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The French always seem to be inherently more polite than we are – although to read some comments about them, you may find this hard to believe. There’s usually a certain reservation when they first meet you but, with your valiant efforts to communicate, this will usually soon melt into good humour. Even if there is a slight difference of opinion between you, (a ‘contretemps’ for us but NOT for the French to whom it means a ‘hitch or a ‘setback’), they remain firm but polite. The use of ‘monsieur’ and ‘madame’ seem to soften any unpleasantness and in ordinary conversation shows respect.

The most important thing is always to say ‘Bonjour M’sieur/Madame’ to everyone when you meet them for the first time in the day (bus driver, person on till, stall holder etc) or just pass them in the street. I’m talking villages here, not large towns.

In the evening, you can say ‘Bonsoir’ but often you’ll get ‘Bonjour’ back, so the next person you meet, you say ‘Bonjour’ and they reply ‘Bonsoir’.

There’s even ‘Rebonjour’ for when you meet someone again in the day. It’s a bit jokey but will impress your French friend. Don’t forget ‘Au revoir‘ when leaving and ‘Merci’ goes down well.

Handshakes when appropriate, of course, and if you meet a friend who’s talking to a couple of his friends whom you don’t know, it’s polite to shake hands with them, too. Kissing you’ll soon pick up but wait for the other person to make the first move.

Roger Ayling

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The French always seem to be inherently more polite than we are

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