I'm going to go to US for a long business trip, during which I'm going to meet a lot of people. Some of them are senior managers; others are day-to-day colleagues.

I want to know how to greet people in different ways: formal things to say to a manager, and casual things to say to co-workers.

I don't know if it's appropriate to say these to your leaders:

wassup / How's it goin'

  • Dictionary for a single word... Wassup | Google search for a phrase comes up with How's it going. Neither is particularly "business language". – Andrew Leach Nov 15 '12 at 10:23
  • Simply Hi or Hello works most of the time – Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 15 '12 at 10:25
  • Check out this page for a list of web pages with this kind of information – user21497 Nov 15 '12 at 10:49
  • How's goin' is not what anybody says in any register of English. The colloquial phrase is How's it goin'. But don't use this in format settings. – JSBձոգչ Nov 15 '12 at 14:58
  • Hi @JSBձոգչ, good to know that, isn't the "it" sound omitted in spoken English? – ZZcat Nov 15 '12 at 15:05

Very informal greetings such as "wassup" are best left to close aquaintances, when more formal greetings start to become more awkward. When meeting fellow business people for the first time – even peers – I think a more formal yet pleasant, "Hello, nice to meet you," would be much more appropriate.

If you're concerned about sounding too much like a pull-string toy with only one greeting, here are some variations:

  • "Hi, good to meet you."
  • "Hi, how are you?"
  • "Hello, great to see you."
  • "Hello; John Doe..."

Also, if they give the first greeting ("Hi, my name is Dave."), you can simply respond with something like, "My pleasure. John." as you shake their hand. (Sometimes facial expressions and body language will leave a more lasting impression than whatever words you say. Be genuinely glad to meet them, and you should be fine.)

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  • 1
    Or J.R. is at your service!. – Noah Nov 15 '12 at 12:55
  • @Noah, that's a very amusing comment, but I think we should supply the reference. – J.R. Nov 15 '12 at 21:20

"Hello, I'm John" is very common in the US. Telling people your name is less important in the UK, where somebody else is likely to introduce you. Whichever way, you can not go wrong with this greeting with any English person. You can also use the word 'Hi', rather than hello.

More informal in the US is to say 'hi, how you doing?', which is often not seen as a real question. They do not really want to know how you are, beyond a simple response of 'good'. Then you can say, "Hello, I'm John" (if they do not know you) or just start a conversation.

Man walks into a bar...

Barman: 'Hi, how you doing?' You: 'Good. Can I have a pint of beer?'

Man walks into a meeting...

You: 'Hello, I am John?' CEO: 'Nice to meet you John, how long have you been in the US?' You: 'We arrived yesterday, [insert polite observation about the place/culture/weather]'

More informal greeting should be kept to your friends, each clique will have its own informal greeting. Just stick to Hi or Hello until that is establish by the English speaker.

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  • Hi @Adey, thank you very much. I have a question regarding to your bar scenario, after the barman asked "how you doing", you said "good", is it impolite if you don't ask "how are you?" back? Or some times, if you have a quick face-to-face encounter with someone while walking, and he asked "how are you doing", and you almost have no time to say anything because he already passed by, how to deal with this kind of situation? – ZZcat Nov 15 '12 at 14:32
  • No, it's not impolite to not ask, but asking is not a requirement, either. A quick nod, a short "Fine," or a returned "How are you?" are all okay. One other note: regional variations sometimes apply. For example, in the northeast U.S., greetings are short and curt, in the south, people are more talkative and cordial, a distinction that was played brilliantly in this hilarious ad. I suggest watching it a few times, paying attention to the facial expressions of the locals as the out-of-towner clearly doesn't understand local greeting protocol. – J.R. Nov 15 '12 at 18:23

Americans for the most part are uncomfortable with status distinctions in the phatic elements of discourse: both deference to superiors and insolence or condescension to inferiors are deprecated. As J.R. suggests, intimacy/distance is a more important differentiator, which will not come into play on a first encounter.

This does not of course mean that there are no status distinctions, just that they are observed more in the substance of discourse: don't contradict the CEO and senior management, don't ask them potentially embarrassing questions, let them “lead”—determine where the conversation will go.

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  • Thank you, I don't mean to status distinct with anyone, I just want to know how to avoid unnecessary embarrassment :) – ZZcat Nov 15 '12 at 14:38
  • @ZZcat It's a matter which varies greatly from culture to culture, and generation to generation. And you don't know what will cause embarrassment until you actually embarrass someone! – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 15 '12 at 14:42

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