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French elevator protocol: Greeting, flirting and sex

Oliver Gee · 29 Apr 2015, 15:51

Published: 29 Apr 2015 15:51 GMT+02:00
Updated: 29 Apr 2015 15:51 GMT+02:00

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Depending on where you come from and the lift protocols in that country, your first elevator experience in France could be unforgettable.
With the immediate bonjour from your fellow lift passenger, who will no doubt then leave you seconds later with a bonne journée, you'll wonder how on earth the French got the reputation for being rude.
Especially if you compare these greetings with the equivalent in a country like Sweden, where elevators are for silence, small talk is frowned upon, and any sober social interaction is strictly forbidden.
The greetings in French elevators are robotic. In fact, the only time you'll not get the bonjour/bonne journée combo is after that mystical hour when all of France suddenly decides it's evening, at which point, you can bet your last centime that you'll hear bonsoir and bonne soirée
Even though those who've been in France for a long time will assure you the greetings are nothing more than a script-like protocol, similar to the polite bonjour that is almost obligatory in doctor's waiting rooms or when speaking to shop assistants, it's a protocol that many find quite charming.

("Which floor are you going to?" Photo: Shutterstock)
France-based business etiquette expert Kara Ronin reckons saying bonjour and then au revoir or bonne journée helps ease tension in the confined space.
"This is important for people you do know and for people you don't know. In Australia nobody greets others when they get in or out of an elevator. Personally, I like the fact that you greet others, it makes for a slightly more relaxed elevator ride." 
Ronin says that elevator etiquette in France does come with a few ground rules. Besides the obvious greetings, she suggests, for example, that you should never eat inside a lift (but carrying a takeaway coffee outside for a cigarette break is fine), and to be careful about who you try and talk to.
"Initiating small talk with people you don't know would not be appropriate," she says. 
"But initiating small talk with people you do know, like colleagues, is okay if the topics remain very general. Don't choose topics about the other person's private life or confidential work related matters. French people are rather private in nature and it usually takes longer to be able to talk about these matters."
Camille Chevalier-Karfis, the founder of French Today, says that when it comes to small talk, it likely will revolve around the weather, with typical phrases including:
"Il fait beau en ce moment, n'est-ce pas"... "quel beau temps pour la saison"... or on the contrary "quel temps de chien, c'est insupportable".
"If you are running into an acquaintance, like a neighbour you'd ask about them and their family. "Bonjour Monsieur Dupont. Votre famille va bien?" she says.
"If they are total strangers, you say pretty much nothing. And an awkward silence maybe."
Indeed, a survey released on Tuesday by pollsters Ipsos, carried out for France's Elevator Federation, found that 60 percent of the French said they'd engaged in conversation with a stranger in a lift.
Report author Alice Tetaz said that this figure showed that the French were more talkative than stereotypes might suggest. 
"You hear this talk about individualism, that the French really keep to themselves, but this proves the opposite - the elevator is a vehicle for social cohesion, especially the lifts in people's homes," she told French newspaper Le Parisien.

(Photo: Shutterstock)
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The paper, incidentally, said that the average elevator exchange is one of "incredible banality" - but then again they've probably never lived in Sweden. 
In fact, over one in ten French people used this "incredibly banal" moment to kick-start a bit of romance, with a full 12 percent admitting to flirting with someone during an elevation.
And if you thought that those 12 percent were just creepy workplace flirts , then think again - 4 percent of respondents said they'd had sex inside a lift (and over 1,000 people were surveyed).
French blogger Muriel Jacques, who's a regular columnist for The Local, says that elevator culture in France rarely extends beyond the short greetings but "that said, if you are alone with someone you fancy, it can be a whole different story."
Researcher Tetaz said that lift-lovemaking could be explained by the fact that an elevator is "an enclosed area, full of fantasies", and she even pointed to a scene from blockbuster sex romp Fifty Shades of Grey as a potential inspiration.
Well fancy that. Things just got steamy at the Ipsos office and it seems the French don't mind.

Now where was that elevator?
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