Bonjour is, as you most obviously already know, is the common French greeting. A pleasantry exchanged amongst the French people and those traveling in France. We didn’t have to set foot in France to learn this word and even if you didn’t, you would catch on pretty quick to what it means.
Cycling through rural French villages, we pretty quickly learned the etiquette of the word: Where and when to use it, who to say it to and the many other various words it can be used with in our ever expanding vocabulary.
Bonjour is quite simply “Good Day”. Bon being good, jour being day. We have determined that this is wishing the recipient a good day and is not a general statement of the climate or how the day has been. Bon is conjoined with other phrases as messages of good will. Bonjourney – Have a good journey. Bon voyage – Have a good journey that is longer in duration. Bonsoir – Good night. Bon appetite – Have a good feed. Bon route – Good track. My personal favourite is the candies known as bonbon. Saying “Good good” is a New Zealand colloquialism which means something very similar to the term “Good”. This can be mistaken for meaning that something is twice as good – but might often mean that something still good, but less so.
Our French is something that has gotten much better as we have progressed through France. Well, our shop French at least. We can now ask for all our essential items, including matches. The first time I asked for these using hand gestures for lighting a match I was given cigarettes, a spoon and then finally a small box of allumetes.
As many French do not often learn any English, you have to come half way on most things. In most cases, their English will be better than any of your vain attempts. The first few boulangerie that we entered consisted of “Bonjour”, then pointing at what you wanted. Stating the number of the item you wanted “troi”. Saying “Merci” after paying and voila, you just spoke French. If you were really good, you would know the names of items such as baguette, mille feuille and croissant.
After a couple of days at this game, we decided to step it up a notch. Arriving confidently into the boulangerie we would exclaim “Bonjour Madame, ce vu plait un croissant e un baguette”. Sometimes Google translate offered a few false friends, but largely your success would be determined by how quickly the person behind the till would speak English. As a rule, we never reverted to “Parlay vous Ingles?”, not once.
Getting to the stage where our initial greeting and order were well polished. Either they thought we were; a tourist fluent in French, or an idiot Frenchman with a funny accent. Speaking in French, you need to accentuate a lot more with the lips, a bit like how the Italians talk with their tongue on the roof of their mouth and with both hands gesturing wildly. Style is very important.
Then came the next hurdle: “Chaud au froid?”. Fuck me! We just got asked a question in French! Now we were having a French conversation! I hadn’t even begun to comprehend French terms for weather yet. As it turned out, this meant hot or cold. A few cold and soggy croque monsieur taught this valuable lesson.
After a month in France, we could confidently march into a boulangerie, ask for what we wanted. Say please and thank you. Tell them the temperature we wanted our food. Ask them how they were. Tell them that we were good (but not bad, or even average). Tell them we were cyclists without having to point at our lycra and bikes learning on the shop window. Finally, we understood how much the order had come to. Pay too much. Get change. And leave.
We are now fluent at boulangerie French.