One little word in France can make the difference between getting good service and what on the surface seems like terrible service. I kid you not.
And that word is “Bonjour”.
That’s it. A word we all know even if we can’t speak French.
So why is it so important? Well might you ask.
You see, in France “Bonjour” isn’t just about saying hello. Oh no, it’s far more than that.
Saying "Bonjour" is a sign of respect
The best way of explaining it is “C’est simple comme bonjour” (it’s as simple as saying hello).
Everything hinges on you acknowledging people with a simple hello greeting before making your request. And it’s not just about greeting people. It’s announcing your arrival in their space, their space not yours. You are the visitor in their space.
This being the case it doesn’t matter if you’re getting on a bus or greeting the doctor’s receptionist, you must say “Bonjour”. Otherwise, they’ll think you have no manners, are rude, and badly brought up.
It’s the French way and without it not only are you likely to get a less than cordial service, but you might not get any service at all.
When not saying "Bonjour" can cost you more
In fact, my neighbour Anne who is most definitely the chic Parisian in our social circle, told me that it can even make a difference to how much your drink costs you in Paris. Yep, it’s that important.
When I’m out and about whether it’s shopping or walking the dog it’s not uncommon to say “Bonjour” 10-15 times. And if you don’t say it you’ll appear like a rude foreigner who has no manners.
If you’re working at a job in France then every morning when you go into work it’s expected that you greet everyone with “Bonjour”. Especially the people you work with most of the time.
Remember as well to make it a cheery “Bonjour”. Don’t mutter or mumble. Make it heartfelt and positive but without being over the top. There’s a fine line between looking like a crazed foreigner and someone who blends in and can almost come across as French.
Bonjour or Bonsoir?
And then of course there’s the time of day. Depending on what time of day it is then it might be “Bonsoir” instead of “Bonjour”. This one is up for debate as different people will tell you different rules on this one.
I should just mention that “Bonjour” won’t necessarily solve all your problems. It can be a bit of a well executed dance when asking a French person that you don’t know for help with something.
A cheery “Bonjour” doesn’t guarantee they’ll help you. They may well still give you a dismissive “non” to start off with but don’t be put off. That doesn’t mean your “Bonjour” has fallen flat or that you’ve failed.
What you have to remember is the French like to have a conversation so keep going. Ask a follow up question and you might be surprised.
Saying "Bonjour" is part of French life
Personally, I rather like it. Don’t you think it’s nice that people want to pass the time of day with you and say hello? Maybe it is a little old-fashioned, but I for one enjoy these niceties.
It’s similar to how everyone stops and has a chat at the checkout, young and old. This used to annoy me intensely. Didn’t they know I had somewhere to be? Then I realised that actually it was a nice thing to do and made your shopping experience much more personal.
People have time for each other here and aren’t in such a big hurry racing through each and every day.
Afterall, the word itself is made up of two words, bon and jour, good and day. That to me says it all.
À bientôt et merci beaucoup!