English learning tips: How to greet people in English

Around the world

People around the world greet each other very differently. For example, in China people acknowledge each other with a bow or a nod. Whereas, the Japanese bow at the waist. In India, people greet each other by putting the palms of their hands together in the prayer position. Filipinos offer a limp handshake. By contrast, a firm handshake is better in Germany, Russia, or Sweden. While these greetings may seem formal, the Spanish and French greet with a kiss on both cheeks. With all this in mind, how do you greet people in English?

General greetings in the U.S.

If you are in a supermarket, and it is your turn to pay, don’t be surprised if the clerk says, “Hi, how are you?” You might also hear, “How are you today?” This can be confusing for non-native speakers, or visitors to the United States. The clerk does not really want to know how you are. It is another way of saying hello. You can respond with, “Good, thanks, how are you?” As a matter of fact, many clerks from post office workers to bank tellers will use a similar greeting.
How to greet people in English
The cashier doesn’t really want to know how you are doing!

Formal greetings

When meeting someone older or in a formal setting, it’s proper to shake hands. The handshake should not be weak or hurt. Instead, try something in the middle – firm. If you are not sure what to do, wait for the other person to extend their hand and then take it.
Look the person in the eye and say, “It’s nice to meet you.” If the person says it to you first, your response can be, “Nice to meet you too.” Remember, there are many cultures and religions within the United States. For example, if you are a woman, an Orthodox and/or Hasidic Jewish man would most likely not shake your hand. Do not be offended if they put their hand behind their back. Click here for some sample dialogues.

Informal greetings

Many young people in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries will give a nod or bump fists and say, “hey,” or “sup.” They usually do this with each other and are more formal with adults. Click here for some sample dialogues.
How to greet people in English
Young and old now give fist bumps as a greeting!

Follow the lead

Because there are so many ways people greet people in the U.S., you may want to see what the other person does first. They may have studied your culture and greet you in the custom of your country. For instance, if you are visiting from Japan, they may bow. Then again, if you are going to stay with someone for a long period (study abroad), they may greet you with a hug. In fact, many people hug one another the United States. If you are meeting the friend of a friend, they may also hug you!

The best greeting

A new country and new culture may take time to get used to. Of course, the best way to approach someone is with a smile. Even if things become awkward, you’ll be fine as long as you smile!

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