I thought I’d try something new. A lot of people ask me (when I go back to the states) How I like living in France. So I will try to paint a picture of life in France for an American.
It might be fun to do it on a ‘Good Things’ ‘Bad Things’ scale.
Today I’ll just tell you what struck me the most, and what was the hardest to get used to.
In France, politeness is an art form. When you walk into the post office, or into the bakery, everyone in line turns around and either smiles or says ‘Bonjour Madame’ (Madame because I am a Madame. If it were a guy, they’d be going ‘Bonjour Monsieur’. ) And you are expected to smile and say ‘Bonjour’ back.
When you pay for your baguette, the boulangère (baker) will say “Merci, et bon journée!” And you are expected to say, “Merci, et bonne journée à vous!” (to which she will reply ‘Merci’ and this can go on for a while if you’re not careful.)
When I used to live in Lyon (the capitol of Politeness in France) my neighbor would say ‘Bonjour Madame’ even if I had seen her already twice that day, had dined with her and her husband last evening at their apartment, and I’d just stepped into the elevator.
Bonjour Madame is infinitely more polite than just a simple ‘bonjour’.
When you enter a house in France, everyone, including the children, come to the door to greet you. The children are all models of ‘politess’ and hold out their cheeks for kisses after saying ‘bonjour’. When you go to a dinner party, you greet everyone with two kisses, (one on each cheek – but sometimes there are 4 kisses, and I never know when that applies, except some of my neighbors here are into 4 kisses and supposedly that is a country bumkin thing, and no Parisian would be caught dead kissing 4 times.
But you never kiss when you meet for the very first time, and you don’t kiss the baker, no matter how many times a week you see him.
You shake hands the first time you meet. Then, as you are leaving the party, you kiss, because you have already met and shaken hands. Kissing is done without fuss – two little smacking noises in the air as you lightly press your cheeks togather. Glasses must be removed if both are wearing them. Usually the man will remove his, or if it is two women, kissing is done carefully and at a slight distance.
Men never kiss each other, but they do if they are father and son in some families, or closely related. Usually men shake hands or and pat each other on the shoulder if they are good buddies.
Men hold doors for women, pull their seats out, pour the wine (never pour your own wine at the table if you are a woman) and serve the women first. Women are pretty spoiled here. However, French women are expected to be able to cook well (my friends all cook like French chefs, which is REALLY annoying to me, lol. But I love getting invited to dinner) and they are expected to keep house perfectly (a slovenly French women is rare) and they are expected to look good at all times. (another frustrating thing – they all look like they just got out of the hairdressers, and their clothes are all ironed an and matched. They tend to wear skirts more than jeans, and have nice shoes. They tell me they can spot an American because of the frumpy shoes we wear. Huh. I am not giving up my sneakers – sorry.)
So living in France has its ups and downs, but at all times there is a polite smile (although the French waiter’s will certainly be slightly supercilious)
and a cheeful ‘Bonjour!’ wherever you go.