Saying Hello and Goodbye in Russian
To greet one person with whom you’re on informal ty (tih) terms, use the word Zdravstvuj (zdrah-stvooy; hello). To greet a person with whom you’re on formal vy (vih) terms, use the longer word, Zdravstvujtye (zdrah-stvooy-tee; hello). Note that the first letter “v” in Zdravstvujtye is silent. Otherwise it would be hard even for Russians to pronounce!
Zdravstvujtye is also used to address more than one person. Use it when addressing two or more people even if they’re children, members of your family, or close friends.
The informal way of saying “hello” in Russian is privyet! (pree-vyet) It’s similar to the English “hi,” and you should be on pretty familiar terms with a person before you use this greeting.
Greeting folks at any time of day
You have ways to greet people in Russian, other than the bulky Zdravstvuj or Zdravstvujtye, but how you use these greetings depends on what time of day it is. The most commonly used greetings are as follows
- dobroye utro! (dohb-ruh-ee oo-truh): Good morning! (This is the greeting you use in the morning — until noon.)
- dobryj dyen’! (dohb-rihy dyen’): Good afternoon! (This is the greeting you can use most of the day, except for early in the morning or late at night.)
- dobryj vyechyer! dohb–rihy vye-cheer: Good evening! (This is the greeting you would most likely use in the evening.)
Note that Russians use these expressions only as greetings but not at leave-taking. You can also use these expressions without giving any thought to whether the person you greet should be addressed with ty or vy. No matter whom you greet, you can safely use any of these phrases.
Handling “How are you?”
The easiest and most popular way to ask “How are you?” is Kak dyela? (kahk dee-lah) You use this phrase in rather informal settings, like at parties, meeting a friend on the street, or talking on the phone.
A more formal way to ask “How are you?” is Kak vy pozhivayetye? (kahk vih puh-zhih-vah-ee-tee) You use this phrase when speaking with your boss, your professor, or somebody you’ve just met.
You won’t offend anyone in a formal setting if you say Kak dyela?, but you’re better off sticking to Kak vy pozhivayete? Russians tend to err on the side of more formality rather than less.
A word of caution: In the English-speaking world, “How are you?” is just a standard phrase often used in place of a greeting. The person asking this formulaic question doesn’t expect to get the full account of how you’re actually doing. But in Russia it’s different. They want to know everything! When they ask you how you’re doing, they are in fact genuinely interested in how you’re doing and expect you to give them a more or less accurate account of the most recent events in your life.
How should you reply to Kak dyela? Although optimistic Americans don’t hesitate to say “terrific” or “wonderful,” Russians usually respond with a more reserved Khorosho (khuh-rah-shoh; good) or Normal’no (nahr-mahl’-nuh; normal or okay), or even a very neutral Nichyego (nee-chee-voh; so-so, Literally: nothing) or Nyeplokho (nee-ploh-khuh; not bad).
If you’re truly feeling great, go ahead and answer pryekrasno! (pree-krahs-nuh; wonderful), or vyelikolyepno! (vee-lee-kah-lyep-nuh; terrific). But beware that by saying “terrific” or “wonderful,” you’re putting your Russian friend on guard: Russians know all too well that life is not a picnic. To a Russian, wonderful and terrific events are the exception, not the rule. To be on the safe side, just say either Nichyego or Nyeplokho.
And don’t stop there! Be sure to ask the person how she’s doing. You simply say A u vas? (ah oo vahs; and you?; formal) If you want to be less formal, you say A u tyebya? (ah oo tee-bya; and you?)
Taking your leave
The usual way to say goodbye in almost any situation is Do svidaniya! (duh svee-dah-nee-ye), which literally means “Till (the next) meeting.” If you’re on informal terms with somebody, you may also say Poka (pah-kah; ‘bye or see you later).
The phrase you use while leave-taking in the evening or just before bed is Spokojnoj Nochi (spah-kohy-nuhy noh-chee; Good night). The phrase works both for formal and informal situations.