I went to the salon last Saturday. Since I have specific instructions for people who touches my hair with an intention to shorten it, my young friend accompanied to make the introductions. Even though the hair stylist is also a friend, it never hurts to be prepared as you don't want anything to be lost in translation. The first thing I did after entering the salon was what I do always involuntarily. Light up the place with my 1000 watt smile and bow my head in response to all the smiling faces. I always thought this was enough. Apparently it wasn't. My friend poked jabbed her elbow into me and muttered under her breath. "Say bonjour".
I was initially confused. What about my 1000 watt smile? Doesn't it work? Actually, it did work. It made all the people greet me pleasantly with a bonjour. While I happily responded with my head-bow, this wasn't the expected response. What I should have done instead was something more simple and appropriate. I should have greeted them back with a bonjour. Greetings and shaking hands is important here in Paris. You watch colleagues in the morning rushing in to shake hands with everyone. There is a rule to shake hands too. You shake hands when you see people for the first time in a day. There are some people who openly wonders on seeing you. "Did I meet you earlier?... Oh! I did. And we shook hands... So we don't have to shake hands anymore". Believe me, there is no malice in that statement, but a trace of humor if you are not French.
Greetings is another ball game. In one of the books written by a non-French author, he sums up the importance of greetings. The author asks us not to grumble if the shopkeeper isn't friendly. The reason may be you didn't greet him and you started on with your query instead. I am not sure if this is an exaggeration or not. But greetings are important. When in Rome, be like the Romans. So, say bonjour, bonsoir or au revoir depending on the occasion.
As a concluding piece, look at what the mayor has enforced in the city hall in a small town in France. If you are not nice to the city officials, you are shown the door.