Mm goi (唔該)
This versatile word means ‘please’, ‘excuse me’, or ‘thank you’ depending on the context. It’s polite to drop a simple ‘mm goi’ (please) when instructing a taxi driver where to go, and another ‘mm goi’ (thank you) when you leave the cab. And if you walk up to a stranger and ask a question, you might want to begin with ‘mm goi’ (excuse me).
Hong Kong’s streets are famously crowded, so it’s not uncommon to let out an exasperated ‘mm goi’ or ‘mm goi jeh jeh’ (please, let me through) when someone’s in your way or walking too slowly.
Doh jeh (多謝)
‘Doh jeh’ also means ‘thank you’, but it’s a more formal expression of gratitude. As a rule of thumb, ‘doh jeh’ is used to thank people for gifts or special favors, whereas ‘mm goi’ is used to thank people for services, usually in the course of doing their jobs. So you should say ‘mm goi’ to cashiers, drivers and waiters, but ‘doh jeh’ when receiving compliments or gifts.
Mai daan (買單)
Equivalent to ‘check, please!’ When you’re ready to pay at a restaurant, simply wave your hand at a passing waiter or waitress and call out ‘mai daan, mm goi!’
Sik jor fahn mei ah? (食咗飯未呀?)
This phrase literally means ‘Have you eaten yet?’ but it’s a common greeting in Hong Kong, similar to ‘How are you?’ in English. If you’re asked this question, you should respond with ‘sik jor’ (Yes, I have) or ‘mei sik’ (No, I haven’t) depending on when you ate your last meal. (For instance, in the afternoon this question naturally refers to lunch, not breakfast.)
Foreigners may be surprised that this is an everyday greeting, but eating well and eating properly are very important in Chinese culture, and expressing concern for whether somebody has eaten is equivalent to expressing concern for their well-being.
Yum cha (飲茶)
Literally translating to ‘drink tea’, this expression also refers to eating dim sum (which is accompanied by Chinese tea). Remember — ‘dim sum’ is something you eat, while ‘yum cha’ is something you do.
Chi sin (黐線)
‘Chi sin’ means ‘crazy’ or ‘idiotic’. The term literally refers to tangled or misconnected wires — implying that something’s gone wrong with someone’s neural circuitry. It’s commonly used to express disbelief or scorn at someone’s behavior. For better or worse, Hongkongers throw this one around all the time.
Hou ging (好勁)
Meaning ‘outstanding’ or ‘extremely skillful’, this expression is used to express your admiration at somebody else’s ability — academic, musical, linguistic, or otherwise.
Gwai lo (鬼佬)
A colloquial term referring to Caucasian people, a translation of ‘gwai lo’ might be something like ‘old ghosty’. This term was originally (and can still be) derogatory, but many expats nowadays will refer to themselves as ‘gwai los’.
Yau lok, mm goi（有落，唔該
Equivalent to ‘Stop, please!’, this is an extremely useful for when you want to get off the bus. Don’t be afraid to holler if you’re sitting near the back — locals do it all the time.
Meaning ‘Neat!’ or ‘Sweet!’ Found a $100HKD note on the ground? ‘Tseng ah!’
Gau dim (搞掂)
This phrase means ‘All done!’ or ‘Here you go!’ It’s useful for alerting someone that you’ve finished a task. Like reading this article — once you get to the end of this sentence, you can announce ‘Gau dim!’