Australian Greetings: ‘How’s It Going’ And More

When it comes to saying hello, Australians have a few typical greeting phrases and choice slang words.

Usually greeting someone in Australia is a casual, informal affair regardless of whether or not we know that person, whether we are close to them or not.

There are so many ways to say hello. Weekly Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme.

There are so many ways to say hello | Weekly Photo Challenge: Variations on a Theme.

When I moved back to Australia about a decade ago, the typical Aussie ‘hellos’ confused me. When someone greeted me in Australian-speak, it always took a moment for me to realise that they were actually saying hi to me.

How’s it going? That’s one typical Australian way of saying hello. Traveling around Australia, I’ve heard this phrase pretty much everywhere: from city to rural areas, the states of Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and the nation’s capital Canberra. Some variations of this phrase include:

How you going? How are you going? How you doing? How are you doing? How’s it hanging? (this last one sometimes conjures up the image of a body part, and that’s probably why it’s not heard too often).

All of these are ways of asking how have you been. How are you. What have you been up to. How’s life treating you. In Australia, ‘How’s it going’ is a question Australians ask when catching up with someone, be it over coffee or bumping into a friend randomly on the streets. It’s also a phrase that we greet our co-workers with when we get to work, or when we are checking up on someone halfway through the day.

For the longest time I didn’t think ‘How’s it going’ or ‘How you going’ actually referred to one’s well-being. For the longest time I was focused and fixated on the word ‘going’ and wondered if the person asking the question literally meant where was I going. That is, I wondered if the person was asking if I was going to some place or asking how was I getting a certain place. A lot of the time we hear the phrases ‘going towards’, ‘going to’ or ‘going there’ each day. Naturally, when one uses ‘going’, it can be second nature to automatically associate it with moving in a certain geographical direction.

Hello might catch us off guard.

Hello might catch us off guard.

When I first moved back to Australia, whenever someone asked me ‘How’s it going’, I’d go, ‘Ummm’. I didn’t believe they were actually asking where I was going to. It seemed strange to ask someone right off bat where they are heading when they are sitting down, and when I was in fact sitting down.

Then there are Aussie greetings with the word ‘mate’ thrown in. ‘How’s it going mate?’ or ‘Hey mate’. ‘Mate’ has long had contested, conflicting connotations. As I’ve written in Why Do Australians Call Each Other ‘Mate’?, on one hand the word signifies devotion to nation, Australia’s convict history and blokey culture, some of these ideologies arguably outdated. On the other hand, the word also signifies egalitarianism and friendship – and these days a colloquial, gender-neutral word used to address someone in place of their name. So, ‘How’s it going mate’ can be thought of as a means of asking someone how they are on friendly terms or not-so-friendly terms depending on circumstances.

To be honest, I’ve never used ‘mate’ to greet someone. It’s not something I grew up hearing in my Chinese Australian household, and also not among my white Aussie classmates at school. But I don’t mind when others address me with that word.

Sometimes a greeting might turn us away.

Sometimes a greeting might turn us away.

‘G’day’ is also another Aussie greeting, or ‘Good day’ in full.  Often in Australia you’ll hear, ‘G’day mate’ and ‘G’day, how’s it going?’ as well. Starting a conversation by saying ‘Good day’ to someone, it sounds like we’re wishing them a good day, referring to someone’s existence right here, right now. The origins of ‘G’day mate’ is relatively unknown. However, it has been suggested the saying has origins in seafaring and back in the day when shipmates called each other mates, and might also have origins in the UK where the phrase is also used.

‘G’day’ is probably the most well-known Aussie greeting around the world. Every year in the States, there’s G’day USA, the bilateral relations, public and economic diplomacy program between America and Australia – fronted by well-known Aussie creatives such as Hugh Jackman, Baz Luhrmann, John Travolta and Neil Perry. ‘G’day’ is spoken in a notable scene in the iconic Aussie film Crocodile Dundee. ‘G’day G’day’ is the name of a 1988 song about Australia by iconic Australian country singer Slim Dusty. ‘G’day’ has time and time again been incorporated into quite a few Australian tourism campaigns.

Consequently ‘G’day how’s it going mate’ is a phrase that is inherently part of Australia’s linguistic identity. While ‘G’day is a word that has become such mainstream marketable slang and outdated to some Australians today, it’s a hello with an old-fashioned charm that some of us – from a cultural majority or minority – will always appreciate. However, not everyone around the world actually understands ‘G’day’, especially when it’s spoken with the broad Aussie accent. As documented in his YouTube video, Aussie Kieran Murray travelled the world and greeted strangers with ‘G’day, how’s it going mate’ – and most do not understand him at all.

Getting someone's attention can be hard sometimes.

Getting someone’s attention can be hard sometimes.

My Chinese-Malaysian relatives who speak mainly Cantonese reckon ‘G’day’ is comical and a joke: to them ‘G’day’ spoken with broad Aussie accent sounds like ‘Go die’. It’s not hard to believe: ‘Good-dayyy’ = ‘Gooo-dieee’; depending on how the words ‘die’ and ‘day’ are pronounced, they can sound pretty similar. So to my Chinese family and maybe others who aren’t familiar with the Aussie accent, meeting someone and right away telling them ‘G’day’ is like telling them to go away for no reason which can be hilarious or even upsetting. Needless to say, G’day’ is not a word I greet my family with. In fact, like the word ‘mate’, ‘G’day’ is just not a word that I use.

‘Howdy’ also crops up every now and then as a greeting in Australia. Rarely have I heard it in Australia, but I know others who’ve heard it now and again. ‘Howdy’ seems to be more of an American way of saying hello, a common greeting in the southwestern parts of the States and commonly heard on American TV.

‘You right?’ ‘You alright’? ‘Are you right?’ That’s what we often hear from the shopkeeper when we walk into a store in Australia or when someone is checking on us. This is a casual way of saying ‘Can I help you’ or asking if someone is okay in general or when someone looks hungover or not quite right, or when someone looks like they might need a hand. Generally each of these questions is both a hello and a question at the same time, sometimes asked out of concern, sometimes asked as a way to start a conversation.

When someone asks if I’m right, being the pessimist and realist that I am I often can’t help but wonder if there is something wrong with me. In other words, when someone asks if I’m alright my heart jumps a little and I wonder if I am in some sort of trouble or if something is amiss with me (for example like my pants dropped down in public and I have no idea). Also as an introvert with anxiety, a lot of the time any kind of attention towards me is nerve-wracking. That said, it’s always nice to be asked how you are, and I like it, I really do.

Different greetings, different reactions.

Different greetings, different reactions.

*  *  *

Body language goes hand-in-hand with the expression of social etiquette. In Australia, when we meet each other there might be a handshake after a ‘G’day’ or ‘How’s it going’. Or a pat on the back. Maybe even a hug if we have a close relationship with each other. Eye contact is common too. Then again, how each of us follow up a verbal hello also depends on our cultural background and individual personalities.

Whether we know it or not, we greet each other all the time, all throughout day and night. We greet each other when we bump into each other, when we want to get the attention of someone or are checking up on each other. In other words, we say hi and touch base with each other because we have to, and because we want to. A study on intergroup contact and pluralistic ignorance explored how some of us especially outgroups feel others lack interest in ourselves. Psychologist Sam Sommers builds on this finding, suggesting there’s a kind of power in saying hello: greeting someone and asking them how they are can leave a lasting impression. As operatic tenor Robert Breault says on our attitude when we say hello and mean it:

‘Charisma is not just saying hello. It’s dropping what you’re doing to say hello.’

A simple greeting can mean the world to us, even if for a moment.

A simple greeting can mean the world to us, even if for a moment.

The Aussie ways of saying hello are open-ended greetings, and one can respond however they like (which is another topic altogether). However saying hi anywhere can come across as rather intrusive especially if it’s coming from a complete stranger and we’re the kind who likes to keep to ourselves – and how one articulates hello might make us feel comfortable or uncomfortable. Research shows intonation is an indicator of trustworthiness and ‘hellos’ that start and finish high in pitch tend to be more trustworthy. In addition, a study by Australian National University found those who spoke with the Australian accent and spoke with Australian lingo – regardless of their cultural background – were perceived to be much more likable than those who did not.

Most days I go ‘Hey’ when I see someone I know or when I want to get someone’s attention, keeping my ‘hellos’ short and simple. If they look up and say hi back, I usually launch right into what I want to say. Or when there’s silence, I throw in a ‘How ya doin’. And if there still is awkward silence after this, I assume that person doesn’t want to talk to me and I move along. And wonder why they don’t want a chat.

Hello. Sometimes we welcome the word, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes it leaves us utterly confused.

Have you ever said hello to an Australian?

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286 thoughts on “Australian Greetings: ‘How’s It Going’ And More

  1. We spent a month is Australia and noted all of the things you mention in your post Mabel. I love the casualness with which the Aussies deal with hellos (except was stunned by your note that it Go Die is very close to g’day- yikes!) “Hey” is big around here, which I don’ like as well as G’day. On the other hand I hate “how are you” because no one ever REALLY wants to know LOL!

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    • I think for most part, Aussies are very friendly and hence the casualness in their greetings. Like you, I’m not too sure about ‘Hey’. Depending on how you say it, it can come across as rather harsh. So true that not many genuinely want to know how we really are! But always a chance to get a conversation going, lol.

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  2. Our Aussie slang is very interesting isn’t it? I was saying the other day that when someone replies “I’m fine” to mean no – that it would be very difficult for a non English speaker to know what is meant:)). Cheers sherry

    Liked by 1 person

    • Such a good point there – that ‘I’m fine’ doesn’t necessarily mean we’re fine and it’s often a quick and easy response to mask how we really feel. And also can be a good way to end a conversation if we don’t ask the other person how they are – if we don’t feel like talking 🙂

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  3. You know, I was so focused on your eloquent words my first read through this post that I failed to compliment you on your magnificent street photography. I love how you show us Melbourne’s Statue Man from every angle. And the details on his face to the expressions on the crowds’. The second, fifth and sixth are standouts for me. Nicely done.

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  4. Pingback: Variations on a Theme – Opposites – What's (in) the picture?

  5. Such a fascinating post Mabel. As you began you could have been talking about greetings in Canada as it is very common to say ‘How’s it going?’ Then the Aussie really takes over though with the Gday mate and such. It sounds endearing from my standpoint. Interesting point about strangers saying hello and how that might be intrusive for introverts. I do it all the time but I do have that high inflection at the end. Glad to know that makes me more trustworthy. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • It sounds like many greetings are so very universal. Someone else in the comments mentioned that Canadians say ‘eh’ quite a bit – such as ‘How’s it going, eh?’

      When I met you, the introvert in me was so glad you started chatting away non-stop. Always happy to be a listener 😀

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  6. Excellent post, dear Mabel… Please write more posts on Aussie expressions!…
    How’s it hanging? sounds quite odd… It reminds me of the Hanged Man Tarot card… which basically tells us to “wait” 😉 Interestingly we have some similar expressions in Spanish. How is it going will probably translate as Cómo andás… A question that probably entails moving from one place to the other, or walking. In Italian it is the same: “Come Va?” .. how it goes?…
    I love this post. So much to ponder here. Thanks so much for sharing. Love & best wishes ❤ 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Aqui. It was fun writing this one…and I do have more Aussie-related posts in mind…

      You can probably relate tarot cards to every situation and help you make sense of life 😉 ‘Cómo andás’ I learnt a new expression from you today 😀 ‘How’s it going’ seems to be quite a universal greeting – many seem to know it, and so do you.

      Thank you so much for stopping by, Aqui. Blogging is hard work and we are all busy, so thank you for taking the time to always come by ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the “G’day’ and ‘Hey’ Mate’ are very charming, as are the other greetings. They sound informal and friendly. However, it does take time to get used to a different way of greeting folks, in particular, or just getting the hang of a language’s nuances. To this day, I find myself asking my husband what certain phrases or expressions I hear around my adopted home mean.

    In the Philippines, “Hi” is quite common. And depending on the degree of familiarity between the persons involved, “Hoy!” is quite normal.

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    • It is always nice to see you come back, Imelda. Thank you so much. It’s an important point you bring up there – taking time to get used to a different greeting. So often we don’t think twice about greeting others; it just happens and we assume it is an accepted greeting. Fascinating to hear ‘hoy’ is normal in the Philippines. It sounds like a very outgoing greeting 😀

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  8. Lol, I’m late on commenting on this post, but I love it! I laughed out loud when I read that you thought “How’s it going?” was asking where someone was headed. Of course I grew up with that term and therefore knew that they key word there is “how.” And g’day sounding like “go die” is hilarious! I have a lot of trouble understanding a strong Australian accent, though, and here in the States we don’t say “mate.” One difference between the South and the west coast in the States is how you address a group of people. Here in Tennessee everyone says “Hey, y’all,” while I would typically say “Hey, you guys” or “Hey guys…” Language is a funny thing!

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    • Never too late to do anything. Just keep chipping away at it 😉 It is interesting how so many of us are familiar with quite a few greetings. Not all Australians speak with the strong Australian accent, so if you do visit or meet an Australian you’d probably won’t have much trouble having a conversation. ‘Hey guys’ does seem to be an American greeting. I’m quite cautious about using the word ‘guys’. One one hand I do know it refers to everyone in general, but there are some people who take offense at it – thinking that you are really just addressing men. Language is indeed a funny thing, and very complex too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed it is. As a writer, I get a bit irritated by the feminist focus on gender equality within written/spoken language. It is completely obnoxious to feel like you have to write “he/she” when referring to a gender-neutral “one” in a sentence. For example, “When one goes grocery shopping in Taiwan, he/she must bring a grocery bag with him/her.” It’s complete garbage and a distraction from clear meaning. We as humans are MANkind. I personally feel there’s nothing discriminatory about using “he” to refer to the human race.

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        • I also feel there’s nothing discriminatory using ‘he’ or ‘she; or he/she in such sentences you describe. Most of the time the sentiment is there that we are addressing an individual, a person. I do try to avoid using primarily ‘he’ a lot of the time but sometimes you just can’t help it.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Loved the post, dear Mabel. How it’s hanging and ‘G’day’ spoken with broad Aussie accent sounds like ‘Go die’ made me smile 😀 There are so many ways we greet each other in the world. It’s nice to know how people say it in other countries. Here in India, the commonest form is “how are you doing” or “how is life”. But, I find it funny when someone says “What’s up?” I feel like saying “nothing’s up, dude, everything is in its normal position” 😛 😀

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  10. ‘How is it going, Mabel?’ Well, this phrase doesn’t sound so uncommon to me as in India too we use this phrase. The phrase used n Hindi literally means the same. I guess the language also adds to the nuance of the greetings. ‘You alright?’ sounds to me as if the person is very concerned, but surprisingly when I hear the same question in Hindi, it feels very normal. Howdy has an American cowboyish flavour to it. I have heard the word mate used by my Australian friends but I am learnt the word G Day from your post. 🙂
    Have a wonderful weekend.

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    • Seems like many greetings are universal, and differ in the way they are spoken in terms of language and phonetics. ‘nuance of greetings’ – very apt way of putting it, Somali. Sounds like you have quite a few friends of different backgrounds from India and else where and know quite a few greetings 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Although it does sound friendly I have a number of friends who continually say, how are you? It’s a question that’s hard to answer on the right scale I feel, whatever detail you supply will be too much or too little. Another one is, be great to meet for a catch up. What are we catching up on exactly?! 🙂

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  12. I have never been to Australia, although my niece moved there a few years ago. She loves it! How’s it hanging is a very strange greeting, I agree. It really does make one think of a body part, lol. Great post!

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  13. Great read, Mabel.
    Hi, Hey, Hello greetings have a global acceptance. Most of the rest are either country or continent-specific. Like how you felt when you were introduced to “How’s it going?” I felt much the same when I first heard “What’s up” which is very common in the US and means “What’s going on?” or “How are you?” – my first interpretation of which made me look above my head.
    I follow cricket and the slang I’ve heard Australian players use includes “How’s it going, mate?” Australians have a heavy accent and it’s always a battle between their and Indian players. Indians have a hard time understanding Aussie accent. The sledge-fest therefore is a treat to watch 😉
    “Good-dayyy” and “Gooo-dieee” though scary, it’s super hilarious 🙂
    Fun post! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so right when you say some greetings have a global acceptance – and in a way they are universal greetings that we all understand. Lol, I have heard some people interpret ‘What’s up’ literally, so you are not alone 😀 I haven’t heard ‘What’s going on’ too often. Maybe it is something those in the States say more. The same can probably be said about Australians and the Indian accent: that some Aussies might find it hard understanding Indians who do not speak with an Australian/Westernised accent.That said, I haven’t heard of many Australians finding it hard to understand those who speak with an Indian accent 🙂 Thanks for dropping by, Mahesh.

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  14. Great post! This one reminds me of my US trip. “How are you”, confused me. It is a conversation starter for Americans but I would wonder what can I share? It’s just awkward having a stranger ask these questions. So this post is so true. Also my husband tell me about the usage of ‘buddy’ in London. Sometimes I love how different we all are in our different worlds. That’s what makes us a diverse world and I actually love it. See how you accepted ‘mate’ though you never used yourself.

    I know you have read mine on similar lines so not leaving a link here 🙂

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    • ‘What can I share’ I love the way you are looking at greetings. Some people really are interested in finding more about us, and we might be inclined to share…but what to share. That is so true. I accept the word ‘mate’ even though I don’t use it. Very sharp of you to note, Parul.

      I do remember reading about greetings on your blog, like the time you were in the taxi. You’re always welcome to share anything here 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Haha I remember being confused too when I first moved here. Going? Going where? I just got here! But my key takeaway after so many years is that Australians are generally a very friendly bunch and always willing to say hi 🙂

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  16. I agree with you that “how’s it hanging” does not conjure up the best image! Bringing to mind a picture of a body part hanging isn’t how I want to greet friends either 😉 I’m good over here in Canada saying the classic “hi” and “hello” ~ And over here when someone says “hey” it’s most often than not followed by “hay is for horses” haha! Another great post, my friend.

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    • Our minds can be quite imaginative sometimes 😀 ‘Hi’ or ‘hello’ is probably the most straightforward way of greeting someone, and greetings that are very much universal. Thank you so much for always stopping by my friend!

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  17. “‘You right?’ ‘You alright’? ‘Are you right?’ That’s what we often hear from the shopkeeper when we walk into a store in Australia or when someone is checking on us. This is a casual way of saying ‘Can I help you’ ” I must admit I would not have understood this if a shopkeeper had asked me…Rather the other explanations you offer, Mabel. I might ask someone who looks like he/she is feeling ill or is lying on the floor or something.
    Interesting post as usual, and if I should give some examples from Swedish (Direct translation): Hej, hur har du det/hur är det? (Hi, how are you?), Hallå, allt väl med dig? (Hello, everything OK with you?). In a shop: Kan jag hjälpa dig? (Can I help you?) Något särskilt du letar efter? (Looking for something special?).
    In fact I quite like that one with “how’s it hanging?” In Swedish we might have something similar: Och du hänger med fortfarande? (And you are still here?) It is just that, maybe you would not use this phrase unless you know the person very well, a real “mate”. ;-D

    Wishing you a great week, Mabel – and Happy Valentine’s Day♥♥♥

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    • Thank you so much for sharing a bit of Swedish, Ann-Christine. I really enjoyed reading these phrases, no matter how simple they may sound to you. I really like the ‘and you are still here’ one. Would definitely use it with someone whom I am close with…using it in a good way, asking why they are still sticking around 😉

      I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. With love, to me every day is a lucky day and I hope that is the same for you too ❤ ❤ ❤

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  18. No, I’ve never said ‘Hello’ to an Austrailian. Not that I know of, anyway, Mabel. Here in the UK, we also get asked ‘How you doing?’ as a way of saying ‘hello.’ Another one is ‘how’s things?’ Whenever I hear ‘how’s things’ I always wonder who ‘things’ is and how they are. I’ve also been greeted with ‘OKay?’ I always expect something else to follow on from that greeting, but it seldom does.

    A great topic to write about, Mabel.

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  19. The accent may mislead me if it’s very thick, but generally, when I watch Aussie actors who use their natural accents, I understand them. I did get to see an Aussie TV show (on cable) some years ago (I think it was an Aussie channel, too), and I kind of remember trying to understand when they spoke fast.

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  20. It’s best to not take the greeting too formally, and best to accept the first words upon meeting are a variation on, Hello, how are you? To take it in any other way is to not realise the easy going nature of most people here.

    Once I was asked “You winning?” Think about it. It’s just a way of saying, Is life treating you well? I never expect to hear “How do you do?” from anyone in Australia.

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    • Very nicely said. Sometimes it really is better not to think too much about a greeting and instead focus on what the person is trying to say or share with you.

      ‘You winning?’ Not a phrase you hear too often but it is a different kind of greeting which will probably make most of us stop.

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