What’s in a Bonjour?

Bonjour - Good day, Hello, Hi, a French greeting when people meet. It’s the ubiquitous word in France. It is said when you meet people (unless it’s at night and then it’s Bon soir), when you walk into a restaurant you exchange Bonjours with the person who seats you, when you walk into a shop, even when you buy a newspaper from a kiosk.

It’s more than saying hello. It’s a verbal communication of community.

Yesterday I went to the gym. I walked up the stairs and passed the door of the director’s small office. The door was open and he was sitting at his desk. I looked in. I said Bonjour, he said Bonjour. As I passed around the corner and the opened side window of the office, he got up. I thought he wanted to tell me something - he does not speak English but we have managed to communicate. He put his hand out and shook it, saying “Bonjour.” That’s all he wanted to do.

In the locker room - almost every time I am there - when a new person enters, he says, Bonjour. When someone leaves they also say au revoir. In the gym, many times a new person coming in, walks around, shakes everyone’s hand and says Bonjour.

The club is next to a construction site. Near the entrance there is a long ledge and on that ledge, a homeless man lives in an orange tent.


The tent is supplied by the social service department of the mayor of Paris. Sometimes the man is standing on the pavement, leaning against the ledge. We’ve been going to this gym since December. When the man is outside, he always says “Bonjour” and we say the same to him. It would not enter our mind not to greet him or return his greeting.

The French Bises (kisses on the cheek) have the same community connection.

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