How to be a bon voisin

Following last week’s post on la politesse, here are some real-life examples of how far the French will go to remain polite while telling off their neighbors. They may lose something in translation but hopefully the humor remains intact. And to all those who thought the French had no sense of humor, think again. Although it’s perhaps an acquired taste…



Dear neighbor (male) across the way:
I have seen that you have a really nice ass.
You can go ahead and put up curtains.



Voisins4Dear (female) neighbor,
There’s really no need to wear a thong when watering your plants.
However, if your only conception of gardening is butt naked, would you at least have the courtesy to cover your lady parts when our children are dining just next door?
A bit of modesty won’t prevent your jasmine from flourishing.
Thanks in advance.

Voisins3Dear (female) neighbor,
I regret to inform you that it is not out of pleasure but necessity that we set
our alarm clocks to go off so early in the morning.
FYI, it is not surround sound 5.1 but simply our Iphone speakers.
However, we will advise our employers that you are a light sleeper
and they will undoubtedly adjust our working hours to suit you.
Kind regards,
Your upstairs neighbors


Madame Cxxxxxx,
Our most courteous requests having resulted in nothing more than a pathetic “I’m not taking orders from the Chinese,” I must resort to this public notice.

Your filthy little dogs are getting on the nerves of everyone in the building. If you do nothing to keep them quiet at night and clean during the day, the “Chinese” will take care of it.

My wife cooks wonderful ravioli. Our children adore grilled Yorkshire.

A word to the wise,
Jean-Yves Txxxx

Voisins5To the young lady on the 5th floor

Several of us share in your fulfillment with your partner, both night and day, ever since you moved into our building or at least since you found a very talented partner.

We agree that one person’s freedom stops where another’s begins… To be woken by your cries at 7:00 in the morning as well as those at 3 a.m. infringes upon my freedom to sleep and to awaken at the time of my choice in my home. Do you think that’s right?

There are many students in this building but there are also many families with young children. Would you please show some consideration for your neighbors and discuss with your partner how you might:

  • Reduce the noise level (music, pillow, gag…)
  • Choose a more appropriate time
  • Do your cooing at his place
  • Show respect and common decency

P.S.  You should consider post-coital urination – given the frequency and length of your love-making, you may come down with severe cystitis

Reply (on post-it):
Do excuse us for the disturbance this may have caused. I will try to be more careful from now on. Thanks for suggesting the gag. My boyfriend was quite flattered that you consider our lovemaking too long 🙂 Please accept my sincere apologies.

Now that’s la classe!

La politesse

La politesseOr how to charm the pants off the French

We Canadians are known for being polite. Sorry, we’ll say, every time we even come close to bumping into anyone. When we don’t understand or can’t make ourselves understood, we apologize first, ask questions later. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Things are different in France. The French rarely apologize but they do have their own strict forms of politesse. If you follow these, you will be admired for your manners and appreciated by all but those mauvaises langues who always have to find something to criticize. There’s one in every crowd.

Hello and goodbye

Bonjour has always struck me as such a formal way of saying hello. Perhaps because I translate it into English as ‘good day’ which no one says anymore except Aussies (and the way they say it, g’day, makes it sound very cool). You can say ‘salut’ as ‘hi’ in French but only to people you know well — it’s quite familiar. Otherwise, bonjour is the standard greeting in France.

The trick is knowing when to shift from bonjour to bonsoir. Exactly when is that elusive moment in the day when you start to say good evening? There is no set answer but it seems to be sometime in the afternoon, certainly not before about 4 pm.

The other complicating factor is that the greeting gets transformed into a form of goodbye. Bonjour becomes bonne journée, while bonsoir becomes bonne soirée. Think of it as the French form of our ubiquitous ‘have a good day.’ You can, of course, simply say au revoir but it may sound a bit brusque.

Still, it is an absolute rule of French politesse to say good-bye. I notice this especially on elevators. People get on and don’t necessarily say anything but when it’s time to get off, they always say au revoir. It is somehow more of an obligation to acknowledge that you are leaving than arriving. I absolutely hate to say goodbye at parties. Usually I will just try and slip away unnoticed rather than make a big deal about the fact that I am going, often well before anybody else. But it does not go over well in French circles. People will say “Il est parti comme un voleur.” To leave like a thief will not win you friends.

Please and thank you

S’il vous plaît. Truly the magic words, this little phrase opens doors in France. It is both an obligation in just about any situation, whether asking for something, grabbing someone’s attention or simply confirming one’s wishes. Literally, ‘if it pleases you’ this really just means ‘please’ and also substitutes for thank you. I remember railing against the lengthy form of this – couldn’t they come up with a shorter way of saying please? But in practice, it’s very short as it all runs together. If you are on close personal terms, use ‘s’il te plaît.’

Everybody knows how to say thank you in French, right? Wrong. In full politesse it is not just ‘merci’ but ‘je vous remercie’ (or je te remercie with intimates). Or in written form, ‘avec tous nos remerciements’ (with all our thanks). There’s also merci beaucoup/merci bien/merci vivement (thanks very much/a lot/sincerely) or mille mercis (thanks a million) or just merci.

You’re welcome

For a North American, please and thank you are nothing without a formal acknowledgement of gratitude in return: you’re welcome. I was appalled to learn that the British consider ‘you’re welcome’ to be an Americanism. Instead they’ll say ‘think nothing of it’ or ‘not at all’. Similarly, the French will say de rien or il n’y a pas de quoi. More formally you can say: Je vous en prie or c’est un plaisir. In a pinch, a nod and a smile will do.

Excuses but no apologies

Je m’excuse, excusez-moi, pardon, pardonnez-moi… Excuses are perhaps one of the finer points of French politesse. The forms can get quite elaborate, along the lines of ‘je vous prie de bien vouloir m’excuser pour le dérangement.” (I beg you to kindly forgive me for the interruption.)

Excuse me is the perfectly polite way to ask for attention in English. But not in French. When you want something, it is always preferable to use please rather than excuse me. I don’t know if this has something to do with not apologizing, but it is better not to ask to be excused unless you have good reason.

Do not confuse politesse with friendliness. I have heard the most bitter enemies address each other with increasing degrees of politesse in French. In fact, it’s a backhanded way of insulting someone.

And if you really want to charm the French…

Admire them. Do not hesitate to show how much you love them, even use abject flattery. The French are suckers for a francophile. They entertain a love-hate relationship with their own country: although they criticize it constantly, they love few things as much as France and all things French. So if you, a foreigner, demonstrate that you are an unrequited francophile, they will love you for loving them.

Take it from me. I married one.