Meeting and Greeting

Saying ‘Hello’


In the UK you will find that greetings are often quite short and informal, most often without any physical contact. 

Don’t be surprised if your friends and colleagues in the UK simply say ‘hello’ or ‘hi’ when greeting you. The greeting may even be this informal the first time you meet somebody.

Questions are often used as a greeting. You could be asked ‘how are you?’, ‘how are you doing?’, ‘are you alright?’, or the shorter form ‘alright?’. 

Other questions could include ‘what’s up?’ or ‘how’s it going?’

While you can answer any of these questions with a full answer, explaining exactly how you are or how things are going, the person asking the question is probably not expecting a detailed answer, its normally just a friendly greeting. The normal response is something like ‘ok, how about you?’ 

You may be greeted by someone stating how they feel about meeting you, using phrases like ‘good to see you’ or ‘nice to see you’. Of course this is reserved for situations where the people greeting have met one another before. 

Some greetings may be non-verbal, such as a hand raised around shoulder height with the palm facing forward. This may be used at a distance, across a road for example, or when there isn’t really time to talk.

Another non-verbal greeting that is often used is a quick upwards nod of the head. This is used between people who may never have spoken before but who see one another often, such as on the train to work or at the local shop. This type of gesture could be exchanged between people over many months or even years without ever developing into a conversation or friendship.

A more formal and accepted greeting is a standard handshake. On first meeting or with someone you do not know well this will only include contact by hand, though in a more familiar situation people greeting may use their free hand to hold the arm or shoulder of the person they are greeting. This type of contact may be considered too ‘forward’ if you do not know the person well.

Also keep in mind that a handshake that is too firm may be interpreted as being aggressive, while a handshake that is too soft maybe interpreted as weakness. Your goal should be to give a short semi-firm handshake.

The ‘European’ approach of kissing one or both cheeks, is becoming more common, but it is definitely not accepted by all. It can appear awkward as there is no standard in the UK for one, two or three kisses to the cheeks. 

This level of physical contact is mostly reserved for family or very close friends, who may embrace and kiss one another. Initiating this type of greeting in the wrong situation could lead to embarrassment for one or both parties. The rule in this case is to wait to see how the other person approaches you in a greeting situation, you can then follow their approach.

There are of course greetings that are specific to certain times of the day. ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ and ‘Good evening’ are used at the specified times as a greeting, though in reality you are wishing that the person has either a good morning, afternoon or evening.

There is an exception to this time of day greeting and that is ‘good night’. Although the format is the same, ‘good night’ which is used any time form the evening onwards, indicates that you are parting company with the person you are speaking with, either you are leaving or they are. It is also used to indicate that you are going to bed.


Saying ‘Goodbye’


When saying goodbye similar rules apply, with most people offering a gesture or verbal sign without making physical contact. ‘Goodbye’ or ‘bye’ are the most standard phrases, and they are often accompanied with a lifting or waving of the hand. Children, and some adults, may use the alternative ‘bye bye’, but this is generally seen as a juvenile expression.

‘Good day’ is an alternative expression though it is quite formal and depending on the intonation it can be used in a slightly offensive manner. For example if you have argued with someone you may say ‘a good day to you too’, even though you probably mean the opposite. 

‘Take care’ is another common expression that can be used in less formal situations, particularly with friends and family. It suggests that you care about the person with whom you are speaking.

Farewell also indicates that you are leaving, but it is now quite an old-fashioned expression and suggests that the speaker is being a little dramatic, perhaps suggesting that they will never see you again.

There are a number of common and confusing expressions used in the UK that you should look out for. They tend to start with ‘see you...’. They include ‘see you later’, ‘see you soon’, ‘see you again’ or simply ‘see you’. You would not be wrong in wondering at what time later or soon they will see you, perhaps you missed an arrangement that was made, as they do suggest that you will meet again later or soon. However the person using the expression is simply being polite and will generally not have any definite plans to see you at a pre-arranged time. 

If the expression is more specific such as ‘see you at the cinema on Saturday’ or ‘see you at the restaurant at 8pm’, then it is clearly an arrangement you should know about.


Terms of address


Despite people in the UK having a reputation for ‘coolness’, you will find some of the ways that people address you, including strangers, quite surprising. 

You will be addressed with terms such as ‘love’, ‘dear’, ‘sweetheart’ or even ‘darling’. These terms may appear to be ‘over familiar’, as if the person knows you well or has some strong emotional attachment to you. But don’t worry, these terms are used and accepted merely as friendly replacements for your name, as in many cases the person addressing you will not know your name. These terms are more commonly heard by females, though as a male don’t be surprised if a female addresses you in one of these ways.

Typically the person using such a term of address will either be older than you or in a position of service such as a shop worker or a waitress. ‘What can I get you love?’ is a very common thing to hear asked by an employee in a shop or a bar.

As a male you are likely to be addressed with terms that effectively mean ‘friend’. The most common terms are ‘mate’ and ‘pal’, though certain regions will have their own local variants on terms for ‘friend’.  As a male you may also need to get used to being addressed as ‘man’, though surprisingly this term is not completely restricted to males, in some regions both genders are regularly referred to as ‘man’. 

One final term of address to be aware of is ‘bro’, the shortened form of brother. Again this has nothing to do with any family connection. The use of the word ‘bro’ is more commonly used amongst youths.

The way that you address people is just as important as how they might address you. The general rule would be to start out formally, calling an older or senior person by their title Mr, Mrs, Miss etc followed by their name, unless you are told to do otherwise. So Mr Brown may prefer you to call him Mr. Brown, while his wife Mrs Brown, may ask you to call her by her first name, Dorothy. You should also adopt this approach in a professional situation.

In certain work situations you may be expected to use a certain form, in which case you should follow the rules.

You can also use the formal terms of address of Sir, Madam, or even Miss, though in most situations this is considered a little too old fashioned.

Many school children will address their teachers as Sir or Miss, though it may surprise you to hear university lecturers asking their students to address them by their first name.

ICD1E1 - Listening Skills

What is the formal method of greeting someone in the UK?  

When would you greet someone by saying "good afternoon"?  

How might a child in the UK address you when departing?  

In a professional situation how should you address older people?  

If someone says "see you later", what do they normally mean?  

ICD1E2 - Discussion Activities

1) Working in groups, discuss the different ways that you might greet the following people in the UK:
A close friend
Your professional superior (your boss)
A co-worker, the first time you meet
An elderly person
Someone you see each morning on the train

2) Working in groups, discuss when someone might use the following expressions in the UK, consider who they might be talking to:
See you later
Good night
How is it going (how’s it going?)
A good day to you too!
Take care

Extended activity: To extend the above activities as a way of consolidating understanding, create short role play scenarios that incorporate the use of the cultural language above.

ICD1E3 - Cultural Comparison

Think about how people in the UK greet one another and compare this with the cultural behavior in your own country. Think specifically about the three topics covered, ‘saying hello’, ‘saying goodbye’ and ‘terms of address’.
Write a short account that compares the way that people in the UK meet and greet and the way that people in your country do so. In each case try to identify common or similar practices as well as all of the differences.
When your writing is completed exchange it with a classmate and then read their cultural comparison.
Finally you should discuss your classmate’s and your own work as a way of deepening your understanding of cultural practices in the UK, and appreciating how cultural differences exist.

ICD1E4 - Vocabulary

Provide your own definitions for the words

Hello : {}
How's it going : {}
Mate : {}
Good bye : {}
Hi : {}
Good afternoon : {}
Nice to see you : {}
Bye bye : {}
See you : {}
Good night : {}
Bro : {}
Project number: 543336-LLP-1-2013-1-DE-KA2-KA2MP - This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.