July 15, 2013
Cheer and gratitude are very contagious
Bonjour, madame! Bonjour monsieur!
As they say, “When is France …”. Despite rumors to the contrary, the French are graciously friendly! You just have to know a secret or two. Propriety and civility are of the utmost importance, and long-standing manners and customs are still held in high regard — definitely — de rigueur!
In June, on my fourth trip with Kaari Meng and French General to Chateau Dumas in southern France, I finally had the confidence and presence of mind to walk into a shop or up to a vendor at the weekly market, and first and foremost look for the shopkeeper to say “Bonjour, madame” or “Bonjour, monsieur.” And, I tried really hard to pronounce the words correctly and with the lovely, cheerful almost “sing-song” lilt the French all use.
In France, if you will do this, you will be graciously rewarded with a warm, welcoming smile and someone eager to assist you whether you are seeking unusual antiques or simply trying to explain with sounds and gestures that you need a pack of tissues and some cough drops.
When you enter a shop in France it is like you are entering someone’s home — someplace special, that is prepared and waiting to welcome you. If you had a wonderful neighborhood friend and an open invitation to “come on over,” I doubt you would walk into their house without knocking and calling out “Hello Sally!”
I found this simple greeting worked every time! (Just look at the smile on the fellow above!) And, the more it worked, the more I wanted to speak up and out. It was fun! I was happy to know a few simple words, that evoked such a quick, pleasant response, when the only other words I know well in French are “Parlez-vous Anglais?” Which even this, if said with a smile — also provoked a smile — as long as you had said “Bonjour, madame” or “Bonjour, monsieur” first!
Then upon leaving any business even if the communication has taken place in broken French and English along with necessary gesturing, it is again, customary and well-appreciated if you depart with an equally cheerful “Au revoir, merci!”
On our last night in Toulouse, my husband and I needed a taxi to return from the city to our airport hotel. Being that there was not an abundance of taxis circling the streets, we ducked into a random hotel and after our “bonjours” were said, we were pleased to find eager assistance — they called a cab for us. We got in the taxi saying “bonjour, monsieur,” mentioned our hotel and headed off for the short ride during which the driver got his dispatcher on his phone and was most likely seeking a return passenger to make his trip to the airport beneficial. We basically understood none of this, but during this short drive, he must have said the word “merci” with meaning at least — at least — a dozen times!
Think about it — how many times have you said “thank you!” (with or without meaning) today?
Upon returning back to the states, heading out on my usual errands and I realized I missed saying my cheerful ”Bonjour, madame” and “Bonjour, monsieur.” Our grocery store does have a sales associate behind a desk at the entrance. This — and I’m sorry to be critical here, the store is trying — but this usually bored-looking person does offer a half-hearted “hello” as I grab my cart and walk on. And, as I quickly fell into my old ways, I probably would have been perplexed if he had said “Good morning, ma’am!” in a nice sing-songy voice (actually I was grateful I didn’t get a “Hi, sweetie,” which at my age, and not being a born southerner, drives me crazy!)
I’m going to try an experiment and walk into a shop, seek out a sales associate and say a big cheerful “Hello” that says “I’m happy to be here,” and then upon leaving make a point to say “Goodbye, thank you!” and see what happens.
Since this lovely civility is not “de rigueur” in these parts, what would happen if you reversed the roll and whole-heartedly welcomed your customers as if they were your best friends, visiting your home and you were doing nothing but waiting for them to come visit. Please don’t do this to see an increase in sales, do it because it feels really good and, with cheerfulness and gratitude being contagious, you may just make someone’s day in the course of doing so, and make yourself feel good as well. Au revoir, merci! — Susan