Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour: The Importance of Saying Hello

Never have I been so confused about saying hello. And who would think that it is a real problem. But for an expat living in France, trying to figure out the appropriate times to greet someone is a daily stress. It's not something that they warn you about either. They warn you about making an effort to speak French, or staying strong with the bureaucracy, but not about saying hello. And saying hello is such an important part to speaking to someone, it immediately makes or breaks your experience.

In the US, we don't say hi to each other as much as the french do. We may say hi to our friends and family, maybe someone that is working in retail or customer service, and maybe, just maybe if you make eye contact. But other than that we kind of stick to ourselves. But that is definitely not the case in France. Here you need to greet everyone when you step into the room. Even when you're stepping into the laundromat to wash your dirty clothes, you have to say a general (and really awkward) hello to everyone else who is washing their dirty clothes. Yep, that's right, you're even expected to say hello when doing something that you might not like much social interaction while doing.

So when are you expected to say hello? When you walk into a store, say a general hello. You don't need go up to every person and say hello to each of them individually, that would be weird. And any store is a good store to say hello in. At a grocery store, say hello to the less than enthusiastic cashiers before they start scanning your items. If not then you will be met by (even more) rudeness. When in the street and asking for directions, you need to say hello first, which turns into this confusing problem of saying hello three times. Usually you start by saying excuse me, followed by a quick bonjour, and then the person will say bonjour and wait for you to say it again. This process is something that I try to avoid because no expat really knows the correct amount of time of saying hello. And when entering the bus, say hello to the driver. But don't say hello to people on the metro, unless you're about to ask for money, signatures for a petition, or play a song.

So why is it so important to say hello? Well, its a way to be polite, and French people are all about politeness. I've seen people refuse to answer someone until they said hello. I've also seen people say hello in a very sharp tone, reminding them that they forgot to say hello. If you don't say hello, you are guaranteed bad service, and possible a few looks of judgement. So while its confusing and awkward at a first, it becomes second nature and saves you a lot of headaches later. And if you think about it, it's kind of nice to always wish someone to have a nice day.

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