Language and courtesy

The French are unfailingly polite outside the larger towns and cities and even there, there are common rules of courtesy which are never ignored. The shop assistant will always say, Bonjour to you and when you leave they will say Au revoir. It is courteous to reply similarly and to add Merci to your Au revoir when you leave. If you are in a small shop when another customer enters you may find that the customer includes you in the greeting, Bonjour Monsieur, Madame, MonsieurDame or MessieursDames, for example.

It pays dividends to have a smattering of French words to use such as the above, and enough to be able to identify what you want in the shops. The French people do appreciate it, and you will find in the smaller out of the way places that we boaters get to there may not be anyone who speaks English. A French phrase book and English/French dictionary will be very helpful too.

Bonjour, s'il vous plait and merci will get you a long way or at least open the door, or the lock gates and show that the English are not as rude as the French believe.

It is polite to shake hands when meeting someone you already know. French people also greet each other with the double air-kiss and when you know them you will be considered rude if you do not do this. So be prepared at all times and take your lead from them. Get ready to hold out your hand or proffer a cheek. (Men do not kiss other men but do kiss women in this way.)

Outside the towns, on the towpath for example, French people always greet each other and will greet you.

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