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how to say bonjour?

I've been to Paris twice and didn't hear any "bonjour-ing" going on. I guess I wasn't paying close enough attention. Is this an overt, noticeable gesture, or is it really low-key? Do you use a quite, offish voice when saying bonjour or do you do it in a light, lilting manner? I get to go to Paris again in a few months, and I want to say my bonjours, but I want to do it correctly. Has anyone come across a Youtube video that shows proper bonjouring in action?

Posted by
37 posts

I'm sure there are those here who are more knowledgeable of the french language and customs than I am, but maybe "bonjour" is too formal for the situations you were listening for it in? Remembering back to my high school and college french classes, my teachers/professor often mentioned that "Salut" was used in some informal situations such as greeting a friend, or answering the phone. Perhaps "Salut" has become more of the norm? On my two trips to France (the last over a decade ago, so like I say...I'm no expert here), I said "bonjour" to all the shop keepers I interacted with as well as the front desk people at the hotel, each time I passed by (it was a tiny hotel) and they in turn typically said "bonjour" back. I'm guessing if you say it to others, they might say it to you and you can listen for their pronounciations and inflections and learn the proper way to say it that way. Good luck!

Posted by
8199 posts

I've spent a lot of years in France/Paris, and I always say "bonjour madame/monsieur" every time I go in a shop, bakery, restaurant, cafe, my hotel, when approaching a reception desk (tourist office for example), seller at a marche, taxi driver, waiter/waitress, etc. And "au revoir madame/monsieur, merci" when leaving. I say it in a friendly, upbeat tone. That's what every French person I've ever known or observed does. "Salut" is very informal and only for people you already know.

Posted by
4529 posts

LOL - Bonjour is now a verb! The French are low key so perhaps you were waiting for a big greeting more like the Italians do. But they most definitely greet each other. As others have said, people that know each other will use other, less formal greetings.

Posted by
165 posts

Cathy, if you do no more than make eye contact and smile you'll do fine and any form of bonjour will be tres bien, ( with the exception of any mocking or exaggerated style of course).

Posted by
1712 posts

Cathy, my experience is consistent with what Susan describes, everyone is "bonjouring" everyone else! You should be respectful when addressing shopkeepers and salespersons and I've found that it really makes all the difference in the way they respond back to you. My French is not good but I try to speak as much as I can and people seem to appreciate the effort. The funny thing that happened last time was that several people corrected me (good naturedly) with a "non, bonsoir" (good evening) when it was after 5. I thought it was pretty funny. Hope you have a great trip!

Posted by
11450 posts

I always say "bonjour" even to those I know well in France( family and friends) rather then "salut",, which perhaps is generational,, or perhaps its just slangy,, sort of like saying "hey" rather then "hello".My son and his friends ( all early 20s ) tend not to say "hello" to each other, but "hey" or "wut up" lol I remember seeing "salut" used in conversational french text books in school when young, and my dad used to roll his eyes at that.. ( hes born and raised Parisien) Cathy I am surprised you never noticed it,, whenever you enter a shop a saleperson usually starts with "bonjour madame" if she is free to deal with you,, and of course you should reciprocate. Didn't waiters and hotel staff greet you when you interacted with them,, so strange,, maybe you are invisable and don't know it, lol
I find it automantic and even sitting here I have said it outloud to figure out how is sounds,, lol, I have no idea ,, just say it and smile.

Posted by
363 posts

I believe the emphasis is more on the "bon" than the "jour". So it's BON-jour. And it is done in a more lilting tone. At least that's what it sounded like to me.

Posted by
893 posts

When you enter a restaurant, shop, or hotel (or similar) you should make eye contact with a salesperson/waiter/clerk and say "Bonjour." They should return the greeting. After dark, you would greet them with "Bonsoir" You would only say "Salut" to a very close friend. Kids use it all the time, but not adults. Adults usually add "Ça va?" ("How's it going?") for a friend or close aquaintance. You only say "Bonjour" once/day to a person. You can jokingly say "Re-bonjour" to someone, but not really. You don't say "Bonjour" to random strangers on the street, and if you were only renting an apartment for a week, you wouldn't say it to the As for how to say it - I'm guessing that no matter how much you try, you're going to say it with an American accent. Using a quiet, offish voice or light, lilting manner shouldn't really matter.

Posted by
109 posts

Bonjour all, I imagine I had a deer-in-the-headlights look each time I had an interaction with a service person. My fear of making a cultural faux pas moved me to inaction. I can't really tell you if they did or did not greet me...or if I greeted them. Repressed traumatic non-memories.?.? However, I don't recall any less-than-friendly service while there. Anyhow, I want to do better this time. I'm glad to read that several of you have said to "smile" when saying it. I'm a natural smiler, and I had read elsewhere to not do so much smiling in Paris. Now I get it that you should greet workers that way but you don't walk down the street smiling and bonjouring. I live out in the country where we all wave as we drive by in our cars even if we don't know the person/people in the other car. Does it matter if the accent/emphasis is on the "bon" or on the "jour"? I'm working on this so hard because I feel like if I don't, I will have to stiffle a giggle each time I say it. They will know I am an American, Rick Steves says they will, and that the word bonjour isn't part of my natural vocabulary. But, from reading on here, I see that the people will appreciate me saying it (not be laughing at me for my attempts).

Posted by
27440 posts

I speak French with a French Canadien accent, most probably although I can't hear myself, so maybe my Parisien is off. My mother's accent was perfect so who knows? So my advice may be poor. Perhaps it would help you to understand the literal meanings of the words, so what you are saying makes sense? Bon means good, jour means day. So bonjour means "good day" - the same expression you may have heard in English, although perhaps a little old fashioned in English. Instead of saying hello, they say (and you say) "good day". Soir means night, so it makes sense to change it, when you would say "good evening" in English to bon soir in French. I don't know too much about north of the Red River but in Texas we often would address somebody as sir or maam. Didn't mean anything by it, it was just polite. We might say "good morning, maam" when they came into the gas station. Well monsieur means sir, and madame means maam. So there you go, "bonjour madame". As far as which word to put the emphasis on, again I think its like English. Sometimes I might say GOOD Morning, sometimes I would say good MORNING. All in how I felt at the time. I think probably, generally, I more often say BON jour. Good luck, at least they will know you are making an effort.

Posted by
11450 posts

Smiling,, yes , a whole other subject.. the smile must be a discreet one,, preferably not a leering ear to ear grin( like I am a crazy person),, but of course for us tourists, exception is made,, the locals mostly know we are just insanely intrusively friendly ,, "ah here comes a tourist,, wonder is she/he will ask me how I am today"( a strange question for a stranger to ask they think) I think almost any way of saying bonjour is accepted from tourists,, "bun jure" "my dame" "moan sewer" ,, lol

Posted by
4529 posts

The bon is almost silent and the "n" in bon is silent. The French will pronounce it something more like "bo-jou" But honestly almost any effort you give to say it is welcome and accepted. If someone does correct you, understand that this is not rudeness but the French obsession with helping people understand their language. In the evening it changes to bonsoir - pronounced something like "bo-suwa" Try not to "bonjour" someone at dinner time ;)

Posted by
8199 posts

I'm really sorry to disagree with you Douglas, but your pronunciations are way off. Normally I would never say anything to correct you, but Cathy wants so much to say them right... Bonjour is pronounced close to: bohn-zhoor (Edit: even better is bohn-joor) Bonsoir: bohn-swar Madame: ma-dahm Monsieur: muh-ssiuh Merci: mehr-see It's true though, that any effort you make will be appreciated.

Posted by
34 posts

OK, I am French speaking not from France but it would be the same when we want to say "Bonjour" no matter where you are from. I would never use "salut" with people I don't know. In Paris they often add "madame" or "monsieur". And at the night we would use " bonsoir". In terms of pronounciation, you don't need to accentuate neither on the "bon" nor the "jour" you just pronounce it as you please.
Last thing, we don't pronounce the "N" of bon.

Posted by
8199 posts

Chantal, I agree in French you don't pronounce the n in bon - but writing phonetically how to say bon is very difficult, if not impossible. There's nothing that sounds like the French "on" sound in English. But it's definitely not pronounced "bo". :)

Posted by
379 posts

Cathy, If you want to hear how to say it, go the BBC.com. Search for Languages, click on French Steps. Those are wonderful easy, interactive lessons for beginners. And it is for free!

Posted by
109 posts

Thank you for all your comments. I have been reading David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris and Nadeau and Barlow's Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong. Now I have a better understanding of the culture and history underpinning this tradition. I know, like as Pat alludes to, that in the march of time cultural traditions can fall by the wayside. I've read that the French are not drinking as much wine as in the old days. The young people have found le soda pop. Quelle horreur! I'm glad to see from your comments that bonjouring still seems important. This discussion, and the 2 books, have reassured me that French people don't just use this greeting out of tired, off-hand habit and wish they could quit doing it. The greeting and the process of greeting seem to be sincere. Don't worry. I am not in the habit of greeting people with "How are you today?" so I won't get any noses out of joint with that one.

Posted by
109 posts

The word I was looking for is "prefunctory". Bonjour and bonsoir aren't shallow and hollow. That makes me happy.

Posted by
2818 posts

It is not perfunctory. It is cultural and important. My take on it is the accent is on the first syllable, slightly, in a breezy casual greeting to a friend or close acquaintance. But when you as a stranger walk into a shop, cafe/restaurant, or street stand, you would say Bonjour ( or Bonsoir) Monsieur or Madame, and the accent is on the second syllable. Make eye contact when you say it, and then be prepared to answer the question as to how they can help you.

Posted by
2916 posts

During our many trips to France we always say bonjour to people we meet in shops, hotels, etc., and the response is always bonjour. And pronunciation doesn't seem to be important, just the fact that you say it. As to more informal situations where you know the person, our experience is that the French often say "Ca va," or "Ca va?". And the proper response seems to be "Ca va" or "Ca va bien".

Posted by
4529 posts

Now we're getting into semantics! Actually, all of us are correct, since no two people will pronounce it the same. At times, the French may emphasize the "bon" and others the "jour." Sometimes they'll say it loud, other times just murmur. Having listened to Parisiens talk to each other for a long time, mostly to each other they just murmur similar to how I described. It's much more low key and perfucntary, which may explain why you didn't hear it much. But with a foreigner, they will likely be more specific with their pronounciation. Listening to a French language course will only get you the technically correct pronounciation, it will not get you how Parisiens actually say it. Susan - you are right - it isn't "bo" - I suppose "boh" with just the slightest hint of an "n" is more accurate phonetics. The key, as said before, is not to worry as the effort will be enough.

Posted by
165 posts

One of the things we forget as non Francophones is that French has many local dialects. I'm not talking Québécois or Hatian but Provincial and Breton and dozens of others. Think of the number of English accents you hear every day, French is no different. Are some preferred over others sure, but all should be valid, not all French teachers are from Paris. Check out the 2008 movie Wellcome to the Sticks, an amusing inside into inter France culture shock.

Posted by
4125 posts

Provencal and Breton are not dialects, they are distinct languages. But there are regional French accents just like among English speakers.

Posted by
8199 posts

"The key, as said before, is not to worry as the effort will be enough." Douglas is absolutely right on that. All that counts is making the effort - doesn't matter how you say it. I grew up in Paris and went to French school, so I speak with a fluent Parisien accent. But yes, there are many different accents other than Parisien.

Posted by
109 posts

I'm in Paris now. I keep saying bonjour, but they take one look at me and say "hello" with a smile. Ha. I must look really touristy. They seem shocked and amused when I say "au revoir", and then I hear them chuckle as I walk away. "Une caraf d'eau" gets me wrinkled brows and a reply of "tap water?". Anyway, every Parisian I have talked to has been very kind. The lady at the deNeuville chocolate shop was most gracious. I hope I have been as kind in return.

Posted by
9110 posts

If you saw the people in a comic strip at New Years, the little bubble would say 'Bonne Annee' for some reason.

Posted by
2966 posts

Saying hello in the local language and being replied to in English is really common in areas with lots of visitors, and should just be taken to mean they are trying to be polite and helpful since they can tell you are not fluent in their language but they can speak yours. Glad you're having great interactions in Paris! I have also found that rumors of "rude parsians" to be greatly overexaggerated.

Posted by
588 posts

Just to add my twopenn'orth. The full phrase of greeting has the form "Bonjour Monsieur", but this can just as easily be abbreviated to "Monsieur" if you pass someone on a country lane as shortened to "Bonjour". It might be easiest to reply in the way you are spoken to, but don't forget that the person you meet may not be French! In certain circumstances, the greeting can take many other forms - "Bonne Dimanche" on a Sunday, "Bon Appetit" before a meal, "Bonne fete" on a holiday, "Bon Noel" at Christmas or "Bonne Anniversaire" on a birthday. It all depends on the personality of the person doing the greeting, but a simple "Bonjour" in reply may be easiest. Don't forget that the French like jokes and puns. I am over 60, but a few years back was addressed as "Jeune homme" (young man) when being offered a piece of ripe melon to try in a market.