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In the American South and West, it is common to have a nickname for strangers or casual acquaintences in informal situations, especially if you don't know their name. Examples are "Hey, hoss, how ya been?" and "What's up, Chief?". I tend to use "hoss" in such situations.

My question is two-fold. First, the translation of "hoss" is given as "Bulle". But isn't "Bulle" also slang for a policeman? It seems to me that the connotation of policeman would not make "Bulle" a good substitute -- "hoss" is a derivative of "horse", and has mildly positive connotations in American English. Is "Bulle" a good translation for "hoss" in this instance, or should another word be substituted?

Second, how would a typical German react to such a greeting? My speaking buddy is from Ansbach, and he often greets people with "chief" in English (and "Chef" auf Deutsch). Is this common? Or would Germans from other regions think it strange or offputting?

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Forget about

Hallo Bulle!

That's about the worst thing you could do. It would be taken as offense even if the interlocutor is not a policeman. If he is, you will get a salty fine for sure.

So what could you use for real?

Generally speaking, you will leave a very rough impression with giving names to strangers, unless you use very politely

Guten Tag, mein Herr!

which however is also rather old-fashioned.

In certain milieux, you may find expressions that are commonly used. For example, in working class environments (construction workers etc.) you may hear sometimes

Hallo Chef!

although the person called 'Chef' is not a superior; it is just a form of being casually nice and respectful. But you cannot use this in other social strata.

If your friend from Ansbach uses this frequently, it may be either a milieu thing, or it is a regional thing perhaps... specific forms of turning to other people can be popular in certain regions, often linked to specific dialects. But the first thing I would do is checking what "social class" (if you accept the term) your buddy is most familiar with.

Quite similar in terms of social environment, but used more in a sense of indicated that the speaker considers the other person his peer is

Hallo Kumpel!

where "Kumpel" may be seen as equivalent to 'friend' or 'buddy'.

Now, if you are in a group of younger people - especially such that do not care too much about education and refined forms of communication - you may safely use

Hey Alter!

(hey old!) which will not be seen as offence. Probably it is close to what you have with your hoss. But again you can use this only in this specific and very restricted subset of society.

Related might be

Na, wie geht's, altes Haus!

which however is totally out of use, unless you use it ironically. At least, it is not offensive, but you must not use it for people who deserve more respect. Use it only for a good friend who can take a joke.

Of course there are a number of ways to turn to someone in a more or less openly sexual way such as

Hallo, Süßer!

Na, Schnucki?

but I suppose this is not what you intend to do.

Perhaps you may be inclined to try

Guten Tag, mein Freund!

but then you will sound like a person from a good-weather-low-income country who is trying to sell to a tourist something like a watch or a carpet.

If you happen to be contacting Turkish people, you may try

Merhaba, ağabey! [Pronunciation: aah-bih]

where ağabey is a word for "elder brother" which is frequently used by Turkish speaking population to turn casually-politely to male interlocutors. But of course, this is only for this group of German population, and again you may be doing something wrong with codes of politeness specific to this group and unknown to broader society.

As a conclusion: don't use such expressions as long as you are not really sure what you are doing. The best thing is to call people by their names. Or just say something else, such as:

Hallo, schön dich zu sehen!

This is nice, and you get along smoothly without knowing the name.

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    Wenn du eine Ohrfeige willst, sagst du »Hallo, Bulle!« am besten zu einem Kraftmenschen, da passt es. Und warum eigentlich nicht gleich »Hallo, Stier!«? – Pollitzer Sep 25 '17 at 19:13
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    Ich glaube, "Hallo Stier" würde das Gegenüber erst mal ins Rätselraten stoßen, wie das nun gemeint ist... – Christian Geiselmann Sep 26 '17 at 9:11
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    ... vor allem, wenn es ausgerechnet sein Sternzeichen ist. – Pollitzer Sep 26 '17 at 14:32
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    nur zur Ergänzung der schönen Liste: im Berliner Raum hört man als Anrede auch "Meister" (gesprochen: Meesta) – Arsak Sep 28 '17 at 19:02

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