French Lessons in Politeness

French Lessons in Politeness

Christmas in Paris

(photo source)


This weekend, I spent several hours rushing around town, trying to finalize my holiday shopping. And during my frenzied rush, I saw people of all kinds being polite to one another, but also saw a few not-so-nice behaviors.

This reminded me of a sentiment I heard at a recent gathering – the holiday season is the perfect time to slow down and be kind to others. Whether it’s opening a door for someone holding a baby carrier or several packages, leaving an extra tip for a tired restaurant server, or saying “good morning” to your local Starbucks barista – these small acts of kindness can make a difference. What I also noticed this holiday season, was that if someone was nice to a stranger, that person would respond in an equally polite manner to the next person, and so on. A perfect example of kindness being paid forward.

And this behavior should not be reserved for adults. I often tell my two young children how important it is to be polite to others, whether it’s their friends or a cashier in a store. In fact, a coworker – who knew that my son liked Japanese collectibles – recently gave my son a Japanese garden book. When we arrived home, I asked him if it was a good idea to write my coworker a thank you note, which he agreed and proceeded to handwrite the note himself. When I delivered it to my coworker, she was so surprised and delighted, that she has since given my son several other Japanese items for his collection. Although my son’s thoughtful thank you note was not intended as a way to receive more gifts, his kindness has been rewarded several times over.

Even French restaurant workers, who are notorious for their rudeness, especially to tourists, believe that kindness should be rewarded, and not just during the holidays. In a café in Nice, France, employees were tired of customers’ rude behaviors (ie. not saying bonjour prior to placing your order) and posted tiered pricing for customers based on their politeness, with the most polite receiving the least expensive cup of coffee, while the rude receive the most expensive pricing. If customers initiate their order with no greeting and without saying “please”, they are charged 7 Euros (over $9.50) for un cafe. Those who muster s’il vous plait (please) are charged 4.25 Euros (about $5.80), while those who greet employees with bonjour and s’il vous plait can expect to pay only 1.40 Euros (approx. $1.93).

Now, I’m not condoning kindness for the sake of earning a reward or setting prices based on rudeness (after all, we all have bad days now and again). However, this holiday season and the coming year, let’s take our cues from our neighbors across the pond – take a few minutes each day to do something kind for others – whether it’s offering a helping hand or extending a simple bonjour and a smile. Kindness is a small price to pay for a cup of coffee or to make someone’s day, wouldn’t you agree?

Ciao and Happy Holidays!

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