As I am almost at the end of my semester, I look back on several rules of behavior I observed and sometimes adapted to myself. Especially the politeness and correctness of the Parisian people, especially because that’s something that everybody warned me about before I went to Paris: “Look out, they are not very friendly”.
There are several situations which show exactly what I mean, for example when I went to a store to buy some clothes. It was really crowded there and the access to the check-outs was narrow. I had to pass two guys who were checking out to go the free check-out. I couldn’t pass them without bumping into them, so I asked several times if they would move a bit and let me through. But because of the noise they didn’t hear me, so I tried to pass them, bumped into this one guy who almost furiously turned around and looked at me in a really offended way. I was not really touched by this since I was already stressed because it was so crowded. So, I started to pay my things and just as I was almost finished, these two guys had to pass by me to leave the shop. So, the same guy who was offended before asked me in the politest way if he could pass by and even tossed a smile at me. This situation showed me two things. Firstly, if you don’t behave within some ground rules of politeness, people will be really offended and secondly even if you don’t behave within those ground rules, others will still treat you nicely and politely.
Another example happened when my mother and godmother visited me. We were searching for a good coffee place and weren’t sure if the restaurant we found would even serve coffee. So, my mother asked the waiter who was just taking a break in front of the restaurant. She addressed him and asked directly if they served coffee. He didn’t even reply. She asked again, and he just looked away. Even I thought it was offensive the way my mother addressed him, because she didn’t start with “Bonjour Monsieur, comment ça va” or “Bonjour Monsieur, j’ai une question” but directly with the question, which is considered impolite. So, I addressed the waiter, greeting him and asking him how he was doing and if it’d be possible to drink a coffee in the restaurant. He responded immediately and was visibly happier. The fact that even my godmother too didn’t realize that it was impolite to ask the way my mother did showed me that there is a real difference in behavior of the people between Bern and Paris which I realized and whereupon I adopted the Parisian way.
I experience the same politeness also when it comes to beggars. They are usually in the metros or RER and repeating their mantra about their poverty and if someone could give them something to eat, some cash or a restaurant ticket. Despite the amount of people who are living on the street and their poverty and need for support, whenever you decline and don’t give anything, they always thanked me and wished me a beautiful day. This, also, is a sign of the politeness on all levels of society.
Even though I also had some situations where I was surprised by someone’s rudeness, I experienced mostly good and positively surprising situations which have taught me a lot. I have also adapted to this way of living and of acting, and will keep politeness as practiced in Paris as a memory. I hope to take it back with me to Switzerland.