Speaking good idiomatic French requires not only a sound grasp of grammar and vocabulary, but also a sensitivity to the different registers appropriate to situations. The following lesson is a guideline on courtesy in common situations.
When greeting a stranger or an adult you only slightly know, remember to include the polite title of address: Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle.
When a young woman ceases to be addressed as Mademoiselle, and becomes Madame, and her marital status is unknown, looks to be under or over 20-25 years old, err on the side of caution by using Madame.
For informal or closer acquaintances, it is common to say the name after the greeting.
- Bonjour, Monsieur Gautier.
- Bonjour, Anne.
Salut is a familiar greeting, equivalent to “Hi” in English, and much used among young people.
- Salut, Amandine ! | Hi, Amandine!
An initial greeting is usually accompanied by a handshake if you do not know the person well, or between men. For family and closer friends, particularly two women or a woman and a man, it is usual to faire la bise – to kiss on both cheeks. The number of bises given varies from region to region, two being the minimum, four the maximum – just follow local custom!
Note that the French expect to shake hands or faire la bise not just on a first introduction, but on subsequent meetings. For example, if you work in an office, you usually shake hands with your colleagues every morning and possibly again to say goodbye in the evening.
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