not prepared to get out of your trainers.
Gao Dim 攪掂
Meaning: To settle/fix
Any Hong Kong gangster or police movie will be peppered with this phrase. ‘Gao Dim’ is commonly used to either reassure a person that the problem will be taken care of or to express that the task has been taken care of. For example, you could say ‘ Gao Dim’ with a sense of satisfaction when you’ve finally loaded all your baggage into the tight space in the trunk of the taxi, much to the surprise of the driver.
Ma Ma Dei 麻麻哋
For someone with discerning tastes and high expectations, ‘Ma Ma Dei’ is a must-learn phrase as you can easily apply it to food that was underwhelming. Hong Kongers can be brutally honest with their reviews, so you may hear this phrase used a lot if you eavesdrop closely at the tables around you.
Sup Sup Sui 濕濕碎
Meaning: Easy-peasy/ small matter
Sherlock Holmes would say, “Elementary, my dear Watson.” A good Hong Konger would say “Sup Sup Sui.” This phrase said confidently, is a sure winner to impress a local, even if your actual ability falls short. You may want to try saying that at least to yourself when you attempt your first Cantonese or Dim-Sum making class.
Chi Sin 黐線
Meaning: Crazy, lunatic, idiot
This literally means to have your wires (in your brain) stuck together. You get the imagery that it means ‘crazy.' Chi Sin can be used in nearly any context where you feel that you’re witnessing some ridiculous behavior, such as when somebody barges out of the MTR and knocks your coffee over.