So let’s see the many different ways to say hello in French.
Bonjour: the Most Common Way to say hello in French
Saying “bonjour” has to be the most common way of saying hello in French. And it’s usually accompanied by a “bisous à la française” – a kiss on the cheeks – or a firm hand shake. Note we do not hug in France when we greet each other.
A Polite Way to Say Hello in French
Note that it is much more polite to follow this “bonjour” by “Madame” (for a lady), “Monsieur” (for a man) or “Mademoiselle” (tricky… for a younger woman: read my article about this Madame or Mademoiselle, a delicate question)
So, when saying hello in French, try to get in the habit of saying:
- Bonjour Madame
- Bonjour Monsieur
- Bonjour mademoiselle
- or Bonjour Camille if you are on a first-name basis with the person
- Bonjour monsieur Dupont – for more formal occasions.
When a politician adresses the nation, he usually starts his speech with Bonjour Mesdames, bonjour Messieurs…
Saying Hello in French to a Large Group of People
If you were to enter a room full of people, like at the boulangerie (bakery) when there is a line, you may then just greet everybody with a general “bonjour”.
When I start my French videos, I usually say “bonjour à tous” !
How to Say “Hi” in French?
Many French people use “salut” to say hello in a relaxed, informal manner.
So, I’ve met many American students who therefore concluded that “salut” meant ‘hi’ in French. And it’s a big mistake.
See, in the US I would say ‘hi’ all the time : to my friends, but also at the grocery, or greeting the postman.
I would NEVER use “salut” at the grocery or talking to the postman to say “Hi” in French! I would say “Bonjour”.
“Salut” is used among peers… Now, this is also a question of social class. I’m sorry I cannot be PC here, but social class counts a lot in France. Someone from a blue collar class may easily use “salut”, even with total strangers if he feels they belong to the same social class.
Someone from a white collar class would only use “salut” with friends or acquaintances, but not strangers.
Of course, it’s difficult to write about what “people” do and don’t do… There always are exceptions to all stereotypes. Yet I thought this was worth mentioning.
What does “Coucou” Mean?
That’s my personal favorite way to say hello in French. I use it a lot. Use “coucou” with all my friends and family. There is really no US English equivalent… It’s a bit like ‘toodaloo’ in British English except that ‘toodaloo’ is used to say goodbye!
If you study French with my French audiobook learning method, you’ll learn all these expressions with audio within the context of an ongoing novel.
Now let’s see how to say hello in French in particular occasions.
Bonsoir – Hello in French – But in the Evening
When you greet someone with “Hello” in French in the evening, you can say “bonsoir“. Same as with “bonjour”, it’s more polite to use something after “bonsoir”;
- Bonsoir madame
- Bonsoir monsieur,
- Bonsoir mademoiselle,
- Bonsoir Camille
- Bonsoir Monsieur Dupont…
When do you start saying bonsoir in France? Even the French don’t agree… Read the article on the Local.fr for more info on that subject.
Allô ? Hello in French but Only on the Phone
I understand there was a famous TV show called “Allô, Allô” and therefore many English speakers are convinced that “Allô” is a common way to say hello in French.
Only it is not. We only use “Allô” to say hello in French on the phone. On the phone, you use “Allô” when you answer the phone, so with a rising questioning voice : “Allô” ?
And then you may start speaking by using it again “Allô, bonjour, c’est Camille”… or skip it “Bonjour, c’est Camille”.
So the beginning of a phone conversation could go this way:
More about the French Phone vocabulary in my article.
If you’ve already said hello to someone and run into them again, it’s common to say “rebonjour“: “bonjour again”, if you want…
Skipping Hello in France – A Big Mistake
Some people may skip the “bonjour” part and go directly to another greeting like “ça va” (how are you)… but it’s not that common.
In any case, whether you use the word “bonjour” or not, you should always take the time to greet people in France. It’s considered quite rude to go ahead and ask a question without first saying hello in French.
Oh! And please smile !! I really don’t know who decided that you shouldn’t smile in France!! A smile will open so many doors, and it’s so much nicer to talk to people when they smile.
Now, if you are a young lady entering a bar full of men and say “bonjour” with a huge smile, you may get some unwanted attention… But outside of this context, please do smile :-)
What About Kissing Hello in France?
When French people say hello, they will either kiss or shake hands. Sometimes just wave – like a teenager may do – but it’s not common.
As I am writing this article, we are in the middle of the Covid 19 crisis, and for safety reasons, the French respect the social distancing and hold on kissing or shaking hands. Will this crisis affect the way French people say hello? I don’t know… Only time will tell!
In any case kissing in France definitely deserves another article !