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Au revoir et bon vent: Nine ways to say goodbye in France

Depending on circumstances and situation, a correct farewell can add value to your departure 

There are many other ways of saying goodbye in French Pic: l i g h t p o e t / Shutterstock

Among the poignant tributes paid to former President of the Republic Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who passed away early in December 2020, aged 94, there were repeated showings of one of his most famous televised speeches. Or, to be precise, the end of his last speech as President.

On May 19, 1981, seven years to the day after he took office – and two days before he left the Elysée Palace for a handover of power to new President François Mitterrand – a clearly emotional D’Estaing’s parting discourse ended with a dramatic pull-away camera shot and a simple “Au revoir”. 

Next, he stood up and walked to the exit, to the strains of the Marseillaise, leaving an empty desk in shot for about a minute. As goodbyes go, it would become iconic – and a sign from d’Estaing that we had not seen the last of him. After all, in the truest sense of the word, “au revoir” really means “see you soon”. His career in politics and local government was nowhere near over, and he knew it.

There are many other ways of saying goodbye in French, some familiar, others more formal and polite (eg. adieu).

Take your pick from à la prochaine or the more popular à la revoyure (until next time) and à plus (short for à plus tard – “see you later”). 

Then there is the quirky “aux fines herbes”, which comes from a jumbled pronunciation of the German “auf wiedersehen”; and “bon vent” (literally “good wind”) – a well-wishing goodbye issued to parting sailors. Beware, though – if  bon vent is said in a more menacing tone, it means somebody wants you to go away!

Italian “ciao” and English “bye bye” are both now commonly used in France, something which D’Estaing would doubtless strongly, rightly, disapprove of.

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