Le bon moment

I went to our local butcher shop hoping to pick up something nice to slip on the barbecue this past weekend – which turned out to be a wash-out weather-wise. I should have known better as we are not yet ‘officially’ in BBQ season. The butcher had the basics, of course, but not the nice selection of sausages we usually enjoy grilling up when the fine weather comes.

That should be soon, as we enter the month of May and the annual holiday festival. It starts with Labour Day on May 1st and VE or Victory in Europe day on the 8th; these are followed by the Ascension long weekend from Thursday to Monday at the end of May and the Pentecost holiday Monday in early June. By then we shall be in full seasonal swing and the local shops will be well-stocked with everything from ice-cream to grillades.

It was a timely reminder in case I’d forgotten that here in France, timing is everything. There are no official rules for when you switch your greeting from ‘bonjour’ to ‘bonsoir’ or until what time one can reasonably wish someone a ‘bonne journée’ vs. ‘bon après-midi’ or ‘bonne soirée’. You just have to learn to sense when the timing is right.

Bonjour or ‘good day’ is the standard greeting in France. After that, you can try a ‘rebonjour’ or casually switch to ‘salut’, which is closer to ‘hi’. Oddly, some sort of greeting is always expected but it’s often not clear what it should be. Sometimes people will say ‘hello’ borrowed from English or just ‘hé!’

When I worked full-time in Lyon, it was common to say ‘bonjour’ the first time you saw someone in the morning, then ‘rebonjour’ when you saw them again, and just ‘re’ after that. Some people would get clever with ‘re-re-rebonjour’ or after several such instances ‘re-re-re’ which sounds as if you’re gargling. No wonder we non-natives get confused!

Timing is everything, as they say. Getting a sense for ‘le bon moment’ or le bon timing as the French will often say (which words being ‘officially’ borrowed and how they are pronounced being another topic for which there are no rules), is perhaps the greatest challenge for second-language learners in France.

Have a bonne journée!