Updated: Mar 31, 2020
Let’s see… what are my options for greeting someone in France? Bonjour ? Salut ? Are there others? When French people ask ça va ?, do they really want to know how I’m doing? Julie Beaufort breaks it down and gives you the full scoop!
Different Countries Are... Well, Different!
Of course, in some countries it literally takes 5 min to greet someone with multiple pleasantries. In others, you don’t even need a greeting and you go straight to the point of your conversation. And in others, you’ll say “Hi, how are you today?” to just anyone you meet on the street, even though you don’t know them from Adam, and really don’t expect an answer.
Lots Of Options―
Formal Situations With Strangers
In France, depending on where you are and who you meet, there are lots of different ways to greet. Here's how it goes in a formal situation with someone you really don't know, like a shopkeeper, a bank teller, or an official at the airport:
In formal situations it's simple. People generally just say Bonjour, or Bonjour Madame / Bonjour Monsieur. They probably won’t ask you how you are, and won’t expect you to ask them. Occasionally you will meet an exceptionally gracious (or perhaps well-trained) clerk at a hotel or airline who will add, Comment allez-vous ?
They're really not interested in what you had for breakfast, so you can keep it simple by just replying back, Bonjour or Bonjour Madame. If they added, Comment allez-vous ? you can simply reply, Très bien, merci. And if you're feeling gracious yourself, you can add, Et vous ?
“C’est vendredi aujourd’hui, ça va très bien ! ”
Less Formal Situations With Acquaintances
In a less formal situation with an acquaintance that you have come to know a bit―at work with your boss, or a not-so close-colleague; the desk clerk in your hotel that you see every day; at the boulangerie where you buy coffee and croissants every morning―here's what you need to know:
We (me...the French!) will say, Bonjour, comment allez-vous ?, or a bit less formally and more friendly, but still not familiar, Bonjour, comment ça va ? And if you’re doing the greeting and you're feeling cheerful, you can add, aujourd’hui, or, ce matin to the end of your question. You’ll definitely sound bilingual!
Now you can get a bit more creative. You certainly can answer with a simple ça va, but now you’ve got the opportunity to go a bit further and speak a little more French! Now you can tell them something about yourself:
Un peu fatigué(e), mais ça va ! Et vous ?
Très occupé(e) au travail en ce moment, mais tout va bien, et vous ?
C’est vendredi aujourd’hui, ça va très bien !
Informal Situations With Friends
So now we're meeting up friends à la terrasse d'un café, or sharing a drink at a bar.
Salut, ça va bien ?
Salut, tu vas bien ?
Salut, ça roule ? (does it roll?) Very relaxed greeting.
Salut, ça baigne ? (does it bathe?) REALLY REALLY relaxed greeting. They'll think you're fluent for sure.
Now that you're really relaxed, you can go for it―
Ooooooooooohhh la la, non, ça ne va pas du tout!... (now you can talk about your day's dramas...)
Je viens de me faire virer. (I just got fired.)
Je suis malade. (I am sick.)
Mon pain au chocolat n’avait presque pas de chocolat dedans ! C’est horrible ! (My pain au chocolat had almost no chocolate inside! That's awful!)
Remember that we French love complaining―it’s a national sport, so let yourself be creative here! Notice that when we get to the "friends" category we switch from vous verb forms to tu verb forms.
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