Greetings - Ways to Say Hello

Women greet a passing boat
Photo by zuki via Flickr

How do you say hello? Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid look at greetings from around the world.

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

How do you say hello?


Good morning!


How are you doing?

What’s new?

Hello there.

What’s going on?

How’s life?

Voice 2  

These people have all used different English words or phrases. But they have all done the same thing. They have all greeted someone. People greet each other in every country and culture. But they say and do many different things to greet each other. Why do we greet each other in these ways? How does a person know the right greeting? Today’s Spotlight is on Greetings.

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Greetings seem simple, but they are often a complex part of language. In English, people greet each other in different ways depending on the situation. For example, a greeting may use words that show the time of day such as Good morning, Good afternoon or Good evening.

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People also use different greetings depending on how well they know the other person. People may greet a friend in this way:



How’s it going? 

What’s up?

Voice 1  

But people use different English words or phrases when they meet and greet someone for the first time. Such words can also show respect. In a more official situation people use words of greeting more like these:



How are you today?

It is very nice to meet you.

Voice 2  

Greetings may also be different in different countries that speak English. In Australia people often say ‘G’day.’ In parts of the United States people may greet each other with ‘Howdy!’ or ‘How you doin?’ In the United Kingdom people more commonly say ‘Hiya.’

Voice 1  

But there is more to greeting than words. Some greetings also include particular movements. For example, in many places it is common for people to shake each other’s hands when they meet. In some cultures, people kiss each other on the side of the face, the cheek. Some people give hugs by putting their arms around each other and squeezing.

Voice 2  

No matter how people greet, the words and actions of greetings are important everywhere. There are scientific, safety and social reasons why every human culture has traditions of greeting. Scientists think that they know one of the main reasons people greet each other - and it sounds a bit unusual! People greet each other so they can smell each other! Many greeting customs include smelling. This helps people to recognize each other. In Greenland holding someone’s face close and breathing in is part of greeting someone. Maori people in New Zealand have a similar custom. They press their faces together and breathe in when they meet someone. The Social Issues Research Centre in the United Kingdom gives more examples of the importance of smell for greetings around the world:

Voice 3  

“When greeting someone, the Ongee do not ask ‘How are you?, but ‘How is your nose?’ In India, the traditional friendly greeting was to smell someone’s head. An ancient Indian document declares ’I will smell you on the head, that is the greatest sign of love.’ Similar customs are found in Arab countries, where breathing on people as you speak to them signals friendship and goodwill.”

Voice 1  

Some scientific studies show that even handshaking is connected to the sense of smell. Dr. Noam Sobel is a scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Dr Sobel did scientific research about handshaking. He found that people often did something within a few minutes of shaking hands with someone else. People often smelled their hands. Dr. Sobel explained to The New Scientist:

Voice 4  

“We started looking at people and noticed that afterwards, the hand somehow by accident reached the face. When we were watching the videos we would see people sniffing themselves just like animals. This is just one more example when chemical signaling is a driving force in human behavior.”

Voice 2  

So, why do people need to smell as part of a greeting? Smell can warn us if we sense something is not right. Some people think that the handshake began for another reason connected to safety. In the past, people may have shaken hands to show that they were not holding a weapon in their hand. This showed the new person they were meeting that they were safe. When people greet in a friendly and open way they show each other that they are not dangerous.

Voice 1  

People also greet each other for social reasons. Asking someone about themselves shows care and concern. People build relationships together when they ask ‘How are you?’ The website torah . org explains why greeting is so important:

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“We all need to be recognized. We need to feel that we matter. Every human being has a basic and natural desire to be recognized as important. And we can give some of this importance to others just by greeting them correctly. We may not put much thought into how and when we say hello to someone. But we should think about it more deeply.”

Voice 2  

So how do people know what to do, especially when traveling between countries and cultures? Greetings can often go wrong! Jamie Bowlby-Whiting writes an internet travel blog. He told about a difficult greeting experience on his blog:

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“I thought they were going for the kiss. But it was the hug. Now I just wet their face. And then hit them in the nose with my head. It was so embarrassing!”

Voice 1  

People can avoid these embarrassing experiences. They can research how to greet correctly before connecting with people of other cultures. It is especially important to learn if there are any forms of greeting that may not be used in a particular country. For example, in some countries, like Japan, kissing is not considered a good way to greet someone. Sometimes cultures also have different greetings for women than for men.

Voice 2  

A person may not always know the correct greeting. But the most important thing when greeting someone is to show respect. Try your best and apologize if you offend someone. Have you ever had any experience with greeting someone from another culture? Did it go well? Or did you have a bad experience? Tell us about your experiences.

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And tell us how people greet each other where you live! Do you think it is a good way to greet people? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on our Facebook page at

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. This program is called ‘Greetings - Ways to Say Hello.’

Voice 1  

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official ‘Spotlight English’ app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


How do people greet each other in your culture? Do you think this is a good way to greet people?


Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on May 11, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight program
Subject: answer to the question above
Date: Wednsday 11, May 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Rena Dam, Bruce Gulland, and Michio Ozaki:

Once more, I want to thank you for more one important article that you have developed for us readers and learners of English.
According to your phrase that you wrote above ; Every human being has a basic and natural desire to be recognized as important. Here in Brazil we all need to be recognized and we need to feel that we matter. However, here in my country Brazil we have two ways to greet someone. In a formal way and in an informal way. We should greet someone in a formal way when we meet a persom at first time that we do not know him or her so we use this way to greet him or her: To shake each other’s hands . Also, this way we use it to greet unknown person in which is a respect way to greet him or her. There is another formal way to greet someone to give hugs by putting their arms around each other. But, this formal way is when each other knows very well.  The informal way to greet each other is similar in the United States so we say: Hello, How are you? How are you doing? Hi! What is new? Of course, in our mother language Portuguese. (Olá, Como está?, Como você está indo?, oi! Qual a novidade?) Although, there is an informal way between women to greet each other such as men and other woman. They usually greet women and men with a kiss. They kiss each other on the side of the face, the cheek. Therefore, depending on how well they know the other person , after greeting each other they talking about their Families, friends, and otheir subjects. Yes, I do. this is a goog way to greet people.

Your regards,
Severino Ramos

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on June 05, 2016

I think that is not exist there a good way and a bad way for greeting between people because that depends on the differnce of cultures between them.
In my country (Yemen) the greeting being by handshaking and kissing in cheekes. But that is changed now (something) how the kisses become at air without touching between cheekes.
I have an experience with greeting in onther culture. In Ethiopia, where I live recently for study. The greeting here being by handshaking and hits the shoulders each other. The starting it was defficult for me but I learnt and mastered it by time (lol).

Avatar Spotlight
said on December 07, 2016

This best way for learing i am also trying tom learn japanes i have learn how to say hello in japanese from

Avatar Spotlight
said on September 04, 2018

In Brazil, people have the custom to kiss the face one of another. I don’t like this. I think it is invasive and uncomfortable. Even the hug, which I think it would be only for people more near and friendly, I avoid. I don’t like to be hugged for every people I greet. I use to greet whith an “hello… Good morning” and so on, but whitout shake hands, kisses, hugs etc. If someone shake me hands, I clean them immediately, because I don’t know where they had put their hands before.