Friday’s French – au revoir and salut

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When I first moved to France in 1975, I don’t remember hearing people saying anything other than au revoir and adieu for goodbye. I had learnt that you only said adieu if you weren’t ever going to see the person again or at least for a long time. I was a bit surprised to hear it used as a greeting as well Adieu ! Comment vas-tu ? But it turns out that it is only in use in the south of France and I was in Béarn, near the Pyrenees. (Dieu = god, by the way).

In any case, just having au revoir made things easier (I didn’t ever use adieu). Since then, I’ve come to hear and use other expressions, such as ciao and salut. Ciao is practically universal of course and is very useful in countries such as Bulgaria where everything else is unpronounceable. It’s sometimes doubled here as well: ciao, ciao.

Salut is a different kettle of fish. It used to think it was the beginning of the prayer, Hail Mary: Salut Marie, but it is actually Je vous salue Marie; the verb saluer is used to mean salute, greet, take one’s leave, wave to, pay tribute to, etc. depending the context.

Saluez-le de ma part = give him my regards.

Il salua (le public) = he bowed (to the audience).

Salut has been reintroduced into everyday language with a much less formal register. Kids will say salut to each other both as a greeting and goodbye. Salut les mecs ! (mec is slang for man). Adults use it among friends or at informal gatherings. Salut tout le monde ! You would never use it with a shopkeeper or your doctor or someone you’ve just met. Some people never use it and consider it to be slang.

Given that you can never go wrong with bonjour and au revoir it’s probably best to avoid salut unless the other person has used it first.

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6 Responses to Friday’s French – au revoir and salut

  1. Susan Walter says:

    I’ve noticed just recently that certain people have started saying ‘salut’ to me. I presume it’s a product of having been here a while now and they are relaxed with me. I always forget that I can use it with them though.

  2. Pat in Toulouse says:

    It has recently been pointed out to me that my family keeps saying “coucou” for hello. So I’ve been watching out for it and yes, indeed, we “coucou” each other all the time. When coming home (“coucou tout le monde”), when meeting each other in the kitchen in the morning (to my daughter: “coucou, ma chérie, tu as bien dormi?”), when meeting friends at the market (“ah, coucou! ça va?”), on the phone, by sms and also by e-mail… I don’t know if this a regional or general trend or if it’s just us. Our friends here say it too.

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      Hi Pat, I’d forgotten about “coucou”. No it’s not regional and seems to be fairly widespread. One of my stepsons introduced it a few years’ back and suddenly Jean Michel started saying it too because he has a tendency to pick up his sons’ lingo! However, I prefer to say “salut” or “bonjour” to family members because I feel a bit silly saying “coucou” but that’s entirely personal. I have a friend in Blois (Françoise, are you there?) who always begins her emails with “coucou” as well, so that makes at least three regions where it’s used.

  3. Portlandia says:

    In fact the Hail Mary is “Je vous salue, Maire” – much prettier than Salut Maire! 😉

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