Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Madly, truly, politely.

A close London friend phoned to say she was on the Eurostar and suggested dinner. Did I hesitate? I put a roast in the oven for the Frenchman and La Belle Belle Fille, ordered the Frenchman to take over reading La Fille's bedtime stories, kissed everyone goodbye and went out. Hoorah! I felt like Marty in Madagascar.

My friend and her colleague could hardly splice a word in edgeways (I don't get out enough with English speakers. Actually I don't get out enough stop) but did manage to explain it was a business visit to their company's Paris office. The staff here speak French (they are French after all). My friend and her colleague do not.

Aware of the cultural divide exposed by my previous post I thought some advice on being polite might be useful. I suggested: "It is a good idea to say 'Bonjour Madame/Monsieur/Mademoiselle' whenever you're introduced to anyone and before you begin blathering in English."

The truth is however sniffy the French might be about the American 'have a nice day now' reflex or however hypocritical they perceive it, they have exactly the same formula. You go into a shop or restaurant or office or wherever and you say "Bonjour Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle". (After eight years I only recently discovered that just saying "Bonjour" is not enough, which is probably why people are so rude to me). You do your business and exit with a: "bonne matinée/apres midi/soirée/fin de semaine (good morning, afternoon, evening, weekend) or whatever followed by an "Au revoir" (goodbye) with or without a second "Madame/Monsieur/Mademoiselle". The shopkeeper or whoever replies in kind.

I love it, I really do. It may be a verbal tic and it does depend on the other party playing the game, but to me it is the sort of exchange that lifts everyday business out of the curt, mundane and grubby. I love it so much, I reflexively do a version of it back in London. "Good morning" I chirp, followed by a "thank you so much" and "goodbye" (I can't quite bring myself to say "have a nice day").

Sadly, people in Britain seem to view this as a cross between verbal harassment and lunacy. The flicker of fear that crosses faces translates as: this woman is stark staring mad.


Paradise Lost In Translation said...

I quite agree. Here everyone says good morning etc, thank you and goodbye, in EVERY situation. I love it too! In fact when I return to England I am FAR more chatty and friendly to shop assistants, bus drivers etc. I quite enjoy the bemused, suspicious reaction.
This is partly due to the greetings routine I am used to, but also I must admit, similar to your post that I need to get out more, and I have become accustomed (subconsciously) to strike up a conversation with whomever I can, as I don't get many some days. it's partly for the human interaction, and in England partly because I can never resist when I know someone can speak my language and we can communciate with words rather than sign language.

Iota said...

I'm always intimidated by knowing whether to say Madame or Mademoiselle. Could you do a post on that?

bonnie-ann black said...

i had two travel experiences this past year. in march/april i was in paris for the first time. fortunately through reading blogs or other etiquette info, iknew to say "bon jour messr, madame" whatever. we got on just fine in paris and did not find the people we dealt with to be difficult or unfriendly at all.

this week, i just got back from a trip to england (not my first) where we stayed in stratford-on-avon for 10 days, and travelled all through the cotswolds. i brought the whole "good morning" thing over and no one seemed particularly appalled by it. but i was very careful not to go the "have a nice day" route because as a native new yorker, i find it obnoxious, annoying and a bit too sweet and cloying (read "midwestern")... i tried just "goodbye" seemed to work well.

came to your blog via Belgian Waffle -- loved your description of the tortoise at the zoo.