Speaking Basic Courtesy

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Speaking Basic Courtesy

People who live in Geneva, Switzerland speak primarily French. I discovered that when I spent a week’s vacation there. And although most of the Swiss know English fairly well, I wanted to be slightly less obvious as a unilingual American. To my amazement this wasn’t difficult at all.

Many common activities could be navigated just fine with as few as six French phrases. Here they are: Bonjour (Hello). Au revoir (Good-bye). S’il vous plait (Please). Merci (Thank you). De rien (You’re welcome). Excusez-moi (Excuse me).

A few of the scenes went like this:
— Meeting eyes in any public place: “Bonjour.”
— About to enter a store and a man or woman holds the door: “Merci.”
— I hold the door for someone and that person says “Merci”: “De rien.”
— Squeezing my way onto a bus: “Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait.”
— As I leave a restaurant: “Au revoir.”

And that brought me to a profound realization.

Creating positive, pleasant human engagements is simple. Greet people. Say please and thank you. Show appreciation. Be respectful. And don’t just walk away when things conclude.

Of course true communication requires much more than a few phrases. I respect and admire those who are fluent in more than their basic tongue. But basic courtesy? That’s universal, no matter what the language.


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