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So here is the context: Suppose as a tourist one is helped by someone (not a local though), talking to the locals to get the right directions for me etc. Chances of meeting again seem negligible unless huge (and I mean really huge) coincidences happen. In the end while separating, she says "à bientôt". Wouldn't "au revoir" been more relevant? What is the difference between the two?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Your are right "Au revoir" is the good way to leave somebody you will not meet again.

"À bientôt" may be a habit, or a try to encourage the foreigner to come back again in France!

With the latter you hope you will see the person again within a short period of time. With the former, the lapse period is simply indefinite.

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Thanks very much. Could you explain me what you mean with your last sentence, please? – Abhimanyu Arora May 26 '14 at 9:55
Sorry, to understand replace maner by line (about lines I've written) : "à bientôt" (see you in a short time), "au revoir" (see you later) – cl-r May 26 '14 at 16:32
Au revoir is, as you say, indefinite (general). I would say that a better way to say good-bye to someone you are pretty sure you will not see again is adieu. Au revoir literally means until we see each other again. – Drew May 27 '14 at 4:00
@Drew I wouldn't recommend using « adieu » even when you are sure you'll never meet again but stay with « au revoir » despite its inner meaning. Nowadays, in spoken French, « adieu » is almost only used for theatrical effects. – jlliagre Jun 12 '14 at 1:58
@Drew Provence usage is special, "Adieu" is still used there, especially by elder people, as a generic greeting (Hello, Bye) from the Provencal "A Diéu Sias" (Be to God), Occitan "Adieussiatz". It hasn't at all here the standard French "last salutation" meaning. – jlliagre Jun 12 '14 at 6:24

À bientôt

Literally means “See you soon”.

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If you translate it literally. It's mean "see you soon". But a lot of people say it just to say "good bye". They say too "à tout à l'heure" (or "tantôt" in Belgium) what's mean "see you later" even if you don't see him later. Just another way to say "good bye".

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A bientôt > See you soon

Au revoir > Goodbye

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