In Italy, we greet each other in many different ways. We also view greetings not only as something that is important to teach people, but also as part of our culture.
We say hello in many different contexts and in a variety of ways. This article will help you focus on various greetings in different situations, and how best to use these greetings in Italian.
Greetings in School
This situation can be either formal or informal, depending on the school you attend and how old you are.
Elementary school (serving students from 6 to 11 years old) is very informal because it involves young children:
- Buongiorno, bambini! Come state? Avete fatto i compiti? (Hello children, how are you? Did you do your homework?)
It is also very common to ask children how they are, because teachers want children to feel important and protected (even when they do not do their work). Teachers are very important figures in Italy; children stay with them for many hours a day.
When it comes to secondary school and high school (serving students from 11 to 14 years old and from 14 to 18 years old, respectively), the situation becomes more formal. The reason for this is clear; this situation involves growing adolescents, and it is important that they are taught to be polite and to have respect for their elders:
- Buongiorno, ragazzi. Facciamo l’appello ed iniziamo la lezione (Good morning, guys. Let’s do roll call and then let’s start our lesson.)
The greeting in this case is very different, starting with intonation; it is a little less caring than in elementary schools. This is because teachers want to be a bit detached from older students, while also maintaining their effectiveness so students can comprehend what they are teaching.
Side note: we call an elementary level teacher maestra and all the teachers from secondary level to university professore.
To discuss how we greet friends in Italian, we need to separate our friends into two groups. In the first group, we have our day to day friends and in the other, we have the friends that we do not see very often. Greeting every day friends is usually more casual; we tend to take less care, sometimes even more so for those friends who are very important to us:
- Ehi, ciao. Dai su, muoviti e andiamo che è tardi! (Hey, hello. Come on! It’s late, we have to go!)
On the other hand, when greeting friends who we don’t see often or who we only meet occasionally, we are more gentle and careful. This is because, generally, we do not know these people very well and we want to avoid being rude.
In a situation like this, we say:
- Ma ciao! Che piacere vederti! Quanto tempo, sembra passato un secolo! Come va? (Oh, hi! It is a pleasure to meet you here! Too much time has passed, it seems like a century! How are you?)
As you can see, these two situations are very different. The intonation of our voice when we say these greetings very different too.
Meeting Someone for the First Time
When we meet someone for the first time, our behavior really depends on our personality. Some people are very open, others are more closed off. However, in general, we tend to tightly shake the hand of the person we are meeting, and greet them with a short, standard sentence, such as the following:
- Piacere, Andrea (Nice to meet you, I’m Andrew)
At a Restaurant
When we are at a restaurant, our behavior depends on a number of things.
First, and most importantly, is the type of restaurant that we are in. If we are in a Pizzeria, we tend to behave more informally, and decide very quickly on what we would like to eat.
However, when dining in a more formal setting, we have to be patient and chatty with the waiters, who are likely trained to talk to their patrons and advise them on their meals.
In an informal context, such as a pizzeria, communication with the waiter would most likely go something like this:
- Ciao, per me una Quattro stagioni e una birra media, per favore (Hello, I would like a Quattro Stagioni and a medium sized beer, please).
Our age is also an important factor in how we greet others in a restaurant setting. Waiters tend to behave more informally towards young people and advise them to choose dishes that are not too complicated (or too expensive), especially in more formal restaurants.
At the Store
Stores are one of the best places to learn about the many methods and intonations that Italians use to greet each other. You’ll find gentle people, rude people, people who are too tired to say hi and people in a hurry who have no time to greet you at all.
In general, when you look for something in a shop (for example a clothes store), you will often find that the shop assistants say the following:
- Salve, signora. Posso esserle utile? Sta cercando qualcosa in particolare? (Hello, Madam. Can I help you? Are you looking for something?)
When you go shopping for food, you will have much less contact with the cashiers who work at the checkout and take your payment. In this situation, they will likely only greet you with a Buongiorno (Good morning) or Buonasera (Good evening).
I hope this article was helpful because if you ever go to Italy, you’ll certainly encounter all of these situations!
Hero Image by the author