Greetings are essential to language: We greet to acknowledge each other’s presence, to express happiness when seeing a friend, to stay in touch with people, and also to comply with social etiquette. Greetings are one of the first verbal routines acquired by children and usually the first thing you learn in a language class. So are you wondering how to say hello in French? You probably already know the classic bonjour. However, did you know that there are more options when it comes to greeting someone in French? There’s much more regional, social and contextual variety than you might think!
Traditional French Greetings
So, let’s begin our trip in France. It’s true that people greet each other with bonjour during the day — but as soon as the evening starts (around 6 or 7 pm), you will be greeted with bonsoir (Good evening).
If you know the person you are greeting a little bit better, let’s say you live on the same street or are part of the same sports club, you would say salut, which is the equivalent of “hi” in English. It is not uncommon to hear “Salut! Ça va?” (Hi! How are you?), to which people tend to reply with “Bien et toi?” (Well, and you?).
If you are close to someone and want to try a more personal greeting, use coucou. It’s said to come from the sound the cuckoo bird makes, which was adopted by French children as an onomatopoeia when playing hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo.
A World Of Greetings
Even within France, there are different ways to greet people based on culture. In the banlieues (“suburbs”) of Paris, it’s quite common to hear the greeting wesh?, which comes from the Algerian-Arabic phrase “Wach rak?” (How are you?). In the region of Alsace-Lorraine, near Germany, individuals regularly say “Ça getz?” or “Ça gets maul?” as another way to ask each other “How are you?”
Heading to Switzerland, you will likely hear adieu (literally, “to God”), which is used particularly in more rural environments, and only if you know each other quite well. It’s similar to the Austrian and southern German phrase “Grüß Gott.”
However, if you find yourself in the lovely region of Québec, Canada, and are meeting your friends, they will greet you with allô, which is like “Hi,” or maybe with “Allô! Ça va bien?” (literally, “Hi! It goes well?”). You might even hear bon matin in the early hours of the day, which is the equivalent of “good morning.”
Meanwhile, if you’re visiting the country of Togo in Africa, you’ll likely encounter people asking each other “Comment va?“, which is akin to the laid-back “How’s it going?” in English. It’s also quite common to hear “et la famille?” (literally, “And the family?”) afterwards, since one’s close family plays an important role in many West African cultures.
If you’re unsure which greeting to use, don’t worry — you can always follow your conversation partner and repeat what you’ve just heard, or simply nod and smile. Whatever you decide, be sure to answer, as it will often be the beginning of a nice chat!