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In English, there’s a phrase commonly used with children: "what’s the magic word?" or "say the magic word!" and that magic word is "please." In French, as important it is to say s’il vous plaît, there’s a word that’s even more magical: bonjour. Saying hello is more than just a matter of greeting someone; it’s the very first word you should say when entering a store, asking for help, or beginning any kind of conversation whatsoever. Even if it’s the only French word you know, you should always say bonjour – it can make the difference between a friendly exchange and a frosty one – learn more.
What to say (and when)
Bonsoir means good evening, so you should start using it around 6pm. To wish someone a good evening upon leaving, say bonne soirée.
Salut is an informal greeting that you can use at any time of day.
In France, there’s no such thing as
bon matin – "good morning" is simply bonjour. Bon après-midi exists, but only upon leaving: "Have a good afternoon!" The greeting "good afternoon" is again included in bonjour. In Québec, however, bon matin and bon après-midi can be used as both greetings and good-byes.
French greeting gestures
When greeting friends or friends of friends, you should faire la bise (kiss each cheek) or se serrer la main (shake hands).
- Bise à la française
- La bise en France (video)
- Bonjour, bonjour ! (song)
- De l’importance de dire « bonjour »
- How are you? Fine.
- Ça va ? | Quoi de neuf ?
- Essential French
- Saying good-bye
- Social niceties
Self-study checklist with lessons, quizzes, and comprehension exercises.