Greetings are essential to language: We greet not just out of politeness, but also to acknowledge each other’s presence or express happiness when seeing a friend. Greetings are also one of the first verbal routines acquired by children and they are usually the first thing you learn in any language class. Knowing how to say hello in French is therefore a great place to start your language learning journey!
So, you’ve probably already heard the classic, bonjour. However, did you know that there are more options when it comes to greeting someone in French? There’s more regional, social and contextual variety than you might think!
Say Hello In French
Let’s begin our journey with how to say hello in French, in France. It’s true that people there greet each other with bonjour during the day — but as soon as the evening starts (around 6 or 7 pm), you’ll be greeted with bonsoir (good evening).
If you already know the person you’re greeting a little bit better (we’re talking friendly neighbors, here), you would say salut. This is like saying “hi” in English. It’s 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’re close to someone and want to try a more personal greeting, use coucou. This onomatopoeia is said to come from the sound the cuckoo bird makes, a call that French children imitate when playing games like hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo.
European French Dialects
Even within France, there are different ways to say hello in French based on location or 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 greet each other with Ça getz? or Ça gets maul? (two more ways to ask how someone’s doing).
While visiting Switzerland, you’ll likely hear adieu (literally, “to God”). This greeting is used particularly in more rural environments, and only if you know the other person quite well. It’s similar to the Austrian and southern German greeting, Grüß Gott.
A World Of French Greetings
If you happen to be meeting up with friends in the lovely region of Québec, Canada, you’ll likely be greeted with allô (hi) or Allô! Ça va bien? (literally, “Hi! It goes well?”). You might even hear bon matin (good morning) in the early hours of the day.
Meanwhile, if you find yourself in the African country of Togo, 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?”) immediately afterwards, indicating the important role close family plays in many West African cultures.
We hope you’re now well-equipped to say hello in French! If you’re unsure of 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!