Ways to Say Hello in French: A Cultural Guide for Foreigners


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In France, greetings are more than just a way to start a conversation; they are an essential aspect of the cultural fabric. Understanding and using the appropriate French greetings is about language proficiency and showing respect and fitting in with the local customs.

We guide you through the various ways of saying hello in French. Whether you are a tourist on a short visit or a foreign resident going through daily life, these insights will help you communicate effectively and respectfully.

You’ll learn the words and the context in which they are used, helping you feel more confident and integrated in your interactions with the locals.


  • “Bonjour” and “Bonsoir” are essential greetings for various times of the day.
  • Use “Salut” for casual, friendly interactions.
  • In formal contexts, pair greetings with “Monsieur” or “Madame.”
  • Regional greetings reflect France’s diverse cultural heritage.
  • Adjust greetings based on the social or professional setting.
  • Non-verbal cues like “la bise” and handshakes are significant in greetings.
  • Greet shopkeepers and neighbors to show respect and courtesy.
  • Pronunciation and context are key to sounding natural in French.

Basic French Greetings

“Bonjour” – The Universal French Greeting

“Bonjour” is undoubtedly the most widely used greeting in France and can be considered a cornerstone of French social interactions. Literally translating to “good day,” it is versatile and suitable for almost all settings.

Whether you’re entering a shop, meeting a colleague at work, or simply passing a neighbor on the street, “Bonjour” is your go-to greeting. It’s important to note that “Bonjour” is used throughout the day, right up until the evening.

“Salut” – The Casual Greeting

For a more informal approach, “Salut” is the perfect choice. This greeting translates to “hi” in English and is generally reserved for casual, friendly encounters. You might use “Salut” when greeting friends, peers, or people of a similar age group. It’s a warm, friendly way to say hello but should be avoided in formal or professional contexts.

Remember, while “Salut” is informal, it still carries the charm and courtesy typical of French interactions.

Formal and Polite Greetings

“Bonsoir” – For Evening Encounters

When the day turns to evening, the French switch their greetings from “Bonjour” to “Bonsoir,” meaning “good evening.” This transition is not just a linguistic preference but a mark of cultural etiquette. Typically, “Bonsoir” is used around 6 PM or later, but this can vary depending on the region and the season.

In professional settings, social gatherings, or when meeting someone for the first time in the evening, “Bonsoir” is the appropriate greeting to use, reflecting both respect and awareness of the time of day.

“Madame, Monsieur” – Formal Address

In France, addressing someone formally is a sign of respect, especially in professional environments or when interacting with someone older or in a position of authority. Using “Madame” for women and “Monsieur” for men, often preceding your greeting, sets a tone of respect and politeness.

For instance, saying “Bonjour, Madame” or “Bonsoir, Monsieur” in a formal meeting, a high-end store, or when addressing a senior citizen is not just polite, but expected. This level of formality is deeply ingrained in French culture and is a key component of respectful communication.

Region-Specific Greetings

France’s rich cultural tapestry is reflected in its diverse regional languages and dialects. These regional variations extend to greetings as well, adding a unique local flavor to your interactions. Understanding these nuances can deepen your connection with specific French regions and their inhabitants.

Greetings Unique to Certain French Regions

Brittany (Bretagne): In Brittany, you might hear “Demat,” which means “hello” in Breton, the traditional Celtic language of the region. It’s a greeting that reflects the strong regional identity and history of Brittany.

Alsace: In Alsace, which has historical ties with Germany, you might encounter a blend of French and Alsatian German in greetings. “Guten Tag” can be heard alongside “Bonjour,” especially in the more rural areas, symbolizing the region’s unique bilingual heritage.

Occitanie (Southern France): In the south, particularly in Occitanie, you might come across “Adishatz” or “Bonjour” spoken with a distinct southern accent. Occitan, the historical language of the region, still influences the way locals greet each other.

Corsica: On the island of Corsica, “Bonghjornu” is the Corsican way of saying hello. This greeting is a fine example of the island’s unique blend of French and Italian influences.

Northern France: In some parts of Northern France, especially in rural communities, you may still hear “Bonjour” accompanied by local dialects, which adds a certain warmth and character to the greeting.

Greetings in Different Contexts

ways to say hello in french

Navigating the social nuances of French greetings requires an understanding of the context in which they are used. The way you greet someone in France can vary significantly depending on the setting, whether it’s a professional environment, a casual social gathering, or a more formal occasion.

BonjourUniversal, DaytimeSuitable for most settings, formal and informal.
SalutCasual, FriendlyUsed among friends or informal social gatherings.
BonsoirEveningUsed after 6 PM in formal and social situations.
Madame/MonsieurFormal AddressShows respect in professional or formal settings.
Regional GreetingsSpecific to RegionsReflect local culture and language.
La BiseClose Friends/FamilyCheek kiss, varies in number depending on region.
HandshakeProfessional/FormalA firm, brief handshake is common.

Professional Settings

In professional contexts, it’s essential to lean towards the more formal side of greetings. “Bonjour” followed by “Monsieur” or “Madame” is a standard and respectful way to greet colleagues, superiors, and clients. Even in less formal work environments, starting with a polite “Bonjour” sets a positive tone for the interaction. Remember, first impressions are crucial in professional settings, and a proper greeting can go a long way in establishing respect and credibility.

Social Settings

When it comes to social settings, the greeting you choose can vary based on your relationship with the people you are meeting. With close friends and family, “Salut” is perfectly acceptable and conveys a sense of warmth and familiarity.

In more formal social situations, such as a dinner party with acquaintances or meeting someone’s family for the first time, sticking with “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” is advisable. This shows politeness and respect for the social norms. Additionally, in these settings, it’s common to greet people with “la bise” (a cheek kiss), which varies in number depending on the region.

Ways to Say Hello in French: Non-Verbal Greetings

In France, non-verbal cues are just as important as the spoken word when it comes to greetings. These gestures can convey respect, familiarity, and social etiquette without saying a word. Two of the most significant non-verbal greetings in French culture are the cheek kiss, known as “la bise,” and the handshake.

The French Cheek Kiss (La Bise)

“La bise” is a common non-verbal greeting among friends and family, and sometimes in casual professional contexts. It involves lightly touching cheeks and making a kissing sound, usually starting on the left cheek. The number of kisses varies by region, ranging from one to four. While “la bise” is a sign of friendliness and affection, it’s important to gauge the situation and the comfort level of the people involved, as it’s more personal than a handshake.

Handshakes and Other Gestures

The handshake is a universal greeting in professional and formal settings. In France, a firm and brief handshake is the norm. It’s a gesture of both greeting and departure. In more casual settings, a wave or a nod can also suffice, especially in group situations or when addressing someone at a distance.

Understanding these non-verbal forms of greeting is crucial in French culture. They are not just gestures but are imbued with social significance, conveying respect, warmth, or professionalism depending on the context. Mastering both verbal and non-verbal greetings will greatly enhance your ability to communicate effectively and blend in with the social fabric of France.

Greetings in Special Situations

Navigating greetings in France also involves understanding the subtleties of special situations. These scenarios may require a blend of both verbal and non-verbal cues, depending on the context and the people involved.

Greeting Shopkeepers and Service Personnel

In France, it is customary to greet shopkeepers and service personnel when entering and leaving a business establishment. A simple “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir,” accompanied by “Monsieur” or “Madame,” is not just polite but almost expected. This form of greeting is a sign of respect and acknowledgment of the person’s presence. It’s a small gesture, but it plays a significant role in the courteous and formal nature of French business etiquette.

Greeting Neighbors and Acquaintances

When encountering neighbors or acquaintances, a polite “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” is appropriate. In these situations, the choice between a handshake, “la bise,” or a simple nod and smile depends on your relationship’s closeness and familiarity. In more rural or tight-knit communities, it’s common to exchange a brief greeting or a wave even with those you don’t know well, as it fosters a sense of community and friendliness.

Understanding and employing the right type of greeting in these special situations can help foreigners feel more integrated and comfortable in their daily interactions in France. It demonstrates not only a grasp of the language but also a respect for the nuances of French social customs.

Tips for Pronunciation and Usage

Mastering French greetings is not just about knowing the right words; it’s also about pronouncing them correctly and using them appropriately. Here are some tips to help you sound more natural and confident when delivering greetings in French.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

  • Pronunciation of “Bonjour”: It’s pronounced bon-zhoor, with a nasal sound on the ‘n’ and a soft ‘j’ sound.
  • Overusing “Tu”: Be cautious with using “tu” (the informal ‘you’) when greeting someone. Stick to the formal “vous” in most new or formal encounters until a mutual agreement to use “tu” is established.
  • Misusing “Salut”: Remember, “Salut” is informal. Avoid using it in professional or formal situations.

Tips for Sounding More Natural

  • Practice the Rhythm: French speech has a distinct rhythm. Listen to native speakers and try to mimic the flow and melody of their greetings.
  • Use Gestures: Accompany your greetings with appropriate gestures, like a nod or a slight smile, to add authenticity to your interaction.
  • Learn Regional Variations: If you’re in a specific region, learning the local way of greeting can be a great way to connect with locals.

Understanding Contextual Use

  • Time of Day Matters: Use “Bonjour” during the day and switch to “Bonsoir” in the evening (typically after 6 PM).
  • Follow the Lead: In a new social situation, let others initiate the greeting style, whether it’s “la bise” or a handshake, and follow suit.

Related: Best Apps for Learning French: Master French Easily

Useful Phrases to Accompany Greetings

In French conversation, greetings are often followed by small talk or courteous inquiries. Knowing some common phrases to use after the initial greeting can help in making your interactions smoother and more engaging.

Small Talk Phrases Following Greetings

  • “Comment ça va?” (How are you?): This is a casual and common follow-up to a greeting among acquaintances or friends. The formal version is “Comment allez-vous?”
  • “Quoi de neuf?” (What’s new?): This phrase is typically used in informal settings and is a friendly way to show interest in the other person’s life.
  • “Il fait beau aujourd’hui.” (It’s nice out today.): Commenting on the weather is a universal icebreaker and a safe topic to bring up after a greeting.

Responding to Common Questions

  • Responding to “Comment ça va?”: A simple “Ça va bien, merci. Et vous?” (I’m fine, thank you. And you?) is a polite response.
  • When asked “Quoi de neuf?”: You can reply with “Pas grand-chose” (Not much), or share a brief, positive update about yourself.
  • Replying to comments on the weather: Agreeing with a simple “Oui, c’est agréable” (Yes, it’s pleasant) or adding your own observation can keep the conversation light and friendly.

Make sure to also check out our guide to the different ways of saying goodbye in French.

ABOUT Amelie

Amélie, our devoted Relocation Expert at SimpleFrance.com. Born and raised in Lyon, Amélie possesses a profound grasp of French culture, traditions, and way of life, which she leverages to offer you unparalleled relocation guidance

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