By- Claudia Quesito
Greetings are the first step to making a conversation run smoothly, so you certainly want to start with the right foot. Here’s an overview to help you navigate formal versus informal and pick the appropriate expression when meeting and saying goodbye to someone.
The universally known Ciao is the greeting you would likely use at the beginning, as well as at the end, of your interactions with people of approximately your age, people younger than you, children, or any other person in an informal setting. At times it’s not so easy for foreigners to establish whether Ciao—and therefore, all the other informal addresses—are appropriate. It’s true that using the informal address when you are not supposed to might sound impolite, but it actually sounds just as awkward the other way around—that is, when you address someone formally who wouldn’t expect that. As a rule of thumb, use the informal address with people you would call by their first names and, if really in doubt, just wait for the other person to grant you “permission” to address them informally (Dammi pure del tu! or Puoi darmi del tu!).
As for the formal greetings, there are a couple of variations and they mostly depend on the time of the day. Buongiorno (which literally translates as “Good day”) is used in the morning and afternoon, and you might hear it also in informal contexts. Buona sera is used in the evening, but its start time can vary: it can begin as early as at 5:00 pm in the South, or after dinner regardless of the actual time. Buona giornata and Buona serata are the specific ways you wish a good day or evening/night. Be careful with Buona notte, which is both formal and informal, and is only used at bedtime when wishing someone a good night (meaning sleep). To add “sweet dreams,” you say e sogni d’oro.
To express goodbye, you say A domani, A più tardi, or A… + day of the week (meaning “See you tomorrow, See you later, See you on…”). These can be used in any context; Ciao and Arrivederci are, respectively, informal and formal, and ArrivederLa, is used in a particular formal context. Finally, there is Addio, which comes from “(I leave you) to God” and sounds very permanent; you should thus reserve it for serious farewells.