French Greetings and Good-Byes
3 of 10 in Series: The Essentials of French Words and Phrases for Traveling
Knowing some common French greetings and good-byes will be indispensable when traveling in French-speaking countries. Saying hello and good-bye in French will quickly become second nature because you'll use them day in and day out with everyone you come across.
In most French-speaking countries it's considered good manners to greet everyone. So, whether you're speaking to a clerk, a waiter, or just bumping into someone on the street, take the time to say a polite bonjour before you proceed. This also means that when step on the bus or train you should say a quick bonjour to anyone within hearing distance.
The most common ways to greet someone in French are:
Salut. (Hello; Hi. [Informal])
Bonjour. (Hello; Good morning.)
Bonsoir. (Good evening.)
You might think that you can use good afternoon (bon après-midi) as a greeting the way you can in the United States, but in most French-speaking countries, bon après-midi should only be used to as a form of goodbye.
Greeting with a cheek kiss
Cheek kissing is another common type of greeting in most French-speaking countries. However, the rules for cheek kisses can be complicated matter. The rules change depending on the country you're in and even the region of the country. For example, in Belgium, it's customary to greet everyone in your generation or younger with one kiss, but anyone that's a generation or more older than you should be given three kiss (right cheek-left-then right again). In Paris, most people stick to a four-kiss rule, but in most of the rest of France, two kisses is the norm.
If you think that's confusing, you're right. The good news is that when you meet someone for the first time, you can usually just shake hands. Then just watch how other people interact. Because it's such a common practice, you should quickly be able to determine what the standard is where you're staying.
How are you? How's it going?
Asking how someone is doing is a common greeting in the U.S. How many times a day do we hear or say these brief greetings at the beginning of our conversations? So many times, in fact, that half the time, we don't even pay attention. These pleasantries are common in French-speaking countries as well.
The most common ways to ask how someone is doing are:
Comment ça va? (How’s it going?)
Comment vas-tu? (How are you? [Informal])
Comment allez-vous? (How are you? [Formal])
Ça va? (How’s it going? [Informal])
As you'd expect, when someone asks you how you're doing, there are many possible responses.
Ça va bien. It’s going well.)
Tout va bien. (Everything is going well.)
Je vais bien, merci. (I’m fine, thank you.)
Je vais très bien. (I’m very well.)
Je ne vais pas très bien. (I’m not doing very well.)
Je vais comme-ci, comme-ça. (I’m so-so.)
Once you've said that you're fine, or good, or so-so, it is customary to ask how the other person is doing. You can do this easily by saying Et toi? (And you? [informal]) or Et vous? (And you? [formal]).
As many ways as there are to greet someone, you'll find plenty of ways say goodbye, as well.
Au revoir. (Good-bye.)
Salut. (Good-bye. [Informal])
À bientôt. (See you soon.)
À tout de suite. (See you in a minute.)
À plus tard. (See you later.)
À la prochaine. (Until next time.)
À demain. (See you tomorrow.)
À la semaine prochaine. (See you next week.)
À lundi. (See you on Monday.)
Bonne journée! (Have a good day!)
Bonne chance! (Good luck!)
Bonne nuit. (Good night. Used only when someone is going to sleep or retiring for the evening.)
Aside from a few exceptions, final consonants aren’t pronounced in French. Pronounce a final consonant only if it’s followed by a vowel.