You can’t come to Italy without first knowing how to say hello when you meet someone. And to do so, you need to take an important aspect into consideration:
Italians mark the difference between formal and informal situations.
For instance, you can’t say “ciao” to a complete stranger. It would be a bit awkward and rude. Similarly, you can't say “buongiorno” to your best friend. So, here’s a brief guide about the most common Italian greetings.
CIAO → it’s the most common greeting in Italian and can be used both during the day and the evening. It’s used among friends, when talking to young people and more generally in informal contexts. You can use “ciao” with your friends and relatives of course, if you are an adult and are talking to a child, or if you are a young boy or girl and are addressing someone your age.
BUONGIORNO → it’s the greeting used during the day in formal situations. You can use “buongiorno” with people you have just met or you barely know, with your teachers and with strangers.
BUONASERA → “buonasera” is used during the evening in formal situations. Like “buongiorno”, it needs to be used with people you are not intimate with.
SALVE → the greeting that 'saves' you. You can use it when you want to be polite but not too formal, according to the context. Like “ciao”, “salve” is used both during the day and the evening, but with people you are not intimate with when you don't want to sound too formal.
Now that you know how to say hello in Italian, I would like to give you a small and simple exercise:
think about the people you meet during the day, like your friends and parents, your boss or the cashier at the supermarket. What greeting would you use with each of them?
You can write your answer in a comment or email me to receive a feedback.
See you soon! :)