“How’s it going?”
They all mean the same thing: “Hello!”
And that’s just a handful of the ways you can say “hello” in English. There are dozens of options depending on who you’re talking to and where you’re speaking to them.
Spanish is no different. There are stacks of ways to say “hello,” and they’re different across the Spanish-speaking world.
With nearly 130 million people calling Mexico their home, Mexican Spanish is the most widely spoken variant in the world.
Although Spanish from Mexico and Spain are largely interchangeable, the wide variety of slang is what gives Mexican Spanish its distinct flavor. And, the first step to perfecting Mexican Spanish is learning how to say hello like a local.
In this post, we’re going to cover Mexican Spanish greetings in all types of social scenarios, from a formal encounter with a stranger to meeting new friends in the local cantina (bar).
How to Say “Hello” in Mexican Spanish: Essential Greetings and Tips
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And now, let’s get back to learning how to say “hello” and other greetings in Mexican Spanish.
Formal Greetings in Mexican Spanish
So, let’s start with the basics.
Some of the first words you’ll say to most people when you meet them are buenos días (good morning). It’s a polite and universal greeting that works with anyone.
This greeting changes according to the time of day, so you would use buenos días (good morning) until noon, buenas tardes (good afternoon) between noon and sunset and buenas noches (good night) after sunset.
Notice how the adjective buenos (good) changes to agree with the number and gender of the noun it describes.
When it comes to meeting people in a formal situation in Mexico, there are some key tips and vocabulary to remember:
1. Use usted (formal version of you) when speaking in formal situations.
Like in castellano (the Spanish spoken in Spain), usted is very important to show respect. Use it to address a person who you don’t know, who is older than you or who is in a position of authority over you.
So, let’s say you’re at a university and you’re introduced to one of the professors. A university professor is likely to fall into all three categories, so you’d definitely call him or her usted.
Here’s an example of how to greet them:
¡Hola! Qué gusto conocerlo. (Hello! What a pleasure to meet you.)
Note: Conocerlo is used when you’re speaking to a man. To a woman, you’d say, “Qué gusto conocerla” (what a pleasure to meet you). This is because the direct object pronoun lo/la has to agree with the gender and number of whomever you’re talking to.
2. Use Señor(a) (Mr./Mrs.) instead of the person’s first name.
For anyone who you’d normally call usted, it wouldn’t be polite to address them using their first name. Always call them Señor(a) + [surname] until they invite you to use their first name.
Hola, señor Ruíz. ¿Cómo le va? (Hello, Mr Ruíz. How’s it going?)
If you know the person has a profession, replace señor(a) with their title:
Buenos días, profesor González. (Good morning, Professor González.)
Now, let’s say you’re looking for someone you’ve not personally met before, and you need to check if you’re speaking to the right person. In this case, you’d say:
Disculpe, ¿es usted la doctora García? (Excuse me, are you Dr. García?)
Disculpe (excuse me — formal) is a super useful word, as it can be used in any situation with an adult you don’t know. When talking to someone your own age or younger, disculpa (excuse me — informal) is the less formal option.
3. Memorize the following additional formal vocabulary for meeting new people.
¿Cómo está? (How are you?)
Muy bien, ¿y usted? (Very well, and you?)
¡Que tenga un buen día! (Have a great day!)
Mucho gusto en conocerlo/la. (Nice to meet you. — male/female acquaintance)
Que le vaya bien. (Have a nice day! — for both male/female acquaintance)
4. Always shake hands!
It’s a cultural expectation that when Mexicans meet each other to spend time together (i.e. anything more than a brief passing), they have some kind of physical contact.
Formal introductions are no exception. Alongside your greeting, make sure you include a handshake if you call the person usted (you — formal). Shake hands when you leave as well.
Here’s a top tip: if you’re introduced to a room full of people, greet and shake hands with each person individually. Greeting the group as a whole would seem rude.
Informal Greetings in Mexican Spanish
Informal chat is where Mexican Spanish comes into its own. You’ve probably heard many Mexican slang terms from TV shows or movies.
Here are some phrases you’ll need when meeting friends of friends, friends’ family members or pretty much anyone in a casual context.
1. Use the tú form with friends, family and people you know.
As we know, tú is the informal way to address people in Spanish, and this is true in Mexico as well. Use it for any casual, informal situation—think meeting people at a party, making friends in a cantina (bar) or any situation where there’s no sense of hierarchy among people.
Here are some examples of tú (you — informal) forms in action. Why not compare them to the usted (you — formal) versions earlier?
¡Hola! Qué gusto conocerte. (Hi! What a pleasure to meet you.)
Oye, Juan. ¿Cómo te va? (Hey, Juan. How’s it going?)
¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)
Muy bien, ¿y tú? (Very well, and you?)
¡Que tengas un buen día! (Have a great day!)
Mucho gusto en conocerte. (Nice to meet you. — The object pronoun te (you) is the same regardless of whether you’re speaking to a man or woman.)
Que te vaya bien. (Have a nice day.)
2. Learn some additional informal phrases.
Why not add a couple of bonus phrases to your vocabulary list?
Cuídate. (Take care of yourself.)
¡Nos vemos! (See you soon!)
So now that you’ve made some Mexican friends, you can greet them with several Mexican slang phrases the next time you see them. Let’s learn some!
The most popular is ¿qué onda? (what’s up?), to which they might respond aquí nomás (just chilling) or nada, todo tranquilo (all’s good).
If everything’s also going well with you, you could reply with también aquí (same here).
Just like in English, there are a ton of different ways to say “what’s up” in Mexican Spanish. Here are just a handful:
¿Qué tranza? (What’s up?)
¿Qué rollo? (Similar to the Irish phrase “What’s the craic?”)
¿Qué hay de nuevo? (What’s new?)
¿Qué cuentas? (What’s new?)
Why not practice some of these the next time you’re at a party in Mexico?
3. Mate, dude, buddy… memorize some Mexican slang words to call your friends.
Mexican Spanish is full of affectionate phrases for friends. Perhaps you’ve heard of some of these:
It’s perfectly normal to hear friends greeting each other using these terms. Here are a couple of examples of how you might hear them:
Oye, carnal, ¿qué hay de nuevo? (Hey brother, what’s new?)
Hola güey, ¿qué onda? (Hey dude, what’s up?)
4. Understand friendly Mexican embraces, like handshakes and besitos (air kisses).
Like with formal interactions, when you’re meeting someone for more than a brief “hello,” there will be a form of physical contact to accompany it.
In informal situations, this can look different depending on the gender of the person you’re meeting.
Men greet other men with a firm handshake. Close male friends or family members might also hug each other after the handshake.
When female friends or family members greet other women, they give each other an air kiss on the right cheek. Men and women greeting each other also use air kisses.
So, with this in mind, there won’t be any more awkward moments where you’re deciding whether to kiss someone or shake their hand!
Now to put your newfound greeting skills to the test.
Mexico is a friendly place. One of the most interesting parts of living in Mexico is how people greet each other every time they pass in the street, even if they run into each other multiple times a day!
It’s considered rude not to greet someone you walk past. If you can’t stop to chat, greet the other person with a quick “Adiós” (goodbye) and they’ll know that you’ve got somewhere to be.
Remember, even a quick stroll around a Mexican village can lead to lots of opportunities to say hello!
Siobhan Wood is a British writer specializing in language learning. Speaking French, Spanish and German, she loves to encourage others to take the plunge and learn a language. Her business helps language schools and e-learning providers to attract new students by creating fun and engaging content. Check out her website here.
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