Politeness in Paris

Great service at this souvenir shop in Montmartre

Great service at this souvenir shop in Montmartre

Parisians get a bad rap for being rude; and yet politeness rules.  When you enter a shop you will always be greeted with Bonjour Madame/Monsieur, and farewelled with Au Revoir, Bonne Journée.  Even at the doctor’s or dentist’s surgery new patients arriving to the waiting room will greet the other patients already there with generic Bonjour Messieurs-Dames.  The key is that it goes both ways.  When I need help in a shop, or at a reception desk, starting with Bonjour Madame/Monsieur goes a long way to guarantee I’ll get the help I need and I coach my visitors to do the same.

When Mum and Evan were holidaying here recently they were impressed with how polite people were.  The counter staff at the local bakery, the fruit and vege shop, the butchers, and the cheesemonger were all so polite and friendly it was a treat for Mum and Evan to come along on our regular food shopping expeditions.

Perhaps surprising was the number of people who stood and gave up their seat on the Metro for us.  We didn’t ask, or even hint that they might, it was just spontaneous and happened regularly.  Another occasion on the bus a woman gestured to me that she would change seats with me so that I could sit across the aisle from my visitors.  Spontaneous genuine courtesy; what a treat.

Others went out of their way to provide helpful advice and information.  I had located a cluster of string-instrument shops on rue de Rome for Evan to visit as he is an amateur violin maker and was keen to locate some special supplies for his craft.  A craftswoman at one shop suggested we visit a specialist supplier of cabinet making materials that she recommended.  With Google maps in support we tracked down Laverdure on rue Traversière in the 12th arrondissement not far from the Bastille.  This shop was indeed a treasure trove of Spécialités pour Ébénistes (cabinetmakers) with delicate paint brushes, coloured varnishes, paint, metallic finishes, and all sorts of interesting stuff – even edible gold and silver crumbs for decorating cakes and desserts.  But what really impressed was how kind and helpful the in-shop experts were.  Nothing was too much trouble.  While Evan decided what he wanted and small quantities of powdered varnish colours were weighed out to take home, I admired the unusual window display.  Dusty jars of chemicals, gums and powdered paint with intriguing names that looked like the remains of an ancient chemistry set.  Inside the collection of magnificent books on furniture art were almost enough to tempt me into taking up a new hobby.  We left delighted with the whole experience.

Thank you Parisians, your true colours shone.  Like many who visit Paris, my visitors had arrived with a sense of wariness about the reputation of the Parisians.  They left with an impression of having spent two enjoyable weeks amongst people who were courteous, friendly and helpful.  La politesse…..it’s an art – and practice makes perfect.


3 thoughts on “Politeness in Paris

  1. I”m always glad when I learn the French have not lived up to their general reputation for arrogance!!
    When I arrived in Aix-en-Provence I too immediately latched onto the “bonjour Messieurs-Dames”. A number of years down the track, here was Georges very determined to get me out of it: a “marker” for bad education according to his upbringing. I would retort that it could not be compared in any way to picking one’s nose, or, speaking of that part of the anatomy, selfishly taking the “nose of the Roquefort” for oneself when the cheese board came (something I have seen very “well-brought-up” people do …). But there was no escaping the inevitable remarks: I felt that “bonjour Mesdames, bonjour Messieurs” was over-stiff and even ostentatious, so settled on “Bonjour Mesdames, Messieurs” and have been with it ever since. Oh the joys of “getting integrated”!

    • keiryberry says:

      I’m still chuckling at your comment. I’ve heard that “cheese etiquette” is a specialty area of la politesse. We need to consult you for advice I think.

  2. […] no option to select an MRI) we visited the radiology clinic in person.  We managed with plenty of la politesse and my best French to explain the degree of need to secure an appointment soon.  We were offered […]

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