Ciao vs. Buon Giorno

The famous “Ciao” moped was produced by Piaggio from 1967-2006.

Everyone knows the Italian word ciao: it’s become part of the cultural fabric of every English-speaking country.

What a lot of people don’t know is that ciao is used in Italy as both a greeting — as in hello — and a farewell — as in good-bye.

Although the expression is now considered standard Italian, it is Venetian in origin. It means literally slave or servant (from the Latin sclavus) and it was commonly used by courtiers in the sixteenth-century in greeting or saying farewell: [I am your humble] servant.

Another way that ciao is commonly mis- and re-interpreted in English-speaking countries is that in Italy, ciao is used strictly in informal settings. Outside of Italy, it is used regardless of the “register” of formality required by the setting.

For example, if you were to say ciao to a waiter in a restaurant, she or he would be offended by your presumptuously informal tone.

The proper way to greet a restaurateur or shopkeeper (or any other professional acquaintance for that matter) is by saying buon giorno (good day) or buona sera (good evening). And both can be used as both greeting and farewell.