Please and Thank You

The British have a reputation for politeness in many forms, whether it’s queuing, insisting that you go first, or apologising when you bump into them. Politeness in Belgium (and I think France is quite similar in this respect) takes a rather different form.
When you enter a room, a shop, or even a lift, you will be greeted by the occupants with a “Bonjour”, and expected to respond in kind. Then there’ll be a “Bonne journée” when you leave. If someone sees you eating (even if it’s only a bar of chocolate), they will wish you “Bon appetit
Part of me admires the fact that this kind of social nicety has endured, ensuring a certain level of civilised behaviour in everyday life. On the other hand, I can’t help feeling that it’s become fossilised and codified to the extent that it’s little more than a set of verbal tics without any real feeling behind it, like when a shop assistant in the US (or, increasingly, the UK) tell you to “Have a nice day!”.
I can’t help thinking “Do you really mean that? Do you really care? Well, if not, why say it?”


One thought on “Please and Thank You

  1. simonlitton October 16, 2007 / 3:44 pm

    Comments from:

    Posted on Jun. 27th, 2007 07:13 pm (local)
    It seems you have yet to experience the pinnacle of intrusive politeness that is rampant here in America: “Have a blessed day.”

    Posted on Jun. 27th, 2007 10:01 pm (local)
    You have GOT to be kidding me.
    You mean, like, normal people say this? Not just Jehovah’s Witnesses?

    Posted on Jun. 28th, 2007 08:06 pm (local)
    I felt the same way until I lived in the Czech Republic, where shopkeepers and cashiers and waiters are so resolutely cold and unfriendly. It was so rare even to get a smile or a second of eye contact that when those things did happen I wanted to cry. So I mean of course, those little ‘bonjours’ and ‘bon appetits’ aren’t deeply heartfelt, but they’re pretty nice. You miss them when they aren’t there. Not to say we don’t totally overdo it in the U.S., but when I lived in Switzerland and when I’ve visited the UK, I think they strike a pretty good balance of formality and politeness.

    Posted on Jun. 28th, 2007 10:00 pm (local)
    I agree that a stony silence isn’t the best option either. On the other hand, I’ve been on the receiving end of many a muttered “Bonjour” accompanied by one of those looks you’d give a dog who just peed on your leg.
    I don’t mind pleasantries, as long as they’re sincere.

    Posted on Jun. 29th, 2007 01:08 pm (local)
    Simon: Define normal. Normal here is for an assertively Christian part of the population to lay the blessing on you at any moment in any location.
    Maybe all these ‘have a blessed day’ people are Jehovah’s Witnesses though.

    Posted on Jun. 29th, 2007 10:51 pm (local)
    I wonder if the “have a blessed day” thing is a regional phenomenon, however. I’ve never heard it before here in Minnesota (or anywhere else I’ve been).

    Posted on Jun. 30th, 2007 05:46 pm (local)
    Andrea: The further south (and rural) you go, the more likely you are to be blessed by some random person, so I agree that it is very likely a regional phenomenon.

    Posted on Jul. 8th, 2007 05:30 pm (local)
    I can’t be bothered with anything these days, but shrug. I just don’t have anything to say recently.


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