Manners Maketh Man...

...and women and children too



2/16/20232 min read

Civility and friendship between fellow human beings makes the world turn. And of all the places that I have been, France beats the lot for civil greetings. Whether one is meeting someone , or taking one's leave, there will always be an appropriate phrase for the occasion. It may be a simple "Bonjour," "Salut, " or "Enchanté" on meeting , or when parting "Au revoir, "Ciao" or "A demain." But things don't always remain so simple. Pass a couple while out walking, or enter a crowded waiting room, and "Bonjour messieurs dames" is a common refrain, as is "Au revoir messieurs dames" on parting.

And things aren't getting any simpler. It would seem that people are falling over themselves to invent new ways of wishing one goodbye. I have heard phrases such as "Bon fin de matinéé," "Bon dimanche," " Bon fin de journéé," " Bon fin de weekend." The variations are endless.

And then of course there are the elaborations of standard greetings such as :"Je vous souhaite une bonne journéé." Oh yes, France is an exceedingly polite country.

What charms me most is when we pass parents and children out together when we are walking in the countryside. Whilst we may not know them from Adam, we always hear the parents urging their children to greet us politely. And it works, because if you pass children playing on their own, it is very rare not to be greeted politely.

Children out walking
Children out walking

But our cultures are not the same. I am a gauche Englisher, and try as I might to adopt the civility of the French, I quite often slip up, as happened to me the other day.

medical advice service
medical advice service

Three weeks ago B. became ill with Covid. It was a Saturday morning and our local surgery was closed. I was advised by the local hospital to ring 15 ( the emergency service) for advice, which I duly did. I was quickly passed on from triage to speak to a doctor. I launched straight in.

There was a pause...and then complete silence. Then the doctor coughed. He was clearly waiting for something. I felt unsure. And then it dawned on me what the problem was. The doctor was clearly waiting for a formal , respectful greeting.

"Bonjour docteur," I added hastily . And then our conversation began.