French greetings: bonjour!

This guide explains French greetings and the utmost importance of using the word Bonjour to address French people. You’ll also learn when and how to greet people in formal and casual settings, as well as how to say goodbye when you’re heading out.

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Bonjour is not optional

The literal translation of Bonjour is good day but Bonjour actually means a lot more than that in France.

The #1 rule is that you absolutely cannot start a conversation in France without saying Bonjour first. French are extremely formal and sensitive when it comes to saying bonjour.

When I moved back to France, I was doing some shopping and I went to ask a store rep where to find some items. Here’s how the conversation went.

Me: Excusez-moi, je cherche les articles de camping.
Excuse me, I’m looking for camping gear.

The store rep turned around to face me, looked me in the eyes and said Bonjour with a large smile. She then quietly waited for me to answer back Bonjour. It was very clear that none of my questions would be answered until I pronounced the magic word Bonjour.

As you can see, Excusez-moi (excuse me) didn’t cut it, even though I felt I was being polite.

French are taught very early on that they have to say Bonjour whenever they meet someone. Since it’s part of the French education, it’s considered utterly rude not to greet someone. Still today, you frequently hear parents tell their kids.

Dis bonjour à la dame.
Say hello to the lady.

French people will not hesitate to tell you off if you don’t greet them, so make sure you never skip saying Bonjour. Don’t underestimate the power of Bonjour in France but consider Bonjour as your magic entry key to any French conversation.

Now that you’ve been warned, let’s take a look at the different ways you can greet people in France.

Bonjour, bonsoir and rebonjour

Bonjour is the greeting of choice in France because it works in both formal and casual settings, with people you don’t know as well as people you already know. The word Bonjour is the equivalent of Hello, Good morning and Good afternoon altogether.

After 6pm, use Bonsoir (good evening) instead of bonjour. Surprisingly, there is no strict rule about what time to switch to bonsoir and it’s very common to hear:

Bonjour !
Good afternoon!

Bonsoir !
Good evening!

Ah oui pardon, bonsoir !
Oh that’s right, good evening!

Bonjour and bonsoir are the only two forms of French greetings you can use throughout the day when you meet someone.

Bonne matinée (good morning) and bon après-midi (good afternoon) can be used when you’re heading out but never when you greet someone.

Obama made that mistake in 2011 when he said Bon après-midi instead of Bonjour to address a French crowd in Cannes.

When you meet the same person multiple times on the same day, you can use the word Rebonjour instead of Bonjour.

Rebonjour !
Hi again!

French greetings in formal settings

Bonjour works in all situations but if you want to be extra polite, you can add Madame (Ms.) or Monsieur (Mr.). This is pretty standard to hear Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur when you enter a French bakery.

Bonjour Madame.
Good morning Ms.

Bonjour Monsieur.
Good morning Mr.

You’ll often hear store owners in France greet kids and teens with:

Bonjour Mademoiselle.
Good morning Miss.

Mademoiselle (Miss) used to be a way to address unmarried women, regardless of their age. The term is now exclusively used to address young girls and it’s no longer based on a woman’s marital status.

Bonjour jeune homme.
Good morning young man.

When you address a room with multiple persons, such as entering a doctor’s waiting room or a small shop, you can use the plural form.

Bonjour messieurs-dames.
Good morning folks.

In the current context of gender non-differentiation, the usage of Monsieur or Madame can be seen as obsolete or old fashioned to say the least, but these French greetings are still very much in use in France.

Using people’s last name in French greetings

In some formal settings such as meeting with your banker, talking to your superior at work, or at your kid teacher’s conference, you can use a person’s last name after Bonjour to show more respect.

Bonjour Madame Dupont.
Good morning Ms. Dupont.

Using people’s first name in French greetings

It’s perfectly fine to use a person’s first name after Bonjour but be careful when you do so. Unlike in the US, you can only call a person by their first name if you know the person personally.

Never call your banker, a store rep or anyone you don’t personally know by their first name. In the workplace, it’s common to call colleagues by their first names in France.

Bonjour Nathalie.
Good morning Nathalie.

Similarly, never call a grownup you’re not close to with endearing names. In France, you’ll never be greeted with Hi honey or Hi sweetie when you step inside a store.

How to say Hi in French?

You can use Salut instead of Bonjour to greet people you know, as well as friends and family. It also works between teens, young adults or at Uni.

Salut, ça va ?
Hi, how are you?

Another common French greeting is Coucou and it works for close friends, family or small kids.

Coucou, ça va ?
Hey, how are you?

A good rule of thumb is to use Salut and Coucou exclusively with people you address using “tu” rather than “vous”.

You typically reply to bonjour with bonjour, bonsoir by bonsoir, salut par salut.

In the south-East region of France, some people use the word Adieu as a greeting.

When to greet French people

In France, it’s considered standard to greet people when you enter a room (for instance a doctor’s waiting room), a small shop or an elevator. It doesn’t have to be a loud Bonjour, it’s usually pretty discreet and it can go with a slight nod of the head.

When I started working in Los Angeles, I shared an office and it would bug me at first when people walked pass me and started talking to my colleague without greeting me.

On the other hand, the few times I had to go to the French consulate in Los Angeles, it felt a little over the top to hear people say Bonjour every two minutes because someone would regularly walk through the main waiting room.

When you’re in a small village, it’s pretty common to greet people you pass by. It’s also considered good manners to greet people when you go on a hike or when you’re strolling around in the countryside.

You’re also supposed to say bonjour before ordering anything at the bakery, the butcher or any small shop.

Bonjour, une baguette s’il vous plaît !
Hello, one baguette please!

At the grocery store, the cashier will always start by saying Bonjour before scanning your items.

Meeting someone for the first time

To show that you are happy to meet someone, you can use the following sentences.

Heureux de faire votre connaissance.
Pleasure to meet you.

Enchanté de vous rencontrer.
Delighted to meet you.

Ravi de vous rencontrer.
Nice to meet you.

How to start a conversation

To strike up a conversation when meeting someone, you can ask the person how he’s doing, the same way you would in English.

Bonjour, comment allez-vous ? very formal
Hello, how are you?

Bonjour, ça va ? less formal
Hello, how are you?

Salut, Ca va ? casual
Hi, how are things?

Salut, quoi de neuf ? casual
Hi, what’s up?

How to reply to Ça va ?

Whenever someone asks you Ça va as a greeting, you’re not supposed to start talking about your health concerns, marital troubles or money issues. No matter how you really feel, you’re supposed to answer that you’re fine. Keep the heavier stuff for later.

Bonjour, comment allez-vous ? formal
Hello, how are you?
Ça va bien, merci, et vous-même ? formal
I’m good thank you, how about you?

Salut, ça va ? casual
Hi, how are you?
Oui bien, et toi ça va? casual
I’m good, how are you?

If you really don’t want the other person to think you’re ok when you’re not, you can answer with “on fait aller” or “ça peut aller”. You could also use the French interjection “bof” to convey your lack of enthusiasm.

Salut, ça va ?
Hi, how are you?
Bof, on fait aller.
I’ve seen better days, how are you?
Ah bon ? Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas ?
Really? what’s wrong?

French greetings when heading out

There are many options when it comes to parting words but the most used one is Au revoir, which literally means See you again. You can use Au revoir even when you know you’ll never see the person again.

Like Bonjour, Au revoir works in formal and casual settings, whether you know the other person or you don’t.

Au revoir !

French borrowed the following farewell from Italy.

Ciao ! casual

Depending on the time of the day, you can wish a good rest of the day when you head out.

Bonne soirée !
Have a good night!

Bonne journée !
Have a good day!

Bon après-midi !
Good afternoon!

Bonne nuit !
Have a good night sleep!

Bon week-end !
Have a good week-end!

Bon dimanche !
Enjoy your Sunday!

The following expressions work both to greet someone and to part with someone.

Bonsoir !
Have a nice evening!
Salut ! casual

Use these parting words to indicate that you’ll see each other again.

À bientôt !
See you soon!

À tout à l’heure !
See you in a few!

À tout ! casual
See ya!

À plus tard !
See you later!

À plus ! casual
See ya!

À la prochaine ! casual
See you next time!

Au plaisir (de vous revoir) !
Looking forward to meet again!

Au plaisir is a rather old-fashioned French greeting, which is short for Au plaisir de vous revoir (looking forward to seeing you again).

If you know when you’ll see the person again, use one of these expressions instead.

À ce soir !
See you tonight!

À demain !
See you tomorrow!

À la semaine prochaine !
See you next week!

À lundi !
See you Monday!

French translations of basic sentences

Use the following French sentences to indicate that you’re happy to see someone.

Ça fait longtemps !
It’s been a while!

Ça fait un bail ! casual
Long time no see!

Ça me fait plaisir de te voir ! casual
Good to see you.

Passe nous dire un petit bonjour ! casual
Stop by to say hi.

Passez le bonjour à votre épouse. formal
Say hello to your wife.

Tiens moi au courant. casual
Keep me posted.

On se tient au jus. casual
Let’s keep in touch.

Je passerai vous faire un petit coucou. casual
I’ll stop by to say hi.

French expressions with bonjour

Let’s end this article with a couple of common French expressions containing the word bonjour.

Simple comme bonjour

meaning: very easy

literal translation: easy as hello

La réponse est simple comme bonjour.
The answer is as easy as pie.

English expression: as easy as pie

Bonjour l’ambiance

meaning: tense atmosphere

literal translation: hello bad vibe

Son ex est arrivé bourré au milieu du repas, bonjour l’ambiance !
Her ex showed up wasted in the middle of diner, the atmosphere grew tense.

English expression: I can’t think of an English expression for this one, can you?

Now that you know how to say hello in French, how about learning how to pronounce some anglicisms the French way in Misused English words in French?

Nathalie Nahmani

About Nathalie Nahmani

Nathalie is the creator of ma French Life. She moved back to France after living in Los Angeles for 20 years. She writes practical articles to help expats in France. Nathalie lives with her family in the French Alps near Grenoble.

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