I’d complained to my French friend that this approach seemed so formal. Guess what? The French are formal. In our loud-mouthed, large-limbed, too-casual American way, Kathy and I had committed a faux pas by dropping in. (p. 138)
As I learn about French and the French, it’s becoming clear why the French are rude to Americans — it’s because we’re unwittingly rude to them. In St. Louis, you’ll be the favorite customer of the day if, at any point during the interaction, you give a smile that is genuinely warm and say a heartfelt “thank you.” In France, the interaction is much more scripted and requires many more words.
The experience begins with an exchange of both greetings and “how do you do?”s. The greeting is Bonjour, monsieur (or madame or mademoiselle). The most formal way to inquire of another’s health is Comment allez-vous? The literal translation is “How go you?”
As answer to the question Comment allez-vous?, I’m memorizing Très bien, merci on the theory that since I’m on vacation, I will always be “very well.” If I’m not, I’m unlikely to admit it when I’ve just entered a shop or restaurant.
Ordering things requires the conditional form of the verb “to want”–and don’t forget the “please.” Instead of the equivalent of “I want an omelet,” you say “I would want an omelet, if you please:” Je voudrais une omelette, s’il vous plaît.
At the end of the transaction, I’m used to saying “thanks” and answering “you, too” if someone says “Have a nice day.” I never say “good-bye,” unless I happen to know the waiter or cashier personally. According to my French tutor, who learned this from her French husband, it’s best to say all of those things as I leave a shop or restaurant: Merci. Bon journee. Au revoir. If it’s night time, substitute bon soir (good evening) for bon journee . I thought it was interesting that you only say “good night” in French, bon nuit, in the same situations that we would say “sweet dreams.” In other words, you don’t say bon nuit as you leave a restaurant after supper — it’s a much more intimate and familial term.
Do you think I’ve learned enough words to be polite and to be treated politely in France?
Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog. Kathy says: “Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.”