The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.
Bonjour, hello. Today I'm offering you something a little different. I'm sharing a post written by Rosemary Kneipp from Aussie in France because it's great! As simple as that. Rosemary explains the use of the word "Bonjour" which is far from simple. This little word which we all know so well is actually fraught with complications.
by Rosemary from Aussie in France, an Australian long-term resident of Paris who writes about her experiences of living in France, sharing insights into the French way of life. This comes from her weekly post on French language "Friday's French".
Now you might wonder why I am writing a post about bonjour which everyone knows means "hello".
However, Black Cat and I were having a discussion the other day about WHEN and HOW it is used in French which is quite different from the English use of hello.
If I am in a supermarket in Australia and want to ask the man filling the shelves where the coffee is, the most polite way is to go up to him and say, "Excuse-me, but can you tell me where the coffee is".
Now, if I do that in France: "Excusez-moi de vous déranger, mais savez-vous où se trouve le café?", I am likely to get a nasty look. The person will say, "Bonjour" and wait for me to reply "Bonjour", then I have to ask the question again and will get a helpful answer.
If you go into a bakery or a butcher's shop or even a doctor's surgery, you should always say bonjour to the people present, and it's even more polite to follow it with messieurs, or mesdames or messieurs dames depending on who's present. You can also walk in and say messieurs dames without bonjour. Read more
I urge you all to click through to Rosemary's full post. It's fascinating and I couldn't have explained it better. What do you think?
This practice is common in Germany as well. I was a bit taken aback when sitting in the Dentist's office and people spoke to me.
Saying "Bonjour madame Buisson" would have been very much appreciated. Using the person's name is the ultimate form of politeness - I should have mentioned this.
When we holidayed in France with children years ago I always amused them by greeting the shopkeeper with bonjour Mme. Buisson. But obviously I was a very polite foreigner. Thank you for putting me right.
Excellent, Thomas! Well done for being so spot on. To know the name of the shopkeeper as well is very impressive.
Thank you, Phoebe, for featuring my post on "bonjour". The French saying, "C'est facile comme bonjour" (it's as easy as saying "bonjour") hardly seems appropriate, does it? Rosemary
That's brilliant Rosemary! Great comment!! Delighted to feature your great post.
Gosh, isn't it interesting that you think you know how to use a word and you feel confident with it and then this comes along and blows that all out of the water! I would never have expected such different nuances with such an innocent little word. I think saying bonjour first when asking for help is going to be the hardest to put in place, it just doesn't really come naturally.
I agree Francis, it's much more natural for English speakers to start with "excuse me" or "sorry to disturb you, but..." even after 15 years in France I have to remember to say "bonjour" first, but it leads to much better results I can guarantee you
It find it interesting that there are so many ways to use the word bonjour. I travel to France a lot and now I feel like I'll be more "local" when I go into a shop or ask for help.
Thanks for commenting Mags, glad you found the post useful. Rosemary does a weekly post on French language if you're interested (every Friday).