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Greetings, Oh My!

When meeting people for the first time, or when catching up with old acquaintances, we usually use certain greetings. These introductory phrases (or actions) can help set the mood and establish friendliness. A pleasant exchange of greetings is the perfect way to start your interaction on a positive note. Here are some of the classic American greetings, how to use them, and what they mean for your ensuing conversation.

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There’s nothing more useful than the good, old-fashioned “hello” when meeting somebody else. “Hello” can be used in almost any situation, whether you’re being introduced to your new boss or talking to the cashier at the grocery store. If you have no clue how to greet somebody in the United States, use this as a catch-all that will have you conversing like a seasoned veteran in no time.


A slightly more informal variation of “hello,” the greeting “hi” is still a good option to use in almost any situation. Use this when speaking with friends, coworkers, strangers in the street, waitresses and family members. Confused on what to say to someone across the room –– a romantic interest, perhaps? Use “hi” (or it’s variations of “hi there” or “hey there”).

“How are you?”

This is an introductory phrase that often gets critiqued outside the United States for its perceived superficiality. Despite its oddities, the greeting “how are you?” is a perfect way to show an American you are somewhat interested in how their day is going (even if it seems a little unnecessary). At department stores, for example, cashiers often ask “how are you?” to show friendliness and loosen the interaction. The typical response is “fine, thanks” or “good, and how are you?” Use this phrase in any worker-consumer situation (restaurants, stores, etc.) or in other, more formal circumstances.

“How’s it going?”

Another variation of asking how somebody’s day is going. This is more formal than “what’s up?” but less formal than “how are you?” Again, this greeting can be a rhetorical question, and it’s perfectly acceptable to respond with another “how’s it going?” before moving on in the conversation.

“Long time no see!”

Now here’s a classic greeting! Say this when it’s been a long time since you saw the person you are speaking to. This is a good way to break the ice when it’s obvious you haven’t seen each other for a while. Oftentimes, saying “long time no see” will be funny, which is the perfect way to transition to other topics.


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“What’s up?”

The greeting “what’s up?” is an informal way to ask how someone's day is going. This is usually spoken between friends and shouldn’t be used when speaking with a boss or supervisor. Often, however, “what’s up?” is more of a rhetorical question. Between friends, for example, one may say “what’s up” in response to the other’s “what’s up,” and continue the conversation from there. Confused? A lot of Americans have a hard time with this too.

“Hey man”

Categorized under slang, greeting someone with “hey man” is reserved only for very informal occasions. I often say this to my buddies at school –– but I’d never say it to my teacher! Use “hey man” when you see various acquaintances around campus or on the street.

“Hey dude”

This is very similar to “hey man.” The term “dude” is a funny one, and is mostly spoken on the West Coast of the United States. It’s one of my favorite things to say in less formal settings, if I’m with my friends, for example.


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The handshake is the most basic form of greeting there is, and it can be used in most social situations in the United States. Be sure to make eye contact with the person you’re shaking hands with –– it can go a long way. A firm handshake with good eye-contact can let the other person know you are serious and respectful about the ensuing interaction.


Hugging someone is a great way to say hello if you know the other person well. This can be a one-armed “side” hug or a two-armed hug that is slightly more personal. Be careful of the other person’s boundaries, however, and don’t try to force a hug when you don’t have a personal connection with one another.



Nick Irvin is a 3rd year undergraduate studying at UC Davis. He enjoys reading, writing, and golfing.



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