The Most Important Word
Last night, I sat down to dinner with my husband at our local French restaurant. Simply walking through the door transports you to a snug Parisian bistro. As we were eating, we began talking about the French language. My husband is a fluent French speaker, and I, of course, am a French teacher. Our conversation fell on the question of what we considered to be the most important word in French. Soon, we both landed on a word: “bonjour.”
What Makes “Bonjour” So Important?
Interestingly enough, the majority of people already know the word “bonjour” (hello), even if they’ve never taken French. One of my proudest moments as a child was being able to say “hello” in several different languages, none of which I actually knew! Perhaps you can relate.
“Bonjour,” however, is not just a word in the French language. It is deeply rooted in culture and is critical to daily living. Saying “bonjour” is polite and an expectation in French society. If you walk into a shop and fail to say “bonjour” to the shopkeeper, you are considered rude and even poorly raised! I often tell students that they cannot overuse the word “bonjour” and that they should say it upon entering any establishment. The word “bonjour” says two things. First, it says that you are actively trying to assimilate to the French culture. Merely saying “bonjour” breaks down barriers. Secondly, it says that you appreciate people, their presence, and their service. Failing to say “bonjour” might make YOU look like the snob. No one wants to be that!
Where Do We Go From Here?
I personally have learned a great deal from this simple cultural nuance of saying “bonjour.” I don’t live in France where politeness is everything, but I do live in a society where people long to be respected, appreciated, and noticed. Upon returning to the States after living in France, I found myself naturally greeting the people working in various establishments. It was just a simple “hello,” but it transformed the faces of the people I encountered.
What if we all adopted this practice of “bonjour”? I encourage you to put a little French in your day by giving a simple greeting to the people in service that you encounter. You might find that French is actually the kindest way to be!
Sarah Lehtinen has always been a teacher at heart! In her French classes, she wants her pupils not just to be students of language, but also of the world. She feels that global citizenship is one of the best lessons she can teach through language. Sarah enjoys trying new restaurants, yoga, ballet, coffee shops, and hiking. She is married to Simon, a fellow French speaker. They reside in Charlottesville, VA. Sarah teaches French III for Excelsior Classes.