What’s the most important word in the French language? Bonjour. In France, it’s the key to a pleasant encounter. It’s the way to insure good feelings on both sides. Nay, I say, it is more! It is a simple requirement for all humans, expressing peace and goodwill. Have you mastered the art of the “Bonjour“?
It’s also a basic courtesy that many other countries don’t use, so it’s a little tricky for the non-French who are spending time in the land of cheese and baguettes.
In the United States, for instance, we may give each other a small smile for a greeting, but we don’t usually verbalize unless we’re really ready to start a conversation. In France, the bonjour has the same function – it just means “I see you,” but doesn’t imply any further conversation.
The Basic Bonjour
When you enter the bakery, the fromagerie, the bookstore, or any other small shop, the clerk will greet you and the art of the “Bonjour” comes into play. The bonjour is sometimes mumbled and even carolled out at full volume, just like in the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast.
Return the bonjour in the same tone, looking them in the eyes, smile optional. Now, we’re all set up to not be rude to each other. We’ve entered a higher plane of civilization, a plane of peace and acceptance.
Let’s move on to some more advanced bonjours.
The Passing Bonjour
This bonjour is for those moments you find yourself brushing past someone but have no intention of talking to them ever again. This bonjour is more of a whispered “bshr“, said with a glance into their eyes, but without the depth of connection as in the basic bonjour.
Say this when you pass someone on the stairs in your apartment building, on your way past a doorman, anytime you’re moving. Of course there would be no repercussions to not giving the passing “bshr,” but it would be as tactless as poking them in the eye, so just do it.
The Group Bonjour
This one was the hardest one for me to get the hang of. In France, when you enter a waiting room (doctor, dentist, notary, bank, anywhere) you have to sweep the room with your eyes and emit a quiet bonjour, somewhere between the basic bonjour and the passing bshr in volume and intensity.
They will return the bonjour to you, and you can take your seat knowing that no one in the room hates you, that they welcome you in this mutual endeavor towards health or financial stability or whatever the common goal.
Mastering the art of the “bonjour” is essential. It breaks the ice. It puts us all on the path to a better existence, an existence where, even though it may be bleak out there, in here, we are all united in a warm-hearted quest toward understanding and hospitality for all. It’s a better world. In just one word. Nice, isn’t it?
And when you’ve mastered the bonjour, you’re officially ready to take on its nuanced sister: la bise.
- Discover the art of la bise.
- Read about the Parisian life of Lindsey Tramuta.
- Check out our millennial guide to dating.
Written by Yvonne Shao for HiP Paris. Looking to travel? Check out Haven In for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long-term or buy in France or Italy? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates.