Hong Kong people speak English. But not all of them speak good English. Especially the older generation, taxi drivers, restaurant waiters, they may all try to speak to you but it’s another question whether you understand them. Having said Cantonese is one of the most difficult languages to learn, it is always handy when you know a few phrases.
So, are you ready for some Gwong Dung Wa (Cantonese)?
1. 唔該 — Ng Gooi
Can mean “excuse me” , “please” or “thanks”. At a dim sum restaurant it is always difficult to get a waiter to your table. At that moment you raise your hand high up, wave, and say Ng Gooooooooooooooooooooi ! like a local, lengthening the “ooooo” as much as you could. If there’s still no one attending you, you could verify your speech to Ng Gooooooi !!!!!!! This time the “ooooooo” can be a bit shorter, but emphasize the “!!!!!!!!” to show your frustration.
2. 埋單 — Maai Dan
At a high-class restaurant when you ask for your bill you wave, wait for the waiter to come, and say Maai Dan. At a casual restaurant you wave, once the waiter notice you say Maai Dan loud enough so he doesn’t have to come to you and back to the cashier to get your bill. At a cheap restaurant you raise your hand up high, shout, but in a more polite way combining 1 & 2 as Ng Gooi Maai Dan! to compensate your rudeness. If you don’t remember the phrase, the last resort is to have the whole table stand up together pretending to leave. Waiters will start chasing after you with the bill.
3. 我唔識中文 — Ngoh Ng Sik Jung Man
I don’t know chinese
These phrase is not 100% grammatically correct in Chinese, but is short enough that your tongue doesn’t hurt and good enough for the Hong Kong people to understand. It simply means “I don’t know Chinese.” So it is obvious you don’t speak, you don’t understand, and don’t even dream you can write. The best is to also ask if they could understand English. Put it as Ngoh Ng Sik Jung Man….. (hesitate for a bit) English OK? Trust me, they will understand the last part better than the first part no matter how hard you try to speak local.
4. 啤酒 — Bear Jau
means BEER. How important! Again, you can order politely combining 1 & 4, saying Ng Gooi, Bear Jau! You probably will be asked which brand next, just say Heineken or Carlsberg very slowly splitting each syllable (Hei—ne—ken). That’s already Cantonese.
5. 靚仔/靚女 — Leng Jaai/Leng Nui
handsome and beautiful
means handsome guy / pretty girl. It may sound flirty starting a conversation at a bar with Leng Jaai / Leng Nui, but funny it is the middle-aged workers are often called Leng Jaai / Leng Nui. So at a restaurant you could combine 5+1+2 as Leng Jaai / Leng Nui, Ng Gooi Maai Dan. That is so very easy listening and polite. And they will call you handsome or pretty too.
6. 我叫 XXX — Ngoh Giu XXX
my name is
means “My name is XXX.” English combination works here too, Hi, Ngoh Giu XXX or Hello, Ngoh Giu XXX are both perfectly correct.
7. XXX 點去？ — XXX Dim Hui?
how to get to
means “how to get to XXX?”. Doesn’t matter whether XXX is just around the corner or you have to take a bus and ferry and walk there. The question is the same.
8. XXX o係邊？ — XXX Hai Bin?
means “where is XXX?” XXX could be a place, a person, or the toilet roll you want to buy when you cannot locate it in a supermarket.
9. 廁所 — Chi Soh
means washroom. Combine 7&8 as Chi Soh Hai Bin? to ask where the washroom is.
10. 救命!!! — Gau Meng!!!
means Help. Hope you won’t need this.