Test-tube baby Charlotte Holmes as the UK's Miss World representative has been drawing attention to the 2012 Miss World contest. Over a hundred young ladies will compete for the crown in Ordos, China, all of them between eighteen to twenty-five years old – hence the term "Miss."
Times are a-changin', and terms of address like "Sir" and "Ma'am" are now falling by the wayside, and considered old-fashioned. Somehow, though, "Miss" has survived and can still be heard in most English speaking countries when addressing a young woman. In China, however, the word "小姐 (xiǎojiě) Miss" is controversial. Many expats in China will walk away dumbfounded after their first experience of hearing a waitress or female friend angrily say, "Don't call me Xiaojie!"
The problem lies in China's size. Different regions have very different slang, and in many parts of China (although not all), "Xiaojie" has taken on a negative and even seedy meaning. Nowadays it is usually used in bars and pubs rather than in daily life. If you have to use "Xiaojie," always try to use the woman's last name as well; for example, 李小姐 (Lǐ xiǎojiě) Miss Li. An even better option is to use "美女 (měinǚ) beauty/beautiful" to address a young woman. This term might sound odd to foreigners' ears, but girls in China will happily accept it as flattery. At official occasions, you can use the word "女士 (nǚshì) Ms./lady."
So even though the word "小姐 (xiǎojiě) Miss" is used by many native speakers, until you have a good grasp of the slang in your region, remember the old saying: better safe than sorry.
Měinǚ, máfan wèn xià zhège duōshao qián?
Mike: 美女，麻烦 问 下 这个 多少 钱？
Hey beautiful, how much for this?
Yì bǎi wǔ.
Tina: 一百 五。
Měinǚ, hái jì de wǒ ma?
Eric: 美女，还记得 我 吗？
Hello beautiful, remember me?
Yuánlái shì lǎo tóngxué a.
Jen: 原来 是 老 同学 啊。
Hey, my old school mate.
Nǚshìmen, xiānshengmen, huānyíng dàjiā cānjiā zhècì de yànhuì.
女士们， 先生们， 欢迎 大家 参加 这次 的 宴会。
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome and we appreciate your attendance at this banquet.