Ever brush against a paranoid schizophrenic in the New York subway? That’s what it’s like when you don’t say Bonjour to a salesperson in Paris. It may seem harmless enough, but you can then nearly read the thoughts of a non-bonjoured salesperson: “Thesalaud didn’t even say bonjour and now he expects me to help him?, who does he think I am, his slave?, etc., etc.” You don’t want to know the rest.
As Americans we believe in the power of the smile; in France it’s a courteous greeting that gets you off on the right foot. Always say “Bonjour” as you enter a small shop or bakery or as you approach a vendor or anyone behind a counter. This equally holds true in situations where you’re requesting information from someone on the street or on the phone. It’s culturally incumbent upon the client or inquirer to begin with bonjour (bonsoir after sunset or 6pm, whichever comes first). Starting with bonjour will not suddenly make salespeople warm and helpful, but failure to say it makes you seem rude and allows them to feel self-righteous for providing shoddy service or information.
When the salesperson or information-giver is busy elsewhere or when you wish to stop someone on the street for information, interrupt with “Excusez-moi” before proceeding with the request—and it can’t hurt to throw in a bonjour or bonsoir there either.
Otherwise you may just find yourself dealing with that paranoid schizophrenic on the New York subway.
Consider yourself warned.