Friday, June 26, 2015

Simon and his dog

This post arises out of one I've just been answering on another forum ( which poses the perennial questions raised by some British people in France - about how to deal with French greetings - kissing, handshaking etc. and the differences between regions, and above all Paris, compared to the provinces.

I live in a medium sized French town (pop. 120 000 or 250 000 with the outlying suburbs) in the Mediterranean south, where there is an interesting mix of nationalities - people from Spain just over the border, as well as places like Morocco and further south. Most evenings I take a walk round the nearby park, where many people are sitting on the benches alone or  talking to friends, and they sometimes greet me or I say 'Bonjour' to them. Also on a quieter road, if someone is coming towards you alone, it is quite normal to say Bonjour as you pass each other.

When it comes to more formal greetings, there are what seem like complex rules governing the business of kissing and handshaking - but I find you pick it up as go along. To take an example: Yesterday I was in the town centre with my closest (male) friend and as we have known each other for more than 10 years and work together on various writing projects, we kiss each other 4 times when we meet or say goodbye. This now extends to his family and to some of his close friends who in turn have become close friends of mine.

Yesterday we met the younger brother of the same close friend - four kisses from him for my friend, two for me (I know him fairly well), two kisses for both of us from his girlfriend, whom neither of us had met before; a handshake from another male, a kiss from his girlfriiend.......It may seem complicated but there is a certain logic to all of this, and you tend to follow the customs by instinct. All the above were repeated as we parted five minutes later.

And what of Simon and his dog? One of the other things I like about this region is the comparative lack of class/snobbery - the boss shakes hands with the factory worker or the man come to fix the radiators. Simon is a young homeless lad who sits begging almost opposite my apartment, with his faithful dog called Vagabond. We shake hands and talk when I pass, and know a bit about him as a result; a lot of other people say Hello to him, as well as putting a few coins in his pot. I find this much more heartening than people scurrying past pretending not to see him.