When you meet people for the first time and are introduced to them and have made some new friends, you should say nǐ hǎo (你好). It is a very efficient way to show your respect, break the ice and start a conversation. Whereas between close friends, you might as well start by saying nǐ jīntiān hǎo ma? (你今天好吗？) or zuìjìn zěnme yàng? (最近怎么样？), which means how are you today and how is it going recently.
As Chinese is not that formal of a language, compared to German or Japanese, you can choose which way you would like to greet people according to the occasions or who they are. Basically those are what you can use at any time of the day.
There are also some other ways of greeting, depending on what time of day it is. If you meet people in the morning, you can say shàngwǔ hǎo (上午好) (Good morning). If you meet people in the afternoon, you can say xiàwǔ hǎo (下午好) (Good afternoon). And if it is in the evening, you can say wǎnshang hǎo (晚上好) (Good evening).
Remember, those are used when you meet people and before starting a conversation. What do Chinese people say after the conversation? There are not as many choices. They normally say zàijiàn (再见), suitable for any time, any occasions. Or if it is late at night, people also say wǎn'ān (晚安), which means good night.
Pronouncing Chinese greetings
As you have learned before, there are two ways of addressing someone in Chinese: a polite or formal way using 您 (nín) and a more casual way using 你 (nǐ). The same concept applies to greetings. Listen to the link below to hear Chinese greetings at different time of the day...
Nowadays, since China is opening up more and more to foreign countries, people have come to learn and adopt more and more Western culture. It has become quite common to use English greetings, like hi and bye bye, especially among young people, on casual occasions. Listen to the link below to hear some informal Chinese greetings...
Those are the greetings widely used by Chinese people nationwide. Sometimes, between really close friends, when they see each other, instead of the usual greetings we have mentioned above, they might as well say chīlema? (吃了吗？) It literally means have you had your meal?
You might feel it is weird, wondering why they would like to know whether people have had their meals and even use that as a greeting. It is just a part of Chinese culture for people to show their concern for their close friends and express their hospitality at all times. This also shows how big a deal gastronomy is in Chinese culture.
If they receive méi yǒu (没 有) (No, I haven't had my meal yet) as an answer, they might offer a meal with the friend. But normally people will reply with chī le (吃 了) (Yes, I had) because they know their friends will offer if they say méi yǒu 没有() and they simply don't want to bother their friends.
Or similar to that, you might hear people asking chībǎo le ma? (吃饱了吗？) (Did you have enough?) when they meet you. You can reply chībǎo le (吃饱了) (Yes, I had enough). Once again, remember that those are only used between close friends. People will feel so weird if you use those as greetings when you just got to know them, in which case you should use formal ways to greet them. If you are unsure, always use nǐ hǎo (你好).
As for saying goodbye, we also have different choices besides bāibai (掰掰). Let's listen to some casual farewells...
That's it for today's lesson. Using different greetings will make you sound more fluent, so try to remember as many as you can.