Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Elevator Politics

Now, I'm sure I've complained before about the false politesse that exists in France.  I mean, it's impossible that I haven't.  When you enter into pretty much anywhere, you are partially obligated to greet everyone in the place.  You say a bonjour and wait your turn if you're at the Caisse Assurance Maladie, or when you enter a small bookstore, it's completely normal to have not only the staff say hello, even some of the patrons may say it, with larger or smaller degrees of enthusiasm.  This I've learned to deal with.

One thing I will never learn how to deal with is in my own building where I live, it is expected that when waiting for the elevator, or upon entering the elevator, if there are other people you are expected to say hello.  I mean, it's not like it's some sort of major production, but it's that I'm expected to say it, and will be considered rude if I don't.  I just really don't like having to say hello to people in my own home basically.  It's the silent judging that happens when you don't return a hello that was socially obligated in the first place.

Of course, if it's the super or his wife saying hello, I'll always say hello back.  Usually when I pass by the front office on my way out, I'll say a quick hello as well.  It's not only because the man decides how soon my toilet will get fixed or whether or not I will find a bag of garbage sitting on my paillasson because I didn't feel like sorting the plastique et briques alimentaires from the ordures ménagères.  (Seriously, this happened to our next door neighbor once.) but he's a nice guy.  One day when we switched cars with husband's aunt we left the key to the garage on the other ring.  It was him who let us in so we didn't have to drive the hour back to get the key so we could leave for a weekend three hours in the other direction.  Also, he's a riot when he's drunk.

When it annoys me is when I'm saying hello to the same punks who might have gotten rid of the laundromat that used to be downstairs because of the vandalism that happened there.  The same people who carved profanity into the reflective part of the elevator.  Or maybe it's the people who have parties until five in the morning on every break.  It makes me not look forward to Toussaints next week, believe me.  One time husband and I were coming home late, maybe around 2 am, and we were just going to put our key in and enter, when the lock was busted, meaning we may have been locked out until the next morning.  Luckily we were saved from that when someone exited, but still.  Another time, as we were leaving for the night, we saw a guy who couldn't get back in push the screen out of the window and come in that way since the door was locked.  My personal favorite though was the night when we were leaving and had to walk through people having a party in the entry because their apartment is too small given the number of people they had there.

The funniest though is when people just skip the politesse altogether.  One night, husband and I were just getting back and he was dying for a cigarette.  I don't like that he smokes, but it's something I've learned to deal with, so I stayed out with him.  While we're there, a car pulls up and a guy gets out.  We have no idea who he is, but we had seen him around the building.  Just as a programming note, this guy is a chav, and as he's walking in he says to us "Bonne nuit les gars."  So quickly putting my monacle back into place from where it had fallen into my champagne, I mumble out a Bon soir as he enters.

So I'll ask you, amis lecteurs, is it better to have someone choose to formally greet you, even if it's without meaning, or would you prefer they simply say nothing and pass by you, appearing incredibly rude, or should they greet you in a familiar way, risking scandalizing the more proper elements of society?