Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bustling Through Life

We try to walk as much as possible in Paris, but sometimes our best intentions are foiled by a bout of tiredness or laziness or a tempting bus stopping in front of us at just the right moment, which is what happened the other night. 

The 87 bus that would take us from the Eiffel tower area, where we had been having dinner with friends, to our neighborhood stops running relatively early and so we know we'll be walking home when we dine there.  It was a pleasant evening and the walk through part of the 7th arrondissement, past dark government offices housed in former hôtels particuliers, was fine, but when we reached the Boulevard St-Germain and spotted the 63 bus just beginning to pull away from the stop we rushed a bit to catch it and hopped aboard.

Looking down into my wallet to find tickets, I muttered "merci" to the driver for re-opening his door for us.  I was startled by his reply. 

"Je suis la" he said: "I'm here". It took me a second to realize that I had committed the cardinal sin of discourtesy.  I had not said "bonsoir" as I entered his bus. 

One of the first things you learn here is that the French consider that any interaction between people should first and foremost politely acknowledge the existence of the other.  On meeting someone in the street, on entering a shop, on stopping someone to ask directions, in any encounter, a polite "bonjour Monsieur" or "bonjour Madame" is required.  You greet the other people in a doctor's waiting room, you greet the person behind the counter in the boulangerie, you greet anyone with whom you speak or plan to speak.  I had failed to greet the bus driver on his very own bus.  My bad.

I apologized, said "bonsoir", assured him that I really was bien elevé, well brought-up, but had forgotten my manners in the rush of getting on and searching for my ticket. He smiled and forgave me.  It was a very human encounter that we both clearly enjoyed.

When we got off the bus several stops later I made a point of moving quickly along the street from the exit door at the back to the front of the bus.  Through the closed door I mouthed "au revoir" to the driver.  He gave me a thumbs up and drove on, smiling.


chrissoup said...

My American compulsion not to "waste time" when addressing a stranger sometimes trumps my knowledge of French manners. I'm surprised by how good natured the French are when they correct me!

Amanda said...

I know that rule but have forgotten it after being in the States for so long. When I go to my neighborhood "Cost plus/ world market", one cashier always says hello to anybody coming in. The first time I didn't say anything(which was very rude), but I sure do now and sometimes try to beat her/him to it.
Really, it is so true; we shouldn't ignore each other. Even if we don't get an answer, it should be a habit to say hello or goodbye.