Thursday, November 1, 2012

You say goodbye, I say hello....

For the first few months I was here, I always said goodbye by saying bonjour, because I could not get it out of my head that "good day" didn't make sense as a greeting.  Even after I knew better, I still did it....  People would smile, and I'm sure have a laugh at my expense, but eventually, I got it through my head.  Also, I always used to say a direct translation of "have a good time" to my nieces when they would leave...until they informed me that usually it would be interpreted as something sexual, so that ended right there. What to say, to whom, and when is much more complicated than simply saying "aurevoir," which no one seems to say unless they're on the phone.  Even then, it might just be me!

When meeting someone in person, it's always polite to say bonjour.  It's usually what's said when you don't know someone, so it's more or less a default greeting.   Most time greetings work for any time of day.  So much like in the US, you change your greeting based on time.  Although in French, you can say "Bon Matin," but it doesn't really work as a greeting.  You can say, "Passez un bon matin," but then it's saying goodbye.  Conversely, there is not way to say "Good Afternoon" as a greeting in French.  When saying goodbye though, it's totally fine to say "Bon Après-mdi."  After that, it works like in most countries, you have "Bon Soir" for "Good Evening," but in French this works normally when parting ways, while like in English, "Bonne Nuit" is strictly for saying good night.  Additionally in French there's a special one used in polite conversation to tell someone "Bonne Soirée."  It's like saying Good Evening, but is just more polite.

Now the polite ways to say hello and goodbye are nice, but I never said anything like this to my friends back in the US.  Usually it was "Hey," "Oi," or "How you doin?" complemented with a nod of the head.  The first works with people who know Northern European languages, and the second for those who know Brazilian Portuguese, but I speak too fast for the third to be understood.  Most French people understand the different forms of "goodbye;" however; you can be much more casual in French, and there are so many fun ways to say goodbye based upon duration of separation.

The standard greeting of "aurevoir" is rarely used in France, and only in cases of long term separation.  It means "until the next time we see each other."  So basically if you're saying this, you've got at least a week of separation.  The next would be "abientôt."  Saying "abientôt" is like saying until next time, but that you're more excited about seeing them.  This can also be augmented with "a trés bientôt," loosely translated as "We'll see each other very soon, I hope."  Another fun one is "a plus tard" which simply means "see you later."  Usually, no one says the whole phrase and simply says "a plus," similar to the American "later."  The next would probably be "a toute a l'heure" which means "see you in a while," or more literally "see you at the appointed time."  Usually I hear French people use it to say that they'll see someone very soon.  Apparently it can also be used to say see you at the same time.  Also, this usually never comes out in full.  When spoken it comes out as something like "ahtaleure."  When you want to tell someone you'll see them in a second or in a little bit, you say, a toute suite."

Some other common ways of saying goodbye are the ever popular European standby of "ciao," which now I can't say or write without thinking of Eddie Izzard and also "bonne continuation" which is kind of like saying "keep on keeping on."  Seriously, I tried to find something more exact, but well, I got everything from "good luck in the future" to "keep up the good work."  So we'll just call this one a contextual chameleon and move on with our lives!

Also in French, it seems like you can only say it's nice to have met someone at the beginning of a conversation.  French people will sometimes say "enchanté" which literally means "enchanted" but functions more as Blanche Devereaux's "charmed."  It's also often said, "ravi" which means something like "delighted."  However; there's no really good way to say that it was nice to have met someone at the end of a conversation.  Believe me, I tried.  Doesn't work.....

So I'll be on my merry way and say a plus, because given how things have been lately, I dunno when my next post will be.  I have some ideas, but well, I promise nothing! :-)


  1. The Hebrew language relies an awful lot on the word Shalom, "peace". It is also used as Hello and Goodbye. But it is also a male name - and it is my male name on my bris paperwork. It gets quite confusing. Are people saying hello, goodbye, peace or referring to me?

    1. Nothing like utter confusion in a language! I hope you were able to figure it out eventually. The closest I approach to Hebrew myself Coffee Talk. No big whoop!

  2. Doesn't anybody say Salut any more?

    1. Yeah, salut is still pretty common, but it's less used because there are more specific greetings. It's kind of like saying hey. People still say it, but it's quite general. Oh, there's one I forgot that's a really cute way of saying hello in French which is usually used among family and really close friends, "coucou."

  3. I'm so used to the casualness of American English. Any time that I've tried to learn another language the need to say different things depending on the familiarity of the people involved has almost always thrown me for a loop. That and vocabulary. I get so little practice vocab is always difficult.

    I've tried to learn Spanish and German, Brazilian Portuguese and French. Oddly enough after 4 years of Spanish I could barely speak it, until I started taking German, then when I'd get too nervous to speak German, I'd break out into Spanish.

    Currently the goal is to learn French, though except for owning a copy of The Little Prince in French, this is not occurring in any sort of organized way.

    A tres bientot. (Imagine accent marks and what not where they're supposed to be.)

    1. It's insanely hard to make accents on an American keyboard. You can switch it into French, but then you have to watch as your nice qwerty keyboard becomes an azerty.

      I'm the same about languages, just replace Spanish with Japanese. When I tried to speak French, all that came out at first was German. I think it's because we associate "foreign language" with the first one we learn. The best way to learn a language though is to go there. Let me know the where and the when. We'll have crêpes!

      a très bientôt!