Greetings in a small town in Italy

When you live in a small town like the one I’m staying in right now, odds are you know everyone that lives there.  Although I’m still confronting new faces daily, I am slowly getting to know each and every resident here.  In small towns, and some large ones, the custom of greeting people while out and about is very much present.  I’ve learned that even if you don’t know the person you are encounter (yet), that is no excuse not to say “hey!”

There are a few common greetings I’ve come across so far:

Salve

I have found this greeting is used most commonly when you are not already acquainted with the person you are greeting.  That is not to say it is never used with friends, family and others you know.  Salve, when used as a greeting, means “good health to you”.

Buon Giorno/Buona Sera

This greeting can be used formally and informally and is essentially your no fail greeting.  When you aren’t sure, you can use salve or buon giorno/sera.  I still haven’t managed to pinpoint the exact time when you giorno becomes sera.  I’ve read that you begin to say buona sera after 1:00 in the afternoon and in other places I’ve read it says differently.  For me, I use 3pm as my switch point because by that time the day is more than half gone and the evening is still to come.  You could also wait for your neighbour to greet you and use whichever one they use for you in return.

Ciao

This is obviously the less formal greeting.  I tend to use it with friends, relatives, and those I know well.  However, when I encounter those that are older I tend to use a more formal greeting out of respect and will use either salve or buon giorno/sera.

Beep! Beep!

Yup, you read that right.  Car horns are used quite a bit here:  to warn oncoming traffic when you are approaching a curve or to notify people to move aside so you can pass.  It is also used to say “hello”. Two cars pass each other on the road (when the road allows it) and you will hear them honk at each other in greeting.  Other times, you will hear a car horn as you are walking down the street and it’s not to tell you move but to say “hey” as it passes by.  The rule seems to be, that even if you are in a car, a greeting is still made.

I have to admit coming from a big city where in some cases you don’t even know your neighbour, it’s hard to get used to the notion of saying hello to strangers.  As each day passes though, I find myself getting more comfortable with the idea and it gets easier as the faces become more familiar to me.  I knew I was settling into the idea when I was on my way back home from a run along the winding country roads just outside of my town and as I walked back to my house I noticed an older gentleman sitting on a balcony watching me as I was trekking up the narrow street.  I waved to him to say hello and without hesitation he waved back, and it wasn’t weird at all.

Yes, I think I can definitely get used to this.

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