FRENCH CUSTOM #2: The trick in saying “Hello”

This may come in handy for… anyone traveling in France. I discovered the dilemma when I went inside a café around 5pm (17h in the European language), and found myself at the awkward crossroad between either saying ‘Bonjour’ or ‘Bonsoir’. But after spending 3 weeks in France this April, I worked up a guideline that can help with this predicament.

Let me explain to those who don’t have a French dictionary at their disposal. You can say ‘Hello’ in 3 ways in French: ‘Bonjour’ (used during daytime), ‘Bonsoir’ (used during night time), and ‘Salut’ (used only for friends). The problem comes during the twee hours of the day, between daytime and night time, precisely around 4 or 5pm, when it is unclear whether one should continue saying ‘Bonjour’, or switched to using ‘Bonsoir’. At 6pm, it is clearly la soirée, but before then, it’s the gray area where it is up to the speaker to decide whether he thinks the day is half to come or half over. It is not a surprise to run into conversations where one person says Bonjour and the other says Bonsoir. I like to see the former as an optimist and the latter a pessimist. Or the first a workaholic and the second an alcoholic really looking forward to  the night to begin.

To avoid using the ‘wrong’ salutation, one can adopt the wait-and-see approach. When you come in contact with another, just wait until the other person make their choice, and then you can follow suit. Of course, there is a risk of appearing dumb when you walk up to a person and just stare at them without saying anything. In that case, either choice would make you more socially acceptable than just eyeballing your second party.

More convenient would be setting a time at your liking at which you would like to switch your hello. Personally, I think 4pm is still daytime, especially during spring and summer seasons when the days are longer (I might change my mind during fall and winter). This method requires mental strength and perseverance… to proclaim strongly that it is still day when others say it’s night.

…. I had way too much time on my hands sitting leisurely at the café to come up with this ridicule. But I’m starting to see how artists become inspired in Paris.


Some beautiful quotes I came across in Paris:
‘Ajouter deux lettres à Paris: le paradis.’ -on a postcard at l’Opéra
(Add two letters to Paris: paradise)

‘Rêvons nos vies. Vivons nos rêves.’ -on the wall of a bar in St. Michel
(Dream our lives. Live our dreams.)

This entry was published on October 7, 2012 at 12:26. It’s filed under City, Europe, Paris, Travel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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