November 11, 2011
I have for a long time been a fan of the politeness of the French nation.
Go into a crowded shop or restaurant and you always greet everyone and everyone murmers back a greeting , meet someone you know on the street and you shake their hand , or , even, kiss .
You always greet someone with a greeting appropiate to the time of day , Bon Appetit , Bon Weekend , Bon Continuation, Bon Courage - you name it thay have a greeting for it.
It is only recently that I am begining to realise that this politesse can have its drawbacks.
There is a polite rule in France that when you are dealing with one person (in a shop let us say) you do not acknowledge any other person.
Thus in the supermarket if one is next in line to the check out and one should inadvertently catch the eye of the cashier ones eyes glaze over and you do not smile , even though you know that the very second the previous customer has departed you will be greeted with a welcoming "Bon Jour".
Now in the supermarket situation this is usually livable with , but let us take another example.
Yesterday we went down to the Mairie to pay for an advertisment we put in the village organ , Le Bassin. (a transaction which would take about 1 and a half minutes max)
The lady ahead of us was taxing a mobilette for one of her children and had several long forms to fill out.There was only one lady assistant behind the counter.
Madame the mother was not the quickest and so she spent possibly fifteen minutes with her tongue firmly gripped between her teeth filling out this form while Madame behind the counter looked on politely and we fumed silently in the queue.
It would have been a total breach of politness were the assistant to excuse herself from Madame and deal with us (as we would have done in Ireland) and so let us say if you see 10 people in front of you in a queue in the Mairie , or in the Post Office, or elsewhere you can anticipate that you will probably be waiting at least a half hour before you are served , with the Irish stystem the shop wiuld be empty in ten minutes.
Now moving to a new country one always has to accept their way of doing things but here we have a situation which is rapidly driving our blood pressure through the roof.
Buying a stamp can take three days as one first checks and counts the queue in the post office before finding a window when the whole transaction might take only ten to fifteen minutes. I now consciously try to do my shopping in (one of the few) supermarkets which is open during lunchtime when the French don't ever shop and one is spared discovering that the lady in front of you in the queue is a sister to the cashier and they havn't met (plainly) in ten years so they have a lot of catching up to do.
I once was in a supermarket in (French) Corsica where the ladies before me (an elderly lady and her ancient mother) had a trolley full of different brands of incontinence nappies. The merits of all brands were eagerly discussed by all parties (and the rejected ones put back on the shelf by the younger) until a decision was made and a mere 25 minutes later I was permitted to pass my groceries through the till.
I really don't suppose I will ever manage to change this so I must learn to relax in queues , breathe deeply , write novels in my head and - above all- keep taking my blood- pressure tablets.