What does “à bientôt” mean exactly?
So here is the context: Suppose as a tourist one is helped by someone (not a local though), talking to the locals to get the right directions for me etc. Chances of meeting again seem negligible unless huge (and I mean really huge) coincidences happen. In the end while separating, she says "à bientôt". Wouldn't "au revoir" been more relevant? What is the difference between the two?
Your are right "Au revoir" is the good way to leave somebody you will not meet again.
"À bientôt" may be a habit, or a try to encourage the foreigner to come back again in France!
With the latter you hope you will see the person again within a short period of time. With the former, the lapse period is simply indefinite.
Thanks very much. Could you explain me what you mean with your last sentence, please?
Sorry, to understand replace *maner* by *line* (about lines I've written) : "à bientôt" (see you in a short time), "au revoir" (see you later)
*Au revoir* is, as you say, indefinite (general). I would say that a better way to say good-bye to someone you are pretty sure you **will not see again** is *adieu*. *Au revoir* literally means until we see each other again.
Very good answer (+1) pointing the elegance or friendliness in the choice of *à bientôt* here. Yes it may be done deliberately *against* the practical odds, to indicate the hope of another meeting with the interlocutor. I remember doing this from time to time. Noone will be offended if in the end the meeting doesn't happen...
@Drew I wouldn't recommend using « adieu » even when you are sure you'll never meet again but stay with « au revoir » despite its inner meaning. Nowadays, in spoken French, « adieu » is almost only used for theatrical effects.
@jlliagre That's not my experience, but I'm no reference. Certainly, *Au revoir* is always appropriate (and is essentially *good-bye*), but I maintain what I said about *Adieu*. Perhaps I have been influenced by a particular regional use (Provence), where *Adieu* has, I am pretty sure, the connotation I suggested compared with *Au revoir*. I think I recall the same being the case in Ile de France and elsewhere, but it was longer ago that I lived in Paris, so I might be mistaken about that.
@Drew Provence usage is special, "Adieu" is still used there, especially by elder people, as a generic greeting (Hello, Bye) from the Provencal "A Diéu Sias" (Be to God), Occitan "Adieussiatz". It hasn't at all here the standard French "last salutation" meaning.
@jlliagre That makes sense. Thanks for the info. But I do recall more than one 30-40 year old provencal explaining that *Adieu* is meant as a more-or-less final *good-bye* (and not also as an *Aloha*-like hell). Perhaps they themselves were not clear on the meaning.