I have learned that "How do you do? is very formal and is not used very much, especially by younger people, these days." (source: BBC — Learning English).

I would still like to know if using "How do you do?" in following contexts would be perceived as overly formal or not?

  1. When meeting for the first time a senior manager, at work;
  2. When meeting for the first time a new coworker (with a similar or a lower hierarchical rank);
  3. When meeting for the first time an "important" trader (e.g., a banker, lawyer, etc.)
  4. When meeting for the first time an "ordinary" trader (e.g., a baker, shop assistant, etc.)

This would happen in the UK, I'd say I belong to the upper middle-class, and I don't mind appearing very polite, a bit old-school, or slightly mannered (despite I'm a foreigner). I gather one should use "How do you do?" the first time we meet only.

2 Answers 2


I fear that this topic may attract down- or close votes for being primarily opinion based, but here's mine: I am a middle class English man in late middle age; I had an upper-middle class education (minor public school); I was brought up to consider "how do you do?" as the appropriate polite first greeting and the appropriate response to it; I have almost completely abandoned the practice. In my role in a Government department connected with the justice system, I am considered by my peers and those above me to be a skilled communicator at all levels (this is vital for my job). For me, the appropriate first greeting for any of your situations (1) to (4) (senior judge to newly recruited office worker) is something ad-hoc (e.g. "hello", "nice to meet you", etc). In the UK today, in both public and private sectors, deferential flummery and "politeness" are increasingly seen as anachronistic and as obstacles to effective team working and collaboration, and excessive use of such forms could label a person as "out of touch" or "remote". So, yes, "overly formal" is right.

  • Thanks for your answer and comment. I have tried to express my question in a way ("would it be [generally] perceived") that minimizes the opinion bias. The idea is not to find what you (or someone) thinks of it, but rather what is the generally accepted/shared opinion/feeling in UK about it. It is because in my opinion, one can give an objective answer about the general subjective opinion. But I may indeed be wrong, and this question would then be rightly opinion-based.
    – ebosi
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 11:35
  • My "opinion", given above, does not arise merely from some kind of inner conviction about social equality, etc, but rather from experience and observation of changing workplace and social practice. Politeness and considerate treatment are vitally important, of course, but they must be genuine, inclusive, and come from within. Adherence to verbal forms and rituals is no substitute. So, I feel my answer accords with the clarification expressed in your comment. Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 11:41
  • Indeed! As you say, it's because your answer comes from "experience and observation of changing workplace and social practice" that it can be considered as not opinion-based. It is totally the kind of answers I was asking for/expecting — thank you!
    – ebosi
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 11:57
  • I once said "Good morning, Judge" to a very senior member of the judiciary, and he replied "Please call me Jim". Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 13:11
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    I am ten years' younger than @MichaelHarvey but have a roughly similar background (prep school, but then old grammar school, oxbridge etc) am a lawyer and worked part-time as a judge. I have exactly the same experience. I was taught to use it, but now do not. Commented May 18 at 12:18

The greeting "How do you do?" is rather archaic these days and, in my opinion, would sound dated even if used in formal scenarios.

The alternative "How are you?" is far more natural and would not be considered impolite.

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