A simple “bonjour” – or, more importantly, the lack of one – can mark you out instantly as a foreigner in France.
In shops, the act of handing over cash in return for items isn’t good enough to gain acceptance. There is a whole etiquette to follow if you want to fit in.
I had forgotten the importance the French place on good manners among strangers. For a foreigner, even buying a baguette is a trial. It begins when you walk into a boulangerie. You need to acknowledge the staff and, importantly, any other customers with a “Bonjour messieurs, mesdames.”
As more people arrive while you queue, you have to acknowledge them too.
I get all of that. However, there has to come a point where you draw the line. I had imagined a supermarket would be it.
In Castillonnès, where I often stay, the owner of the local supermarket, a small Casino franchise, also expects a “bonjour”. If he doesn’t get one, he makes a point of greeting you at the top of his voice. I think we can safely call that passive aggression, but I digress.
Expectations are different in Paris – as is usually the case in capital cities – hence the recent guide to manners on the métro. However, outside of the city, I’ve found French people to be very polite. Media portrayals of them as rude are little more than ignorant caricatures.