Hanging Up in Chinese

13 May 2008

I recall quite clearly the satisfaction I felt when I first became capable of conducting actual telephone conversations in Chinese. It made me feel I had really arrived, and I relished the achievement. It wasn’t long before some communication issues spoiled my victory, though. Chinese people were saying things to me on the phone that I wasn’t accustomed to hearing, and it didn’t seem very nice. In the end, it was all just cultural misunderstanding, but it would have been nice to be warned. That’s the point of this post.

The “not very nice” things all seemed to come at the end of phone conversations, and often from friends. It made me feel uncomfortable that my phone calls kept ending abruptly, on such unfriendly notes. It turns out that these expressions for ending phone calls are perfectly natural, though… in Chinese, of course.

So here they are, in no particular order, the “hang up lines” you might want to mentally prepare yourself for:

1. 就这样 (“That’s it.”) This one is probably the most common and the most widespread. It’s not meant to be rude, it’s just stating, in no uncertain terms: this conversation is over.

2. 我挂了 (“I’m hanging up.”) Just in case “this is it” is too subtle for your friend, this phrase should get the message across. This one is more likely to be used in informal situations.

3. 我不跟你说了 (“I’m not talking to you anymore [for now]”) Again, an informal one. To be fair, it’s a translation issue into English which kind of makes this one seem like some kind of declaration of anger. It just means “I’m done talking to you for now,” but the unfamiliar phrase in an unfamiliar language can seem a little shocking, even coming from a friend. When I first started hearing this one, I would always question whether I had said something to piss off my friend.

Once you get used to them, these blunt conversation enders do have their advantages; they empower you to swiftly end a telephone conversation that has run its course. They sure make, “well, I better get going now” seem weak in comparison.

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John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.

Comments

  1. iswitched Says: May 13, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    My favourite is the third one, mainly because a) I like the way it sounds, and b) because I already know every word so that’s a brand new expression for free 😉 When you’re lazy like me, you have to look for mnemonics 😉

    Cheers,

    iS

  2. These quickie phrases are pretty normal. I would not consider them rude. We live in a fast paste times, no time for pleasantries. Its like americans ending their conversation, like, “Later, man”,…. or “See you..” or I am outta here. Or okay.. that it.. , or Its over.. or “Gotta go.!” I can go on and on..

  3. […] Hanging Up in Chinese | Sinosplice: Life in China. […]

  4. In this case, what would be considered as rude ?
    Hanging up in the middle of a sentence without warning ?

  5. Here in Taiwan, the end of a phone conversation is either “hao…..hao…..” or the Taiwan/Minnan equivalent, “Ho…..hohohohoho…..aho.” or something in between.

  6. Hm, if you say “就这样” in person, does it have any connotation of wanting to end the conversation?

  7. Tony: The point of the post was that these phrases are not rude, they just sound rude. BTW, nobody says “it’s over” on the phone unless… well, it’s “over” in the worst way.

    I mostly hear my girlfriend ending her conversations in a series of 嗯s, though. Like:

    好。嗯。嗯。嗯嗯嗯。好。嗯。拜拜。嗯。嗯。拜拜!哼。

  8. I hear #1 fairly often, but in 5 years in Taiwan I’ve never heard #2 or #3! They sound brutal.

    Either 就這樣 or a stream of 好s and okays interspersed with ever increasing frequency seem to be the way my friends do it.

  9. Geez, Poagao beat me to the punch again.

  10. Henning Says: May 14, 2008 at 2:55 am

    My wife actually uses the literal equivalents in German: “OK ich rede nicht mehr mit Dir!”. It comes over so harsh I have always taken it as a joke (that sick, 撒娇-kind of female Chinese joke), but now I see clearer.

    Sometimes she does it the soft way Ben described above (falling asleep on the phone). Or she starts doing something else (preferably noisy) that signals she has switched focus.

    Newest variant: She hands the phone over to my 3 year old son who immediately starts describing things I don’t see (“Diese da! Kaputt ‘macht!” “Welche?” “Na, diese, diese!”) or repeats his favourite one-sentence-stories (“Kaffeemaschine kaputt!” “Schaufel weg – Komisch!”). When I hang up after felt 90 minutes he gets mad and complains to my wife: “爸爸又挂了!”

  11. Since saying goodbye can take forever in Danish phone conversations, I rather like the effective variations from my Chinese friends. They usually say “bye-bye” (actually “babbai”) or “挂了,啊”.

    John’s third variation, 不跟你说了, is one that I’ve only heard when my Chinese friend was actually tired of the discussion, but maybe I’m reading to much into it.

  12. Poor John… you remind me of the fabled English teacher who was asked “Where are you going?” by all his students and fellow teachers in a small town day after day. His paranoia about the government “watching” his every move grew by the day (he figured why else are they asking, if they weren’t directed by the govt. to find out what he was up to). Finally after some months he could take it no more, and full of contempt for the country with way too many spies he left once and for all, writing out his complaints in lucid detail on his blog. As it turns out, all those students were translating the very innocent “你去哪儿?” to English.

    I never had any worries about the three phrases you mention, though once I had a girlfriend misunderstand my sentence on the phone four times when I finally said 算了吧 in an attempt to get her to change the subject. For whatever reason in the particular context it meant “Let’s break up!” She freaked out and it took a half hour to convince her I had no such intentions.

  13. 管你屁事 has always been my favourite “conversation closer”. People tend to call you a lot less once you’ve used it a few times as well, so there’s a certain advantage there.

  14. 就这样 (”That’s it.”) as john tranlated is not that accurate. Better translation would be “okay, Its settled then”.. It assumes that 2 person had a discussion, and arrived at a agreed course of action.. 就这样 , is used..and so when both party has agreed, then reason being than there is not much else to talk about.. so its time to end the conversion, hangin up..so this is where this term comes from…

  15. I’ve noticed that all of these “goodbyes” usually have the “啊” after them, which I think kind of softens the abrupt curtness that seems to make them rude. The “啊” almost seems like an “OK?”, checking to see if the person is OK with the fact that you are indeed “done talking to them”.

  16. According to my friend…
    statement: 我不跟你说了
    threat: 我不跟你说

  17. My Shanghainese friend ends her phone conversations with a long series of 好的,好的,好的,好的… until there’s no more dialog, and then hangs up.

  18. I’ve most often heard version #3 as 不说了, sometimes with 啊 tagged on the end.

  19. and 我打扰你了 as the beginning of the end

  20. Is it possible for you to post audio of these various hangup lines for us beginning Chinese students?

    Also what do you say in response to these lines? “Okay”?

  21. 就这样 is possibly one of the most useful phrases in Chinese that I have ever came across, and I have never seen it in any textbook. I think John’s translation of “that’s it” is right on the money. I use it all the time when I am ordering food, and want to tell the waitress “that’s everything.” To add a little emphasis, stick a 吧 on the end.

  22. 我挂了

    You forgot to say that each person has to alternate saying this 5 times in a row. That is what my wife and my mother-in-law do, anyway. Drives me insane.

  23. this article let me remeber of <>. ross say goodbye with his chinese girlfriend. hehe that’s so funny. haha
    真的好依依不舍哦。呵呵
    “依依不舍” how do you say in English?

  24. I agree with jim. You forgot to say sometimes people repeat these phrases several times before they actually hang up. I never know the perfect timing to hang up, so I usually end up saying 恩,好,bye-bye, 恩,啊 for several minutes before I actually put down the phone.

  25. 屠宗华 Says: May 16, 2008 at 1:59 am

    Care to write about something more pressing than telephone calls?

    The toll stands at 19,500 dead and 70,000 missing in Wenchuan with numbers only set to rise. Please give this disaster the coverage it deserves. Here in the United States, it was on the front page for a day and many of my friends have no clue what’s happening over there.

    If not for the China based readers, please do it for those living in Western countries. Thank you.

  26. 屠宗华,

    Thanks for the comment. If I need any help deciding what to write on my personal blog, I’ll be sure to let you know.

  27. All three ways to end a conversation on the phone are sure valid John, just better only use them among people you know well. They are casual, so not suited for some circumstances.

    The first one, you can add a “吧” to soft the tone. It becomes “就这样吧”,much better. You need to be careful about the second one, “挂“ also means “dead, killed, KIA” in spoken language. Taken out of context, “我挂了” definitely means “I’m done for”. And I would avoid using the third one. It’s considered OK only if followed by things like “I’ll need to get back to something” , “it’s very late now” or “I’ve taken too much of your time”. Try to use “我们下次再说“, sounds less like refusing.

    But of course, if it’s a call between friends, feel free to tell them to F@#k off.

  28. It would be great if you would supply pinyin for the illiterate among us?!! In all your free time of course! 😉 Thanks for the info.

  29. Here you go:
    就这样 jiu4 zhe4 yang4
    就这样吧 jiu4 zhe4 yang4 ba (“吧ba” is a soft/light tone that ends naturally)
    我挂了 wo3 gua4 le (”了le” is the same case as “吧ba” above)
    我不跟你说了 wo3 bu4 gen1 ni3 shuo1 le (”了le” here is same as above)
    我们下次再说 wo3 men xia4 ci4 zai4 shuo1 (“们men” here is a soft tone, but men1 can do as well. Just don’t emphasize on the pronunciation of it.)

  30. The layout of my last post seems screwed up, hopefully it’s still understandable. Sorry about that.

  31. 我不说了 (wo bu shuo le) (I no talk now) “I’m done talking.”

    Yah, I had the exact same reaction: Did I bore them? Did I say something wrong? Do they hate me now? Did I just accidentally insult them.

    When in actuality, it more reflects a casualness and closeness between the parties, rather than all the honorifics and set phrases when two people are not so close.

    This “factoid” should be in all the beginner books.

    我不说了。

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