Saturday, May 9, 2009

How to Make Fast Friends of the French

Every country and culture has its rules and customs. France is no exception. So to avoid coming face-to-face with such grimaces as these when on a visit here, practice the following tips. You might find yourself returning home with an image of the French people that defies all the usual stereotypes:

Tip #1:
Immediately upon entering a place of business in France – a boutique, restaurant, boulangerie, museum gift shop – catch the eye of someone working there and say: Bonjour, Madame or Bonjour, Monsieur (good day, Madam; good day, Sir). Once you’ve received a bonjour in return, you may go about your business.

It’s a simple gesture, really. But Anglos (English-speaking people) seldom do it. Understandably. It’s not a part of their cultural code. North Americans, for example, are used to entering a shop and acting on their goal. They look for what they came for. If they find it, they take it and approach the counter to pay. Words may never pass between shopkeeper and customer until this point. And that’s okay…if you’re in North America.

But the French consider such behavior terrifically rude.

Many shops and boutiques in France (though sadly fewer every day) are family run and owned. The place of business is often felt to be an extension of the home. So offering a “good day” greeting is a common courtesy. When you forget to do this, no matter your culture of origin, you will receive, at best, sullen service, at worst, no help at all or a finger pointing you toward the door.

So always remember to greet your host with a bonjour on entering his or her shop or store. And don’t forget the Madame or Monsieur, because bonjour on its own is actually less polite than saying nothing at all! Even if the shopkeeper is a younger woman, use Madame.

Tip #2:
When making requests, always say, s’il vous plait, even if you don’t speak French and can only point to what it is you want.

Tip #3:
When you have successfully completed your transaction, always thank your host with a Merci, Monsieur or Merci, Madame, and conclude with the appropriate sign-off. Among the expressions to choose from are:

- Bonne Journée (Good day)
- Bonne Aprés-Midi (Good afternoon)
- Bonne Soirée (Good evening)
- Bon Weekend (Good weekend)

Finally, don’t forget to say goodbye:

- Au revoir (Until we meet again)
- A bientôt (See you soon)
- A la prochaine (Until the next time)

Practice these three simple acts of common French etiquette and I promise your time here will be pleasant. These are the keys to making fast friends of the French!

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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