For my other posts about French customs, please see Customs under Topics in the right-hand sidebar.
In theory it’s simple: to say hello it’s bonjour all day and bonsoir in the evening. To say good-bye it’s au revoir at any time of day and bonsoir in the evening, bonne nuit if it’s late at night.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as all that because it depends on which part of France you are in. I have heard Aveyronnais say bonsoir in the early afternoon; on one memorable occasion, I even heard it at 11:00 a.m. They must go to bed early.
As I mentioned in French Social Customs 4, it’s customary to greet everyone in a restaurant on arrival with “Bonjour/bonsoir, messieurs, dames” and “Au revoir/bonsoir, messieurs, dames” on departure. The same principle applies in small shops and gatherings.
The French tend to go around and greet everyone in turn at a party, whether they already know them or not. Things can take a long time to get going as a result, but it does break the ice.
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