Monday 18 December 2017

Mary Kenny: Cracking le code of French conversation

Understanding the secret rules of French conversation is quite an art

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

What is the secret of communicating with the French? Because I spent two of the most formative years of my youth in France and have kept up a close interest in French culture and society ever since, I thought I knew this terrain. But two French-Canadians, Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, have given me a whole new education in how to understand France and the French.

I knew about the first lesson which they impart in their riveting study, (which they call The Bonjour Effect: The Secret Codes of French Conversation Revealed). In France, in any encounter, you must always start by saying "Bonjour". And preferably "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur". It is a firm rule, and it is pleasantly free from the class deference associated with 'Sir' and 'Madam' in English.

At Lille railway station recently, I entered the ladies' toilet. "Bonjour Madame," said the young French-African in charge: to which I knew to reply, "Bonjour Madame, à vous." I was the client, she was the loo attendant, but this "code of conversation" is a formula of mutual respectfulness.

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