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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