Friday, May 9, 2014

the art of saying bonjour

I arrived at the platform of line 14 at the Bercy metro station in Paris on my way to work one morning last year.  The spot where I chose to stand was exactly where I needed to be in order to end up in front of the escalator in the metro station where I was going to get off.  Nearby, a woman who seemed to be in her 40s or 50s waited also.  The metro came shortly, and we both entered through the same sliding doors.  As the doors began to close, I turned towards the lady and said "Bonjour" ("Hello").  She looked at me and said "Bonjour" in return.  Her reply was clear albeit timid, and she had an expression on her face that conveyed a slight confusion.  She took glances at me, and soon enough I started to feel uneasy.  Then she came closer to me and asked, "On se connaît ?" ("We know each other?").  "Non", I replied calmly.  Her confused state remained and I imagined that she was searching for an explanation without wanting to ask me for one.  I could not tolerate the situation any more, so I decided to resolve it by reassuring the lady with a "C'est comme ça" ("It is what it is").  She let out a smile.  I was no longer uncomfortable.  In fact, I was happy.

The good ol' "Bonjour".  Believe me, this word is magic.  Saying it is clearly one of the simplest and most socially acceptable interactions that you can have with just about anyone.  And I think that many people do not realize this.  Sometimes, we tend to wait for others to say bonjour to us before we decide to return the favor.  When they do, we greet them similarly and often become more agreeable towards them.  If they don't fulfil our expectation, we may become resentful, telling ourselves things like "He did not even say bonjour!"  To me, these attitudes reflect the value of saying bonjour, not only to people that we are familiar with, but to anyone around us.  Needless to say, it is an initial step when we want to acknowledge someone or to connect with someone, even if for 30 seconds.  Moreover, I have found it on occasion to be a simple and effective way to disarm or appease people who I might at first perceive as harmful or distrustful.  As result of saying bonjour to these individuals regularly, I have noticed my perception become more neutral, leaving me to conclude that I had judged them because I did not know them well enough.  Indeed, anytime we attempt to reach out to someone, familiar or not, we expose ourselves to the risk of rejection.  But what is the worst that someone can do to you when you greet them bonjour?  I suppose that either she would ignore you or she would make a harmless gesture of disapproval towards you.  In any case, any disappointment felt after this kind of reaction is ephemeral especially if you consider that there is probably someone else not far away who is eager to respond more favorably to your bonjours.  Besides, such experiences of disappointment can be very well tolerated if the bonjours are given out with joy in a generous way, since most people respond to joy with joy.  Along with their joy is the one that you can give yourself by turning the gift of "Bonjour" into an art to be practiced regularly.

For example, you can say "Bonjour":

In my own experience, saying "Bonjour" allows me to open up more.  It's great when the recipient returns the bonjour, since that can take the interaction further.  However, as it is more important for me to become open, I do not depend too much on the reaction of the recipient.  Having given the gift of bonjour in a way that I find interesting is fulfilling enough.  And so, quite naturally, there is an operation dedicated to saying bonjour, appropriately called Bonjour.  Perhaps it was natural also that it would be the precursor of all operations.

I leave you with a brief message below from our friends at the RATP.

Long live bonjour!

"1 bonjour costs next to nothing, it changes everyday living."

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