The first step in interacting with and meeting people in Greece and Cyprus is to know how to say hello and goodbye.
It sets the tone for the entire interaction by signalling you’re willing and able to speak Greek, preventing the conversation from defaulting to English.
As in most languages, there are a lot of different ways to greet people in Greek, in this piece we’ll go over the most important ones.
How to say hello in Greek
There are lots of ways to say “hello” in Greek, but luckily there’s one that works in all situations, no matter the time of day and where you are.
It’s γεια σας, which literally means “your health.”
Γεια σας and its informal little brother γεια σου can be used when seeing somebody for the first time, when walking into a shop, saying hi to your granny; it’s a great greeting for all occasions.
As an added bonus, you can also use it to say goodbye in all situations, too, so it’s a great fallback option. If you forget how to say good morning or another option, you’ll be fine just defaulting to γεια σας.
It’s also an acceptable reply to any greeting, rounding out the reasons why it’s a must-have in your vocabulary.
Formal vs informal
The only tricky thing about this greeting is when to use the formal and informal versions.
Γεια σας should be used when greeting two or more people, or people you should be polite to, so pretty much anybody you’re not on first-name basis with.
Greek can be a fairly formal language, so when in doubt you may want to just default to the formal form.
Worst case scenario you’ll be told it’s not necessary and you can switch to the informal “you”.
Γεια σου can be used with people you already know or people your own age if you’re under thirty, say. The exception is Cyprus, where it’s a lot more common to default to the informal “you”.
You’ll also often hear just γεια, especially between friends or when saying a quick goodbye. It’s more or less equivalent to “hey,” and you should use it the same way: you probably wouldn’t say it to a policeman or your granny.
Γεια σας/σου is a great all-round greeting, but there are plenty more.
One very formal one, but very important to know, is χαίρετε (“greetings”).
You’ll most often hear χαίρετε when entering a shop or government office, and you have the option of either replying the same way, or just using γεια σας.
You won’t hear it every day, but it’s quite common and useful to know.
Of course, in English we don’t just say hello all the time; depending on who you see you could ask somebody how they’re doing, or even just a simple “what’s up?”
Greek is no different, and there are hundreds (literally) of less official ways to say hi, depending on where you are in the Greek-speaking world and how familiar you are with the person in question.
The most obvious one is probably τι κάνεις; (; is a question mark in Greek, btw), which is the standard way of asking somebody “how are you? (though note that it literally means “what are you doing?”).
If you know somebody well enough, it’s perfectly normal to greet them this way — same goes for most ways of asking people how they are, Greek has a lot of these, and I do mean a lot.
Another common one is όλα καλά; (“all good?”) which can be used as an expression of concern (“hey, is everything okay with you?”) but more usually as a way of saying hi — informal Dutch does exactly the same thing.
We’ll finish up this shortened list with two very informal ones, namely τι γίνεται; (“what’s happening?” or “what’s up?”) and τι νέα; (“what’s new?”). These are pretty casual and I’d only use them with people I know fairly well, but it’s a nice way of changing things up a bit.
Greetings based on the time of day
Of course, much like in any other language, you don’t just say “hello” to people, you wish them a good time of day — even Chinese greetings do this.
Greeks divide the day up in all manner of different ways, but the three main ones are morning, afternoon and evening.
These times change both the greeting and the goodbye, so it pays to just simply learn all these greetings below.
That said, please note that we’re going only over the main ones here, Greek can get very specific about times of day and whether or not you’ll be eating. Though it seems these older, specific forms are falling out of favor, you will still hear them sometimes.
We’ll start at the beginning of the day, with καλημέρα (“good morning”), which you can use from anytime in the morning — say five or six — until noon.
It’s a very common greeting and it’s enough just by itself, you don’t need to add “hello” to it like you do when greeting in Spanish.
Technically, καλημέρα is the informal version, you’re supposed to make it formal by adding σας at the end — this goes for all the greetings based on the time of day.
In practice, though, you won’t hear καλημέρα σας all that much, so unless you’re going into a particularly formal situation you can probably get away with not using it.
For the afternoon, from about noon till three, you can say καλό απόγευμα. However I have rarely heard this as a greeting, it seems to be used more as a way of saying goodbye.
What’s a lot more common is to hear γεια σας for the early afternoon, and then a transition to καλησπέρα (“good evening”) from three o’clock or so all the way until nightfall.
Your experience may vary depending on the region of Greece you’re in, though.
Also, I should note that on the web you’ll often see καλό απόγευμα as a way to say “good evening.” As far as I know, this is incorrect as technically the afternoon ends at around six or seven. If you know differently, though, please let us know in the comments.
Common greetings summarized
|Γεια σας/γεια σου||Hello|
|Τι κάνεις;||How are you?|
|Όλα καλά;||All good?|
The times of day also play a factor when saying goodbye. Though γεια σας can be used whenever you say goodbye (usually adding τα λέμε, “see you”), it’s a little nicer to wish people a good day or evening.
We’ll do the easiest ones first: toward the end of the morning and you’re saying goodbye, you can say καλό μεσημέρι. Technically it means “good noon,” but you’re actually wishing them a nice lunchtime.
Καλό απόγευμα more or less fulfills the same function, as we mentioned above.
When saying goodbye late in the day or in the evening, it’s best to say καλό βράδυ. Βράδυ is a bit of an odd word as it can mean both “evening” and “night,” but in this case it means “evening.”
If it’s already late in the evening, you can also tell somebody good night, καληνύχτα.
Though it’s usually only used when you’re about to go to bed, I’ve heard it when leaving bars and clubs as well.
Another way to wish somebody good night is to say όνειρα γλυκά, or “sweet dreams”.
Wishing somebody a nice day
You can also tell people “have a nice day” in Greek, but these sentences can get a little complicated for absolute beginners.
As it’s not necessary to know them — though you’ll get a good reception for using them — we recommend only studying up on these if you feel a bit more familiar with the language.
The first one is for the morning: καλή μέρα να έχεις (or έχετε if you’re being formal) and means “have a nice day.”
Note that καλή and μέρα are two different words here and haven’t been stuck together as in the greeting. Also, note that μέρα is used to mean “day” here, and not “morning.”
Isn’t Greek fun?
You can also use this construction with other greetings, so καλό μεσημέρι να έχεις or καλό βράδυ να έχεις.
However, you won’t hear it around much, so probably just stick to the one wishing people a good day.
Final note on goodbyes
Please note that most Greek textbooks will tell you that “goodbye” is αντίο.
However, this means more like “farewell” and I have never heard it said anywhere, except maybe soap operas.
In fact, the two times I used it I was looked at funny, so I suggest just forgetting αντίο, unless you plan to read or watch a lot of melodramatic popular culture.
Common goodbyes summarized
|Γεια σας/γεια σου||Bye|
|Τα λέμε||See you|
|Καλό βράδυ||Good evening|
Γεια σας, φίλοι μου, τα λέμε
Though this was only a brief overview of the ways to greet people and then say goodbye to them, it should be enough to get you by.
Depending on where you are in the Greek-speaking world, greetings can vary a bit, so don’t be surprised if you hear things not in this article.
On the flipside, all the greetings in this overview should be familiar enough to people that they will know what you’re saying, at least.
Have fun trying them out and learning Greek!