Today I ran into a friend I have not seen in a long time. In Italy usually your friends greet you with the double kiss – one on each side of the cheek. But since she is Swiss, she gave me three kisses (because apparently the Swiss do three kisses). I was a little embarrassed because she was going in for number three, when I was pulling away.
So today I want to review how to greet someone in Italian – and not just the kissing part – but the words as well. I think Americans are much more relaxed when it comes to greeting those we know and even those we do not know. First of all, every stranger gets a smile. This may not be true for all Americans, but for sure for a Texan. I think the fact that we are less likely to pass someone on the street makes this a very natural thing to do. Obviously a person in NYC is going to be smiling and saying hello to the thousands of strangers they pass on the street every day. But if it is me and one other lone person on the street, for sure we are going to flash a big, genuine smile and it will probably be accompanied with something like: “hi there” or “hey.” In Italy, no one is smiling and saying hello to strangers.
But what about times when you SHOULD say hello? What are the appropriate words to use? Below is a quick cheat sheet on how to do that.
Ciao: This means hello and goodbye. Most English speakers know this word and might think they can use it on anyone they encounter. But it is only to be used with friends, family and acquaintances.
Salve: If you don’t know the person (think: someone in a store, hotel, bank, etc…) This is the way to say hello.
Think of it this way: ciao is more like: “hey, how’s it going?” and salve is more like “hello.”
Sometimes cashiers will say ciao, but usually it is at a store that is young and causal like an Apple store.
Buongiorno: This is another way to greet a person you don’t know. It means good morning or good day, but in essence means hello.
Buonasera: This means good evening and you can use it anytime in the late afternoon.
What about when you are leaving and want to say goodbye? Again ciao serves the purpose of saying goodbye to a friend. What about strangers?
Arriverderci can be used with those you don’t know, but could possibly see again. The really formal way to say goodbye to a total stranger is ArrivederLa.
Buona giornata or Buona serata could also work. More or less they mean, “have a good afternoon” and “have a good evening.”
Addio: This is the saddest word in the list. This is a final goodbye. Think of breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Well, now that we have covered some words for salutations, what about that kissing thing? As mentioned above, Italians kiss when they see each other – this includes men. Yes, my husband kisses all his good guy friends, brother and cousins when he sees them. This was a funny thing we were living in the United States and hubby began making friends with my guy friends. He would try to kiss them goodbye! Ha, ha, ha! So funny seeing my big husband trying to steal a kiss from my Texan friends and them trying to back away from him. Moments like these were SUCH a great reflection of our cultural differences.
Now I must say goodbye myself….and since we are all friends here, I will happily say: Ciao! A Presto!