Bonjour from Paris!
Parisians don’t say hello to strangers the way we might in North America — when you meet someone’s gaze as you walk past and nod, share a smile, or say hello. But I had heard that Parisians will occasionally say “bon appétit” when they walk by someone who is dining. How perfectly French; the pleasure of food is the one thing worth acknowledging.
Intrigued by this I decided to try it. I was walking along Rue Cler, a quaint street in the 7th, and noticed an older gentleman dining on his own at an outdoor café. “Bon appétit”, I said, paying attention to my accent. I did not want to tarnish an important moment with clumsy French. I slowed my stride, awaiting his acknowledgment. Rien, nothing. Had he not heard me? Was he not French? Or was it simply not true that French people say this to strangers?
A few days later, I was enjoying a delicious creme brulée at a café in the 16th arrondissement. I had eaten a sizable lunch but couldn’t resist lingering a little longer over my favorite dessert. My table was next to the sidewalk, perfect for people watching. Two gentlemen walked by and the older of the pair glanced at me as he passed. Seeing the creme brulée he nodded a sort of approval and said, “bon appetit”. By the time I registered what had happened, he was several strides away. No chance to offer a “merci” in return. I am not sure why, but that small moment felt very special.
So yes, when in Paris you might try wishing a stranger “bon appetit”. And always order the creme brulée.
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