Saying hello in the UK
This is lesson six of your activity week and the content is linked to the podcast you listened to in lesson four:
In this lesson, we look at an aspect of UK culture and ask you to do three things:
- Read the article and look at the words in red. Think about what these words mean.
- Do the quiz at the end of the article. This quiz checks your understanding of the English in the article.
- Answer the questions and give your opinion in the comments section.
Good morning? Hello? Hi? A Hug or kiss perhaps? What about a firm handshake?
Meeting someone for the first time can be awkward if you get it wrong! It can also be embarrassing when you meet the same person for the second or third time!
In the past, British people knew how to introduce themselves to strangers. They would say ‘How do you do’ and offer a hand for a handshake.
However, this phrase is seen as old-fashioned these days and is rarely used. So what do British people do instead? You don’t want to accidentally poke someone in the eye if you offer a hand to shake and the other person comes in for a hug or a kiss!
Here are a few ideas about what you should say and do when you meet someone for the first time in the UK.
What to do?
A handshake is still the most common way to greet someone, especially if you are in a formal situation at work. Shaking hands is the most common greeting between men, between women, and between men and women.
However, the type of handshake is important. Your handshake should be firm and confident, but it’s not a battle to the death or proof of masculinity. You don’t need to crush anybody’s fingers! On the other hand, don’t be too weak. Nobody likes a limp handshake. You want to show that you are confident and sincere. It’s always a good idea to smile and make eye contact with the person you are shaking hands with. People might not trust you if you look away or down at the floor when you shake someone’s hand.
Lastly, two shakes are enough! Take hold of the hand, shake it up and down twice - up down up down. Don't hold on for too long; you’re not asking someone to dance!
Hugs, kisses and high fives
Hugging, kissing and high-fiving are definitely more informal greetings in the UK and not something you would normally do when meeting someone for the first time. These types of greetings are usually for friends, family and small children. You might see high-fives, hugs and sometimes kisses on the football pitch but not usually in the office!
What to say?
If you want to sound like you are living in 1952, you can say ‘How do you do?’. This phrase is OK - it's not exactly wrong, but it definitely sounds a bit old-fashioned. Let’s look at some alternatives …
Phrases such as ‘how are you doing?’, ‘how are you?’, and ‘all right?’ have all come to mean something similar to the out-dated and unfashionable ‘how do you do’. These phrases can create some confusion though. Sometimes, people are not familiar with these greetings and make the mistake of confusing them for questions. These greetings may sound like questions, but if a British person asks you, they probably don't want you to answer.
John: "Hi! How are you?"
Bill: "Hey! How are you?"
There are also regional differences in the UK. In the north, you might hear phrases such as 'how' do?', 'now then?', 'ey up?', or 'alright?'. However, it is not a good idea to try to imitate these greetings until you are very confident.