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Bonjour, Monsieurmadame


It was the middle of a very hot day, and a quarter of an hour’s walk to get back to the boat from the centre of Beziers, which is not a very pleasant walk at the best of times. The canal is literally the wrong side of the tracks, it’s a long detour to get across the railway, and the town is set out for cars not pedestrians.


So I took the bus.


The number 9 has a circular route and I caught it whilst it was still on its way back to the bus station, but it was air conditioned and I had my book. No problem.


When we got to Place Charles de Gaulle, the woman who had been driving us had obviously finished her shift. She carefully picked up her papers, counted the takings from the ticket machine and prepared to leave the bus. So far so ordinary but what happened next caught me by surprise.


She turned to the passengers on the bus. ‘Au revoir, messieursmesdames’, she said. ‘Au revoir,’ everyone replied, and it being lunchtime added ‘Bon appétit.’ She duly thanked them for their good wishes and went off to her no doubt well deserved lunch.


We didn’t have to wait for our new driver. He standing by the stop and had a few technical words with the outgoing driver before he installed himself and set up his ticket machine. When all was ready he turned to the passengers.


‘Bonjour messieursmesdames’, he said. ‘Bonjour monsieur,’ we all replied, and the proper formalities completed he sat down and drove us to our respective destinations.


I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen on a London bus, for example. Nor a Plymouth one, bring it to that.


I shouldn’t have been surprised. In Toulouse I was waiting for another bus, and realised that a small crowd was gathering at a cross roads. It appeared the rider of a motor scooter had fallen off, but seemed to be none the worse for wear. Shortly after the Sapeurs-Pompiers turned up to see if their services were required and a short while later the gendarmerie arrived.  Before anything else was done to seal off the area, or decide what if any emergency treatment might be required the fireman and the policeman formally shook each other’s hands and said good day, and only then did matters proceed.


More surprisingly, this outbreak of good manners even applies to teenagers. Sylv and I were walking past a group of youngsters in Villeneuve les Beziers. Like gangs of teenage boys everywhere they were trying hard to look hard, and failing hard, then truculent. ‘Bonjour messieurs’, Sylv said to them. The effect was electric. Truculence was cast to the winds.


‘Bonjour monsieurmadame’, they all replied with big smiles.


I don’t think I’ve seen this in London or Plymouth either.


It is possible that this instinct also explains another feature of living in France which as a good Anglo-Saxon I find more difficult to cope with. We are presently moored alongside a length of canal bank, with probably a quarter of a mile in either direction unoccupied. A French hire boat has just arrived and moored up within one boat length of us. A couple of days ago whilst we were moored a little way further down the bank two cars turned up and the family got out and put up their table and chairs right between our mooring lines. If I had been so minded I could have reached out to shake their hands without ever leaving the cockpit. They then turned on the car radio and shared their favourite rock music with us. Loudly.


I find this a great intrusion, and it is unfortunate that I was just about to start the engine to recharge the batteries when the boat arrived behind us because he probably thinks we’re being rude when really we only have flat batteries.


I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that the reason for this is that if you don’t like someone then you would indicate your dislike by keeping well away from them. To come and park yourself on top of them therefore is a way of saying that you don’t dislike them, and that it would be rude to keep your distance.


All the same, in my Anglo-Saxon churlishness, I wish they would!