It’s happened to me several times recently that a foreigner addressed me Ahoj or Čau and then went on saying "Vy”. I must say it was mostly in writing (sms, chat, e-mail), where it kind of hits the eyes more as the author could have read it and thought about it (well, except the chat), but you surely might have met some foreigners in "spoken reality” who were cheerfully shouting Ahoj! in a shop (or were you the ones? :-) ).
On the one hand, we cannot really be angry with them, especially if they come from English speaking countries where, apparently, it is quite normal to greet strange people with "Hello” or "Hi”. So the drill from Czech schools, where we’re forced to differentiate between "Good morning” and "Good afternoon”, in order to know how to say "Dobrý den”, is pretty useless and one just stares in surprise when a postman or a handyman shouts "Cheerio!” at them. And I have noticed in Czech dubbing a few times that the translators then thoughtlessly translate "Hi!” as "Ahoj!” in a dialogue, followed by formal address as "Vy”…
So, dear students of Czech, a few clarifications for you…
How to greet?!
Being formal (Vy)
This way, we address adult people we don’t know: in the street, in a shop, in a bank, in a tram… Also teachers, neighbours… Teachers at universities (and at some secondary schools) address their students in this formal way. We also use it towards the parents of our (life) partners (well, it depends on the family, but in general we do.).
When we’re formal, we can greet e.g. like this:
- Dobrý den! (Good morning / afternoon / day)
- Dobrej! (Good ... = you leave out "day” = a little colloquial, but still formal)
- Dobré ráno! (Good morning)
- Dobrý večer! (Good evening)
- Zdravím! (I greet you = a little colloquial, but still formal)
And part with these:
- Na shledanou! Nashle! (= Good bye! Bye! = the second is more colloquial, but still formal)
- Na viděnou! Uvidíme se zítra! (See you! See you tomorrow! – you can replace when)
- Mějte se hezky! Mějte se! Hezký den! (Take care! Have a good time! Have a good day! – can be replaced)
- Zatím! (= for the time being = I’ll see you later, take care until then)
- Sbohem! (Farewell!)
Being informal (ty)
In an informal way, we address children, friends, people of the same age (automatically approximately until university studies). Also family (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins...) – if they’re close relatives and we see them often. With more distant or older relatives, it might be more polite to start with "Vy”, until somebody asks us to change to "ty”.
If you want to start addressing somebody in an informal way, one of you has to suggest: "Can we be informal with each other? = Can we use "ty”?” Then you shake hands and say your name (the way you want to be addressed), e.g.: "Ahoj, I’m Jana.” – "I’m Michal. Ahoj.” Sometimes we celebrate that with a drink. (We toast to it.)
When we’re informal, we can use various greetings:
And part similarly:
- Ahoj! Ahojky! Čau! Čauky! Čavec! Čus! Zdar! Nazdar! Nazdárek! Čus bus! Čágo bélo! Tě pic! Tě péro!
- Ahoj! Čau! Čus! Zdar! Měj se! Zatím! Navi! (See you)
- Pa! Papa! (Originally for children)
But be careful, some of these greetings are "tough” (e.g. Čus! Zdar! Nazdar!) and some can sound kind of "soft” (e.g. Ahojky! Čauky! Nazdárek! Pa! Papa!) So it’s better to use the more neutral ones – Ahoj! Čau!, or Měj se! Zatím! – when you don’t know the other person so well yet. And leave the extravagant ones – e.g. Tě pic! or Tě péro! – for later. :-)
And also, be careful with Sbohem! – it’s saying "farewell”, i.e. for a long time – or to people you don’t want to see.
And what about e-mails?
At the beginning of an e-mail, you can say Vážený pane XY (Dear Mr XY), or Vážená paní XY (Dear Mrs XY) – and if you don’t know who you’re writing to, then Vážená paní / Vážený pane (Dear Sir / Madam). But we often use simply Dobrý den.
At the end, you’ll write S pozdravem (With a greeting).
Informal e-mails don’t have strict rules.