Written by: Olivera Tolimir
When starting to explore a new language, one of the first things you learn is how to greet others and introduce yourself. In our mission to help you speak Serbian, we prepared a list of 10 Serbian greetings that will help you sound like a true Serb! Let’s start with the basics and go on to more interesting examples.
1. Dobro jutro! / Dobar dan! / Dobro veče!
These are the most usual formal greetings in Serbian. Their meanings are: Good morning! / Good afternoon (Good day)! / Good evening! As you can see, it’s the same as in English – depending on the part of the day, you’ll choose one of these three.
We start using Dobar dan around 10 o’clock, but it’s always interesting when an early bird and a night owl meet around 11 o’clock. For the first one, a day started a long time ago, while the other is barely awake, so they’ll use different greetings and look at each other in surprise.
Zdravo means hello. It comes from the Serbian word for health.
It’s somewhere between a formal and informal Serbian greeting. People often use it when they can’t decide how to address someone – for example, with colleagues on a new job that are not much older than them. Also, middle-aged and older people are more likely to use this greeting than young ones.
Speaking of zdravo, we can’t miss the opportunity to mention vozdra. Vozdra is an absolute slang term. Can you guess its origin? Hint: we listed it right after zdravo. Zdra-vo… Vo-zdra. You can see it now, right? It’s an example of šatrovački. It’s a form of Pig Latin used in the ex Yugoslavia region. We split a word into two parts and switch the parts’ places.
Be careful not to confuse this one with zdravo when you start to speak Serbian! It will seem rude to talk to an older person and say vozdra!
Serbians borrowed this greeting from Italians. Yes, it’s our version of the famous ciao! This cute and short greeting is frequent among Serbians and can be translated as hi. This is the most commonly used greeting among younger generations.
The important thing is we use it with our friends and family. It would be inappropriate for a pupil to address their teacher this way. It’s ill-suited for any young person to greet someone older using ćao unless it’s their close relative. It’s also all right if the older person insists on informal communication.
Hej is another informal greeting. It often replaces ćao, but mostly in written communication. This greeting represents English hey (written in a Serbian way). We sometimes multiply j or e when typing (hejjj / heeej). Just like ćao, younger generations mostly use it.
6. Šta se radi? / Šta ima?
These two informal Serbian greetings are the closest to English What’s up. They’re used among close friends and family members. We usually ask these questions when we haven’t seen our friends for some time, so we’re interested in some news in their life. This is also how we like to start texting our friends – it’s showing we’d like to catch up.
Pozdrav is a word that means greeting in Serbian. So, we sometimes greet each other by saying the word greeting (This is not the strangest one). This greeting can still be heard among some older men, but it seemed lost until recently when youth embraced it and started using it again.
8. ‘De si?
This is one of the most amusing Serbian greetings because of its seemingly meaningless form and even more meaningless expected answer. It truly captivates the art of communication! You need to remember this one if you want to speak Serbian like a native!
So, ‘de si is a slang form of the sentence gde si, which means where are you. Why would anyone ask you where you are if they meet you on the street, you wonder? Well, no one expects you to answer where you’re standing or sitting at the moment. It’s just another informal greeting meaning hey or what’s up.
The expected answer would sound something like this: E, evo me! Šta ti? It means: Hey, here I am! What’s up with you? Many words are left out, but they are implied, so you don’t have to worry about your interlocutor not understanding you!
9. Oooo! / Eeee!
Speaking of seemingly meaningless Serbian greetings, we have to mention the one-letter-ones. I mean, it’s nice you want to learn to speak Serbian, but even Serbs are sometimes too lazy to pronounce their own words. So, if we accidentally meet a close friend we haven’t seen in a while, we may be so surprised that we only grin and say: Oooo!
There are dashes of surprise, happiness, and goofiness in this monosyllabic greeting! What’s even funnier, the friend usually just repeats the same not-even-a word. They can sometimes say: Eee, ‘de si ti? These conversations can be hilarious to a bystander. Let’s look at the possible way one of these conversations can go in:
B: Eeee, ‘de si
A: A, evo… Šta ti?
B: Dobro je, nije loše.
If we wanted to translate this chat literally, it would sound something like this:
B: Eeee, where are you?
A: Ah, there… You, what (What’s up)?
B: It’s fine, not bad.
So, no one answered anyone’s question, but they weren’t supposed to, anyway. A and B were glad to meet and share a few words. And that’s what’s important!
10. Pomaže Bog!
This is an old greeting that means God helps. Today, it’s mostly used in church circles or when talking to priests. It’s very formal. When someone greets you like this, you should say Bog ti/Vam pomogao (Let the God help you)!
Since greetings are not expressed only through words, let’s say something about non-verbal communication in Serbia. While introducing yourself, you’re supposed to do a firm handshake and look a person in the eye. Girls and women usually kiss each other on the cheek. Boys and men rather share a hug or a handshake.
What’s specific for Serbia is – three kisses on the cheeks. You should kiss a person on one cheek, then another, and in the end, come back to the first one. Older people usually do this, and it’s common in big family gatherings, so don’t get confused when they don’t stop after the first or a second kiss!
Goodbye, bye, see you!
In the end, let’s mention how you can say goodbye in Serbian!
- Doviđenja! (Goodbye, formal)
- Ćao! / Zdravo! (Bye, informal)
- Vidimo se! (See you, informal)
- Prijatno! (Formal; usually after going for a service – shops, restaurants…)
- Zbogom! (Formal; it means: Go with God)
Zdravo! Vidimo se sledećeg utorka!