Whether you plan to visit a French-speaking country or just want to learn the language, being able to greet people appropriately is an important basic knowledge. This is especially important in French since Francophones tend to be much more formal with greetings. The most common way to say "hello" in French is "bonjour" (bon-yur). However, as with any language, there are many different ways to greet people in French depending on the context and familiarity with the other person.
Method 1 of 3: Greet strangers
Step 1. Use “bonjour” (bon-yur) to greet people in any context
"Bonjour" is the standard way of saying "hello" in France. When greeting strangers, it really is the only way to say "hello." Since the French are very formal about greetings, an informal or casual greeting would be inappropriate with someone you don't know, particularly if the person is older or in a position of authority.
- Although the word "bonjour" literally means "good morning", it is appropriate to use it at any time of the day. The French have no equivalent for "good morning" or "good afternoon" in Spanish.
- You may already know that “au revoir” is the way to say “goodbye” in French. However, you are much more likely to hear "bonne journée" (bon yur-né), which means "have a nice day." It also matches well with “bonjour” (you just add another syllable), so it's easy to remember.
the "r" at the end of "bonjour" is barely pronounced. With some native French speakers, you won't even hear it. Without it, the word sounds more like "bon-yu."
Step 2. Change to “bonsoir” (bon-suá) at night
After sunset, "bonsoir" is a little more accurate than "bonjour." This greeting literally means "good night" and is usually used in more formal contexts or when greeting people you do not know, although you can also use it between friends.
As with "bonjour," there is a well-matched phrase that you can use to say "goodbye" at night. "Bonne soirée" (bon sua-ré) means "have a good night."
"Bonsoir" is a relatively formal evening greeting. If you are meeting friends and family, you would normally say "bonjour", even late at night.
Step 3. Answer the phone with “allô” (ah-lo)
This greeting sounds like "hello" in Spanish and is only used to answer the phone. It could be considered formal since you don't know the person on the other end of the line, but you would never tell anyone in person.
If you are the caller, when someone answers with "allô", reply with "bonjour". You wouldn't normally say "allô"
Step 4. Say “enchanté” (an-shan-té) after introductions
Literally translated, this word means "nice to meet you," but it's a common greeting after introducing yourself or being introduced to someone. It is particularly common among adults and youth who meet at a party or other festive occasion.
- When talking to a woman, an extra “e” is included at the end of the word: “enchantée”. However, the pronunciation is the same. You would only need to remember this rule for writing.
- Unlike other greetings, "enchanté" is only used once; when you are introduced to someone for the first time.
Method 2 of 3: Use informal greetings
Step 1. Say “salut” (sa-lu) in casual situations with friends
"Salut" is a casual and informal greeting, basically the equivalent of saying "hello" in Spanish. However, you would never use this greeting in French unless you already know the person you are greeting. It would not be considered appropriate to use "salut" to greet a stranger.
- "Salut" is also used if you have a basic familiarity with someone, even if they are not exactly friends. For example, if you go to the same coffee shop every morning to buy coffee, the barista might say “salut” as a sign that they recognize you from previous visits.
- You will also hear “salut” on French TV shows or YouTube channels, where it is used to communicate a level of familiarity between the speaker and the audience.
- When greeting a child, you can say “salut, toi” (sa-lu tuá). It means, “hey you” but is said in a fun and playful way.
"Salut" can be used as both "hello" and "bye", similar to the word "ciao" in Italian.
Step 2. Try saying “coucou” (cu-cu) to be adorable and playful with friends
"Coucou" is the most casual and cheerful way to greet someone in French. It is popular with children, but many young people also use it, particularly young women.
- Adults also use "coucou" when they are acting silly or ridiculous. Remember, though, that this is a wildly informal greeting and should never be used with someone you are supposed to show respect to, like a teacher or boss at work, even if they treat each other relatively friendly.
- As with “salut, toi”, you can also say “coucou, toi”.
Step 3. Jump directly to “ça va” (sa va) without saying “hello” first
In Spanish, when greeting someone you know, it is common to simply say "¿Qué tal?" or "How are you doing?" without saying "hello" first. The equivalent in French is simply to say “ça va?”. Other ways of saying “ça va” include:
- "Quoi de neuf?" (cua d'nuff): What's new?
- "Ça roule?" (sa rul): How are you doing?
- "Comment ça va?" (as it goes): How are you?
- "Quoi de beau?" (cua d'bo): What's good about it?
As in Spanish, it is common for the French to respond by saying “ça va” (which means “well” or “everything is going well”) no matter how they really feel.
Step 4. Use “tiens” (ti-yen) as an interjection when you see a friend
By saying "tiens" as an interjection when you see a friend, it essentially means "There you are!" It is also the equivalent of saying "hey!" or "How are you?" in Spanish.
- You could say it every time you see a friend. However, it is more common when you see a friend in an unexpected place or after a long time.
- In this context, "tiens" is similar to "voilà" (vua-la), which you might also hear used.
Method 3 of 3: Observe the French Label
Step 1. Greet people in stores even if you're just looking
Every time you enter a store or establishment, it is important to say “bonjour” to the people who work there. The French consider it rude to enter a place without greeting the owner or the employees.
If you walk into a shop or cafe in France, the people who work there will usually say “bonjour” to you. To be polite, just reply with "bonjour" as well
Step 2. Say “bonjour” before asking any questions or starting any conversation
In many other cultures, it is common to just walk up to someone and ask any question you want. However, the French consider it rude. Greet the other person with a “bonjour” before beginning to speak to them.
This also applies to waiters in restaurants. When a waiter comes over to take your order, you would normally say “bonjour” before you start ordering what you want to eat or drink (unless you've already said “bonjour” before)
Step 3. Use “rebonjour” (rre-bon-yur) if you see someone more than once in a day
The French usually only say "bonjour" to you once a day. If you say “bonjour” to someone twice, they might think you forgot about the previous conversation. If you meet someone a second time, you can say “rebonjour” (literally “rehola” or “hello again”) to acknowledge that they have already spoken previously.
Young people often shorten it to "re" (rre). The shortened form is more casual and should only be used with people you know
Step 4. Exchange air kisses when greeting friends
The etiquette for greeting people in French varies depending on your relationship with that person and the general situation in which the greeting occurs. However, when greeting close friends, air kisses (faire la bise) are common among French people.
- The specific custom varies depending on the region and local customs. Although kisses usually start on the right cheek and then move to the left, in some areas it is considered common to greet with 3 or even 4 kisses.
- Girlfriends are more likely to greet each other with kisses than men, although some men also faire la bise.
- If you are not clear about the habit, let the other person lead and try to follow the best you can.
Although hugs are common in some other cultures, the French view hugs as an invasion of privacy. Only hug someone if you have a romantic relationship with that person or if they are a close relative.
Step 5. Shake hands in business settings
If you're meeting someone for work, a handshake is much more common when greeting someone. It is also common in formal situations or when meeting someone for the first time.
- Men are more likely to shake hands rather than faire la bise, regardless of the situation.
- In some industries, particularly the arts, air kisses are a common greeting, even when meeting someone for the first time.