Greetings in French – The do and the don’t

greetings 2
greetings 2

Greetings in French are very important and are a standard part of French etiquette and everyday life. You will never obtain anything from anyone, if you don’t say « Hello » first of all. Not to be rude say « hello » whenever  you get in lift, enter a shop, stand at a bus stop then someone will probably greet you and you should reciprocate - if you can. If you are meeting someone in one of the above scenarios then a verbal greeting is OK. However if it is a more organized meeting such as amongst a group of friends, at work, at the school gates or a meeting with a client then you should add the handshake or kiss as well.

With a verbal greeting you should say "Bonjour" (Hello) + their title or first name if you are friends.

By title I mean Mr, Mrs, or Miss. So this might be :

(Bonjour = hello)

  • Bonjour, Monsieur (to a man)
  • Bonjour, Madame (to a lady)

The French etiquette for saying goodbye is pretty much the same.

You will use the verbal courtesies plus the handshakes and the kisses if appropriate. So you would say:

(Au revoir = goodbye, Merci = thank you)

  • Au revoir Monsieur, Madame etc. OR
  • Merci Monsieur, Madame etc.


Another tip regarding greetings in French is to avoid huging. In France, it is common that you will be greeted at the very least with a hand shake. However, in some parts of the country, particularly the south, you may find that exchanging a kiss on the cheek is common:

  • Men may greet women by a kiss on the hand (very old fashioned, only in very formal situations)
  • Men will greet each other by shaking hands. Men who are close friends may hug.
  • Women will often greet each other with a handshake or by kissing once on each cheek.
  • Men who know the woman they are greeting, may exchange a kiss on each cheek.

In many other Francophone countries, greetings that include some form of kissing on the cheek, are very common regardless of how well you know the person. However, you should never initiate kissing someone on the cheek as the social rules vary. With that said, you shouldn't be surprised if someone you've only met once moves in to kiss you on the cheek and in fact if you don't reciprocate, you will find yourself with a very awkward moment.

You wish to learn more about greetings in French ?

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Written by Florence Harang