The French have given the world haute cuisine and haute couture but perhaps their greatest untapped gift is “haute civility.” Haute civility is not the gallant hand kissing the rest of us cannot quite get the hang of or that seductive accent that makes whatever they say sound great, it’s the way they treat each other – and us — in public places. That old stereotype that the French are rude and unfriendly is kept alive by people who simply haven’t spent time among the French. Take shopping for instance, French shoppers enter a boutique with a polite “Bonjour” to the proprietor and they leave with an appreciative “Merci” (which is reciprocated) whether they have made a purchase or not. A “bonjour” is routinely offered to fellow passengers when entering an elevator – no staring at the ceiling pretending you are alone, and other patients waiting in doctors offices are greeted the same way. Civility even extends to public transportation. In the Paris metro, elders can be assured they will be offered a seat no matter how crowded; and travelers routinely hold swinging doors open for the person behind them. Imagine that on a subway elsewhere. Recently, an American friend living in Paris told of riding a Paris bus and seeing an elderly woman defy the posted and commonly observed direction that passengers should enter through the front door and exist from the rear. Instead, this woman was making her way from her seat in the back against the stream of on-coming passengers. Not only were there no shouts of recrimination, the bus driver and some passing pedestrians stopped to help her make a safe exit. Hurray for the French fine art of social civility – we can all learn from it.
What Can We Learn from the French?
Filed under Paris, People, The French