28

I'm now traveling to France and wonder whether I should use Bonjour or Salut to greet a clerk as a customer.

The situations:

  • Supermarkets or other such cheap shops
  • Cafes or restaurants (not the expensive ones)
  • In a luxury brand such as Louis Vuitton

I read that Salut is more casual than Bonjour and the relationship is similar to "hi" and "hello" or "good morning" in English. But I still don't understand how I should use them apart, especially since in English I frequently use "Hi" to a clerk, which might be actually rude in French. So in these cases, which one should I use? Does it also depend on the relative age of us?

I'm 20s male from East Asia, if that is relevant.

  • 2
    I'm 20s male from East Asia, if that is relevant. Why would you even think that's relevant? – Najib Idrissi Jan 29 '18 at 20:14
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    Saying Salut ! to a clerk is probably similar to saying How's it hanging ? to a clerk in English language countries. – jlliagre Jan 29 '18 at 22:41
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    @NajibIdrissi: What a strange question. Have you really never noticed that people often speak differently, and expect each other to speak differently, depending on perceived age, gender, accent, attire, and other such factors? – ruakh Jan 30 '18 at 0:49
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    @NajibIdrissi Because it may depend on these factors. In Italy I usually use Ciao to a clerk but if the clerk is elderly or if it is in a luxury brand, I use Buongiorno since it is what I hear from them. I just arrived in France a few days ago and know little about France and its culture and language, so just added it for your information. – Blaszard Jan 30 '18 at 9:59
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    @NajibIdrissi That doesn't stand up to scrutiny, unless you're merely giving an answer about French in a roundabout way. In Netherlandic Dutch saying "u" (vous) to someone around your own age signals an almost insulting degree of distance these days, at least if you're in your twenties. That doesn't mean that people in their twenties feel it's polite to speak the same way to people in their fifties, even if people in their fifties might feel offended by being implicitly called old. However, since in a store you're usually greeted first you can just reply in kind. – Frenzie Jan 30 '18 at 19:01

13 Answers 13

57

I'm French and I have never heard anyone say "salut" to greet a clerk. It's just too familiar. You either say "bonjour" or "bonsoir". I'd recommend you to just repeat the word they use to greet you, since generally they're the first to talk in order for you to know that it's your turn.

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    Well it must have happened to me greet someone saying « salut », but only when I really have my habits somewhere and usually with people that are either much younger than me either themselves friendly with the regular clients. – Laurent S. Jan 29 '18 at 20:56
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    It's not really that familiar, it just implies acquaintanceship. If the OP greets a clerk with a "Salut", the clerk may spend some time scratching their head while trying to remember where and when they met before. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 30 '18 at 13:57
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    Yes, an inappropriate "salut" isn't too familiar to be rude, but I think that it's still too familiar in this situation. – Cocoduf Jan 30 '18 at 14:18
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    It would be kind of like walking up to your boss and saying "yo blud. sup. safe man." You just don't do it. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jan 31 '18 at 0:21
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    I use the same technique when leaving a shop. I always repeat 'reviens s'il te plait'. ;-) – Strawberry Jan 31 '18 at 13:47
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It's true that “hi” is less formal than “good morning” and “salut” is less formal than “bonjour”, but they are not used in the same circumstances. You pretty much never say “salut” to someone you don't know.

You can say “salut” to a friend of a friend who you've just been introduced to. You might say “salut” to a fellow member of an organization (it depends on the organization) even if you don't know them personally. But don't say that to a clerk.

There aren't many contexts where “bonjour” is too formal. The only difficulty with using “bonjour” is the time of transition from “bonjour” to “bonsoir.

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    I agree. Bonjour can be used with friends, as well. I tend to use "Salut" when I'm meeting a friend for a social event, or asking for a favor in a text or a similar circumstance. "Bonjour" isn't too formal, it just happens that "Salut" is less. As for the transition, it is generally agreed upon to use "Bonsoir" after 4pm. – randomhopeful Jan 29 '18 at 22:45
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    Is it fair to say "salut" is like "hey" in (American) English? – Mehrdad Jan 29 '18 at 23:44
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While all the answers recommending to use Bonjour are absolutely right, if you're ever in Valais, in Switzerland, there Salut is fine as well and clerks will probably greet you with it anyway.

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    How's that an answer to a question about France? – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 30 '18 at 13:52
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    It's a French-speaking region that shares a border with France. – Nico Jan 30 '18 at 14:10
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    Well, so are Belgium and Luxembourg, and if we forego a "shared border" constraint, there's a couple of dozen countries in Africa which may have their own ways of saying hi. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jan 30 '18 at 15:09
5

Most have been say already, but I'll add that it's not uncommon to great a person by adding "Monsieur" (sir), Madame (madam) or Mademoiselle (miss): bonjour Madame, etc; for example to great the baker from whom you buy your every-day bread. It's more polite but not necessarily as formal as one would think of when saying for example "Good day Sir" in Great-Britain.

Again, simply put, it's very common in the USA and some other English-speaking countries to say "hi" to people even those you've never met, it's not in France; unless, as has been pointed the person is much younger than you and you want to be "cool". But even to a cool looking young clerk, you wouldn't say "salut" (unless you personally know the person).

5

I read that a cafe-owner in the South put up the following price-list, to discourage rudeness.

  • Un café ... 8€
  • Bonjour, un café ... 4€
  • Bonjour, un café s'il vous plaît ... 2€
1

I am French. Very easy : Important persons (your boss, president, high ranking official, ....) : Bonjour/Bonsoir. People you know well or very well : you can use Salut.

But by default, I'd say Bonjour. It is the formal way, but this is not to formal... I say bonjour to friends or even my parents sometimes.

You will never make people think "wow hey relax we don't know each other" with Bonjour...

Maybe you will with Salut...

For example, my hometown is 5 minutes from Belgium, clerks will say Salut to customers... not in France...

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    I am Belgian, and I am surprised you state that Belgian clerks will say "Salut" to their customers. This is really uncommon, the usage of "salut" is mostly the same as in France. – Greg Jan 31 '18 at 9:46
1

In restaurants/cafes/supermarkets, etc:

You can personalize by adding the first name "Bonjour Paul" to be both polite/respectful and friendly without being too formal. This is to be used only if you know the person, I mean if the person is both able to recognize you and you had already talked to him/her (this is more usual in cafes/restaurants than in supermarkets). In case of doubt, use the simple "Bonjour" and enlighten it with a light smile.

In luxury brand shops:

Simple "Bonjour" is the best. Personalization by first name is possible only if your social status is high and you are a frequent customer.

1

Bonjour is used everywhere with anyone, you use it at work , at home or with your friends. salut is similar to Hi! would you say Hi to your boss or when you to the post office? may be but in France (I am french) I cannot see myself saying Salut when asking to buy a book of stamps at the post office. French people are more rigid than english people, even in the shops, the cashiers in France for example are nor friendly like in the Uk. Working people in the Uk will interact will the customers and will chit chat, in France they just do not do i. Once I was in France, i said Hello to the cashier and I said how are you today, she was surprised.

1

I've also lived in many places (medium and small towns) 'n france and haven't heard a a clerk being greeted with familiar terms. I'm sure it happens if a relative or close friend happens into the shop or whatever but I'd just always use Bonjour, as everyone else seems to do. I love it when they sort of raise the bon part, sounds so cheery.

1

In all cases you mention (supermarkets, cafes or restaurants, luxury shops), when adressing people specifically, simply saying "Bonjour" is not very polite, although acceptable.

A well educated person says:

  • "Bonjour Madame" to a woman
  • "Bonjour Monsieur" to a man
  • "Bonjour Mesdames" to several women
  • "Bonjour Messieurs" to several men
  • "Bonjour Messieurs Dames" to a group composed of at least one man and one woman.

  • "Bonjour Mademoiselle" is old-fashioned (as replaced by "Bonjour Madame") but you can still hear it sometimes in restaurants when someone is calling the waitress.

I'm sure that such formulas will sound too formal to some people, but it's really a question of habit and does not prevent being natural and warm with people.

As Jean-Baptiste wrote, you can use "Bonjour/Bonsoir" followed by the first name once you know the person. Using such formular requires a personal and friendly relationship. Eg. with an regular customer. "Bonjour Paul", "Bonjour Marie", ...

"Salut" would be too popular with people that are not friends, children or members from your family.

You can use "Bonjour" if entering into a popular restaurant/bar and adressing to everybody. You may also hear "Salut" in restaurants from ski stations, for instance in Valais (Switzerland), but often because native people know well each other.

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    Le Bonjour Messieurs Dames dont vous parlez n'est peut-être pas aussi formel que les autres propositions ou il peut faire l'objet d'une interprétation différente... Merci ! – user3177 Feb 1 '18 at 12:51
1

Using "salut" in the politeness preamble before the real interaction between a clerk and yourself is to be totally excluded, except, of course if you've become very friendly with a given clerk, and then again do not believe there is a necessity to abandon the standard formula "Bonjour" just because your relationship has become a friendly one, it is always a formula that sounds natural. There are several possibilities as to how might go the mutual introduction that is the point of the question.

One thing not to do is to submit yourself to a rigid routine of repeating blindly what a clerk might say to you in the way of greeting you or otherwise; to remain alert to what type of person is receiving you or taking care of your needs is a must and to remain free to take initiatives and to take them in opportune occasions is a good idea. For instance, if you are a man and a clerk greets you with a simple "Monsieur…" don't repeat "Monsieur…": this is not exactly a greeting but rather a polite signal from the clerk that he is ready to consider your questions (similarly if you are a woman when a clerk says "Madame"). Here is another case when not to repeat what a clerk might say to you in the way of a greeting; there is a common enough usage to invert the words and you might hear from a clerk addressing you, if you are a man, "Monsieur, Bonjour"; it is a greeting in this case but the clerk's using it first makes it a rather personnal, idiosyncratic utterance of his and it is not of such a good inspiration to repeat it; a simple "Bonjour Monsieur" from your part will do, or even just "Bonjour".

The polite formula to use is basically "Bonjour"; it's the all purpose formula; first of all, it is the only formula to use with clerks that are no more than adolescents and who work in small shops; "Bonjour Madame" can be used for women, young or old, even though unmarried women are not called "madame" but "mademoiselle", but that type of uncontrollable error is never considered to matter really and no unmarried clerk to whom you've said "Bonjour madame" will ever point out to you that she should be addressed as "mademoiselle". Similarly, if a clerk is a young girl or a very young women you can add "mademoiselle" to your "Bonjour" (Bonjour mademoiselle).

The addition to your greetings of a "terme de civilité" or as it is said in English, of a title, makes them more refined, but I wouldn't say more polite; the question of choosing or not to be more refined is not an issue: the choice should insinuate itself naturally upon you, be felt as something to which you identify, and such states of mind, admittedly can be arrived at only out of exposure to life; to make a long story short, it is not necessary to put yourself through the routine of adding titles as long as you don't feel natural doing it.

There is no necessity to let cashiers be the first to say "Bonjour" to you, nor any other clerk; if you think about it first it's just as well to take the initiative.

In certain circumstances, for instance when you need to ask a clerk about something and that he is not attending to anyone, it is not even impolite to not pronounce any greetings; this is so, partly, for the reason that it is not quite proper to confer greetings to someone you don't know before having established eye contact; in such occasions it is accepted to address the person directly in a proper manner; for instance you may say "Monsieur! s'il vous plait.", ou "Madame? Vous vous occupez des clients", ou "Monsieur? un renseignement s'il vous plait.", etc.

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Nico says that you can say 'salut' in the Valais to store clerks. In Geneva (where I used to live), that would never be done. It's just too familiar. There, the greeting will be 'bonjour, monseiur/madame.' The complexity in Geneva is with the valediction, but that's not part of the question here (though it was part of someone's answer). In Geneva, very precise indications of time of day may be given. I even once heard 'bon fin de l'après-midi, monsieur,' a valediction that I had previously joked about as only theoretical.

0

I live in Quebec. The word "bonjour" is neutral, you can say it to everyone, even to a kid. Here, in Quebec, if you saw that clerk many times, it's adequate to say "salut". Otherwise, if the stranger is younger than you, it's adequate to say "salut", but it's not adequate to say "salut" to a doctor, a boss or a principal. If you don't want to distinguish "bonjour" and "salut", you can always say "bonjour", even to a kid.

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