Bewildering array of Gallic politeness

AT first a new language is always a bit tricky but after two and a half months of living in France I can safely say I have made progress.

James Marston

AT first a new language is always a bit tricky but after two and a half months of living in France I can safely say I have made progress.

Last week I even managed a conversation about Breton separatism - apparently it still rears its head every now and again - with a lady called Helene who I take the train with. I have to be honest, dear readers, I even impressed myself.

But that doesn't mean everything goes swimmingly all the time. I make lots of errors.

It was only the other morning that, dear readers, I have to admit to a faux pas.

At the train station with the unpronounceable name I approached the conductor of a train I was about to get on.

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"Is this the train to Carcasonne?" I questioned, obviously in French, just checking I was in the right place. It might sound like I asked a perfectly normal and innocuous question but dear readers I had made a cardinal sin - I had forgotten to "Bonjour".

The conductor, judging by the withering look he gave me, was somewhat annoyed at yet another rude Anglische.

"Bonjour," he replied with an icy stare.

"Bonjour," I replied, realising my error. "Is this the train to Carcasonne?" I ventured for the second time.

"Yes, monsieur, it is. There is a sign, is there not?" he replied with what I suspect was a touch of sarcasm.

"Thank you," I replied, my confidence coming back, adding the requisite "Bonne journ�e" (have a good day) as well.

"Bonne journ�e" monsieur.

By the time I'd bonjoured and bonne journeed I almost missed the train.

But France is hugely polite.

To the extent that their politeness is something we English can take some time getting used to. You can't enter a shop, complete a transaction, have a five minute conversation, walk into a bar or caf� without going through the formalities.

And depending on the time of day, week and year, the greetings change.

Here are a just few I have noticed.

- Bonjour and Bonne journ�e - the obvious

- Bonsoir - good evening

- Bonne soir�e - have a good night, used at the end of a conversation

- Bon weekend - have a good weekend - Friday and Saturday only

- Bon dimanche - have a good Sunday

- Bonne continuation - enjoy the rest of your night, used when you've been somewhere and are going on somewhere else

- Bon apr�s midi - good afternoon - used between about 2pm and 5pm

- Bonne fin d'apres midi - have a good end of afternoon - this happens around 4.30pm

- Bonne f�tes - have a nice Christmas time - seasonal

- Bon jour f�ri� - have a nice bank holiday - once a month

- Bonne fin de semaine - have a nice end of week - Fridays only

Not to mention Bon Appetit - used whenever anyone is eating, which in my case is quite often. And Bon courage - good luck - usually used, it seems, when you have to go and do something complicated like post a parcel, buy a train ticket, or do anything that requires talking to public sector employees.

Each time I hear a new version of these greetings/dismissals I cannot help but smile and, though somewhat of a minefield to get through as each expression can change by the hour and the situation you are in, this politeness is added to the fact that old people are treated properly, men hold the doors open for ladies, children are still taught to be seen and not heard, older people are treated with noticeably more respect, and people really do say they are enchanted to meet you.

In fact, politeness is one of the most endearing traits of the French experience.

And on that note, my dear readers, I wish you all a Bonne Ann�e and all the best for 2010.

I WAS never a coffee drinker. I was never sophisticated enough.

But when in Rome, dear readers, and I have rather taken to the strong little cups they serve here in France.

Of course, you need a dash of sugar just to make it palatable but there's nothing better than taking your ease amid the Saturday morning bustle of the ancient medieval city of Toulouse where I have an apartment with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high).

Interestingly, I have yet to see many corporate coffee shops that have become such a feature of so many British high streets.

My favourite caf�, the Caf� de la Concorde, is rather eccentric. They play jazz on a Sunday morning, the service is abysmal - depending on the waiter, and the interior looks the spit of the Allo Allo set.

I NOTED, thanks to the marvels of the worldwide web, that Suffolk was thrust into the icy grip of a Siberian cold front. As usual every teacher I know relished a snow day - they always do don't they even when a mere sprinkling threatens - though I have to admit that it was, this time, a proper covering.

Indeed, my friend Ian who lives in Ipswich and enjoys being a little dramatic, said that what with his legs he didn't dare go out for two days for fear of falling over and my friend Julian got his car pranged by a Hungarian so it must have been bad.

Anyway, seeing the images of the icy blast I did feel a pang of homesickness.

In addition to cheese and pickle sandwiches, the Edwardian Spa town of Felixstowe where I have a small flat with sea views (distant) I have added the Suffolk countryside to the list of things I miss.

And I bet, in the snow and despite the problems it caused, it looked truly beautiful.

SO that's another one over.

Christmas might be totally stressful and hard work and expensive - I note that John Lennon might have said "Imagine there's no money" but he could say that as had plenty and he never said "Imagine trying to pay for Christmas without a credit card" did he?

Anyway, as John Lennon also said "So this is Xmas And what have you done Another year over And a new one just begun" It's a classic Christmas track and it seems to sum it all up - depressing and uplifting all at the same time.

Drink drivers are still killing people, the snow still causes utter chaos, the world has problems mankind seems incapable of solving but we are still here.

All I wanted for Christmas was a thick head of hair and a six pack.

Instead, I got knitwear and a hangover. But I managed to get back from France - in spite of British Airways - I saw friends and family and the Queen made a speech in my living room.

I have had a great time so let's count our blessings too.

Blessing number one - Christmas is only once a year.

LET'S hope Trimley railway station can be saved and not bulldozed.

We've already lost enough of the best of Britain and this is a much loved landmark.

Sometimes there are times when old has to be dispensed with for the new but sometimes just demolishing something because it is the easiest of options isn't right.

I wish the campaigners luck.

IT might have been cold in Suffolk, but we've had our fair share of icy weather here in the south west of France.

As I came to the end of my Saturday shopping followed by a lazy lunch, I happened to spot a frozen fountain in one of the more chic areas of the medieval city of Toulouse.

Happily I had my camera with me as well.