Saturday, March 15, 2008
Upon hearing that we'd be coming to France, a friend gave us French or Foe?, a little gem of a book by Polly Platt on understanding the many differences, some subtle, others not, between French and American cultures. It was a great way to begin our initiation into French manners. Even with the most rudimentary language skills, it helps to know that there are few little golden nuggets that will grease the wheels of your interactions with the French. So, for example, it was good to know right from the start that whenever you enter a shop, approach the counter in the bakery, or even come to the head of the line in the supermarket, you must always greet the person serving you with "Bonjour madame" or "Bonjour monsieur," never just "Bonjour." Only then the transaction can begin. If you have a problem or a question, you must always apologize first, saying "Pardonnez-moi de vous deranger..." (Forgive me for bothering you...") Then when you leave, you must be sure to say at least "au revoir madame" if not also, "bon journee" (good day) or "bon soiree" (good evening) as appropriate and even "bon weekend." I'm still not sure that I feel quite like a "madame" myself; I hope at least I'm not labelled as an ingrate.