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!
Gee if I like this blog… One more nuance, if I may. “Buongiorno” if you arrive to a place where you find a group of people. Even if they are friends, “Buongiorno” will cover the whole group, while “Ciao” would be a little inadequate. 🙂
Hi Renato! Thank you for your kind comments…and thanks for your helpful suggestions! Love language feedback and help – – ALWAYS!
Which is first: Right or Left?
Hi David! Great question…you will go to your right first……
In Italy we always greet elderly people on the street if we make eye contact. 80% of the time they respond with a smile. In the south we are oftened greeted first on the street. In restaurants it seems to be very polite to greet the people you sit next to, something I don’t see/hear in the states, at least in Alaska and NY.
Ha, ha, ha….see? It is always the elderly people ignoring me or looking at me like I am kinda nuts….not sure why this is…..maybe busy Milano – — city life just like NYC.
I’m from Australia as you know and when I first came here I assumed ‘ciao’ or our equivalent to ‘hi’ could be used with anyone. I’ve learnt the hard way to be more formal with older people and when I go to a bank, shop etc. I was also thinking that formality in the Italian language is often shown by use of honorifics (mr, mrs, dr etc). When I first got here I found it rather bizarre to see people addressing people as ‘Ingeniere’ or ‘avvocato’. Back home, the only titles we use when directly addressing someone are with (medical) doctors, school teachers and in a court of law!
YES! The same for us….we would never use titles…..here it is just more formal…..and I assumed the same thing about “ciao” when we first came here…… 🙂
Fun post! I had a Palestinian/Jordanian friend in Dubai who did three kisses. I forgot to do the last kiss every. single. time I saw her. It was so frustrating! but she would always just chuckle. Another funny anecdote – in Austria when I had to go to the doctor – I found it really sweet that everyone in the waiting room would, pretty much in unison, greet anyone who came in to the office. So funny!
Hi Lyn! Yes….the kissy thing is funny…..I have one odd friend here who is Italian but does the Swiss kiss…why is she doing that??? She is not Swiss… I am off EVERY time I see her!!!
Oh one more – H’s brother thought it was really funny when he caught me waving to a police officer driving by. I told him that was a perfectly normal thing to do here in TX! 😊
ha, ha, ha…..lynda!!!! waiving to the police officer! I can just see D looking at you like you are nuts….but ok….police officers…fire fighters…they are all our friends right? I mean…that is what we learned on Sesame Street.
That’s really useful Diana. Most people get confused and are not sure when to use ciao, arrivederci.. salve.. so many ways to say hello! Another great post! Baciii!!!
Hi Alida…I didn’t even know what “salve” was when I came here. I only listed a few words here…but I think it can really make a difference if you make a trip to Italy or any foreign country….just to make an attempt to use the right words – – it shows you care.
Ciao Graham!!! Ha, ha, ha…..yes….we are good friends for sure. Have a great day!!!
Thanks, Diana. Best wishes for the festive season!!
Diana, simply put, I have found the Italian people to be much warmer then here in the states. Especially in southern Italy where you are pulled into a friendly group very soon. You are never left out. And everyone says buongiorno. One of the many things I love about them.
Hi Susan….yes….for sure overall Italians are more hospitable than Americans. They would think nothing of inviting a person they just met to join them in a meal or invite them into their homes for a coffee. In fact, when we first moved here and did trick or treating in our little apartment building, the older ladies invited us come in their home and made us coffee and gave us cookies (as well as the candies for the kids)…ha, ha, ha…what a great experience. And yes…everyone will say buongiorno in a shop, cafe, etc…but if I am walking on the street and pass someone and say hello, they rarely say hello back…or will but it takes a while for them to get it out. I experience this a lot when I go running…..I say hello or smile to every stranger I pass – errr – – no one is smiling back. Again…could just be a big city or northern thing. 🙂
I think the bigger the city, the more reserved the people can be. Another question for you Diana…does the average Italian drink vino every day? Is it really that much a part of their diet? How do you see it…and aperitivo.
Well…I have to say that most of my girlfriends do not drink wine every day…neither do my inlaws. Even if they go out for a pizza (my inlaws and my girlfriends), they will usually get a coke or a beer or just drink water. And one thing is REALLY for sure – no one is drinking a glass of wine while they cook (as I often do). Again this is from a northern perspective. Things might be different down south. My inlaws are Roman, but I don’t have many southern friends. Water is truly the drink of choice. For aperitivo, they usually have a Prosecco, a Spritz type drink. Anyway….wine is usually for big family dinners, eating a real meal out and a party. In my house, my parents drink wine every day (My father is from Trieste) – so we usually drink a glass (or two) every day as well. 🙂 How about you?
I absolutely love wine…but I think it is also because it is a time to slow down from the days activities and shift into a more relaxed evening. I usually have a glass, sometimes 2 per evening. I usually take a night or two off a week, but I always look forward to it. And my husband & I love the time we can chat over a glass of wine, about the days events, etc. Like you, I love to have a glass of wine while I cook. I swear, the food turns out better when I do:)
Oh the vision of your husband with his Texan friends made me laugh out loud! Having been to Italy several times the terms are familiar and I am happy to report I don’ think there were too many embarrassing moments. 🙂
Hi Sue!!! Yes…big, Roman hubby going in for the kiss with my Texan friends….awww…he was so cute and innocent….. 🙂 Have a good week…
Haha omg, I can picture your husband trying to kiss his American friends. In Mexico we also kiss hello and goodbye but only between women, or men and women; men hug or shake hands. For the longest time in the US I didn’t know what to do even though I knew what people do. I just was used to kissing and hugging. Now I just don’t do it, which is sad. I like it!
I just love the Italian language thanks for the brush up.
Hi Mani!!!! Happy New Year! I like the kissing too…hugging is nice…but sometimes the kiss seems more appropriate…
The tutorial on greetings is very helpful. Also, I enjoy a glass of wine or prosecco at the end if the day. It signals the beginning of the evening.
Thank you!!! And yes…for me too….love a little glass of wine to begin the evening…right there with you! 🙂