Does Здравствуйте sound weird (being too formal) if said to people your age?

Hi all

I've been to Russia last summer as a volunteer in a summer camp in Yekaterinburg. I've met a lot of people while speaking almost no russian. Every new person I met (mostly my age 22) I would say Здравствуйте since that's the first time I met them, and i didn't want to say Привет.

I was getting some looks from others whenever I said it. In the camp when I first met the children, they even laughed when I said it.. I've never bothered to ask while I was still in Russia, it just came to my mind now while practicing russian pronunciation.

Anyway I wanted to ask, as a russian native speaker, if someone (young) you met through friends said Здравствуйте, would it sound weird to you? I now Здравствуйте is often translated as Hello, but I feel like it's more formal than hello. Also can you say Привет so a young person you've met for the first time?

Sorry for the long post, I know this might sound stupid, but I'm genuinely curious.

March 14, 2018


The difference between "привет" and "здравствуйте" is basically the same "ты" vs. "вы" thing, and it's a complicated thing, really.

First thing first, you did nothing wrong or unacceptable. Just unusual and unexpected - thus the reactions. In fact, you were way more polite than Russians typically are on average, and therefore also expect people to be.

In fact, I think that although those kids laughed then, in future they will remember that overly polite alien foreigner who talked to them as if they were important to him. And hopefully, it'll set a good example for them as they grow up.

Next thing is that ты/вы dichotomy that's always tricky to explain. The choice results from:

  • differences in age,
  • social status,
  • formality/informality of the situation,
  • and whether you want it to gain or lose the degree of formality,
  • and how much respect you personally feel to the one you're addressing.

A weird mixture.



Addressing a kid with "вы" means you respect that kid greatly, because here's the math:

a) you're older; +1 for "ты"
b) your social status is higher; +1 for "ты"
c) the situation is probably not very formal, you aren't in the Kremlin or something; +1 for "ты"
d) you're likely to try to befriend them and thus shall not add formality; +1 for "ты"

So far "ты" is winning 4 to 0, and so e) the personal respect is the only reason that's left and it must be strong enough to beat all the rest 4.

And your "вы" sends that message to the kids sense of dignity. It is not a bad thing, but odds are that it might be the first message of this kind in the kid's life so far, so the kid doesn't know quite how to react. So, laughter is sort of a natural protective reaction.


Addressing a person of your own age with "ты" or "вы" depends on the same math. In your particular situation it was similar:

a) you're of equal age; +0 (irrelevant); +0,5 for "ты" from age group modifier because younger people tend to be a lot more relaxed about the whole "ты"/"вы" thing and use "ты" by default;
b) you're of equal social status; +0 (irrelevant); +0,5 for "ты" from age group modifier;
c) the situation is probably not very formal; +1 for "ты"
d) you're likely to try to befriend them and become less formal; +1 for "ты"
c) respect... well, you were flattering them again, because respect can't be expected to beat all the 3 points above ;)


According to the same math "вы" would have been expected say, on business talks:

a) you're of equal age, more or less, at least you're both adults; +0 (irrelevant); +0,5 tops for "ты" if you're young;
b) you're of equal social status, more or less, at least you're both in business and in the position to hold the talks you hold; +0 (irrelevant); +0,5 tops for "ты" if you're young;
c) the situation is probably quite formal; +1 for "вы";
d) you're likely to try to keep your distance and remain official at least for a while ("nothing personal, just business"(c)); +1 for "вы";
e) you can be expected to show some respect to each other, at least to start with; +1 for "вы".

So in this situation "вы" wins 3 to 1.

March 14, 2018

Thank you so much for your well detailed and insightful response. This was way more than I expected, and I greatly appreciate it.

I think that although those kids laughed then, in future they will remember that overly polite alien foreigner who talked to them as if they were important to him. And hopefully, it'll set a good example for them as they grow up.

I feel awesome now seeing it from that perspective, thank you!

I loved your flawless (not sarcasm) math :) Now I know when to use both greetings, that would be very helpful as I'm already planning my next project in St Pete next winter.

Again thank you for your explanation and here is a lingot to show my appreciation :) Have a wonderful day!

March 14, 2018

You're welcome :)

March 14, 2018

Excellent explanation. Let me just chime in that this is not something unique to Russian; this is what linguists call a "T-V distinction", because the Latin equivalent of "ты" and "вы" are "tu" and "vos". Besides Latin, many languages have such a distinction, including French ("tu" and "vous"), German ("du" and "Sie"), and Spanish, although the polite Spanish form "usted" is rarely used, even among strangers. Most (if not all) Slavic languages use a similar distinction to the one in Russian.

March 15, 2018

I agree, I've experienced that in French, which is widely spoken in Morocco, "vous" is used more often than "tu" for someone you don't know. As for Arabic the plural "you" ("انتم" pronounced "antum") is rarely used, it's reserved for special situation like addressing the royal family.

The greeting situation in Russian is more unique I think. In french for example, "Bonjour" is the treated as the formal greeting, and "slaut" as non formal, but using "bonjour" with friends is not considered strange like здравствуйте, it's quite common actually. Same thing goes for "Hola" in Spanish.

March 15, 2018

Idk, but I would think Здравствуйте is a little too formal for children, so I would say Привет to children.

March 14, 2018

I agree, but from all what I've read before going I had only one idea, Здравствуйте for anyone you meet for the first time. After I got to know the children I started saying Привет.

March 14, 2018

Man, Russian is so interesting!

March 15, 2018

indeed, and that's why I'm learning it :)

March 15, 2018

you can also say здрасьте, it is kinda in between

March 15, 2018

Right, and it is often considered to be trolling / an insult in disguise by those who expect being addressed with the full version of здравствуйте. They take it as you being disrespectful and challenging their authority.

And even if you really didn't mean anything like that, it doesn't make them like you any better.

So it is hardly a good idea to say здрасьте to people like police or officials.

March 15, 2018

The last thing I want as a foreigner in Russia is to offend anyone or come across like I'm challenging their authority. I'll stick with the full здравствуйте in those situations.

March 15, 2018

Well, that's good to know.

March 17, 2018

Wouldn't it be possible to say Здравствуй as a less formal version of Здравствуйте, but still more polite than Привет?

March 18, 2018

When saying "Привет", you don't have to choose between "ты" and "вы", it rather depends on the formality of the situation. (IMO) With "Здравствуй" vs "Здравствуйте", it mostly depends of the relations to the person you greet (explained in details by Peter594672).

March 27, 2018

I've actually done some research and здравствуйте, in direct translation, is be healthy. Russian. Is. CRAZY.

March 29, 2018

Well, at least it means something, and wishing someone good health is probably is not such a bad way to show welcoming, especially somewhere where winter is cold and lasts for half a year. :)

March 29, 2018
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