Americans constantly complain about how rude Parisians are. That’s funny, because Parisians are generally actually quite polite–you just have to know what the rules of interaction are here so that you can recognize them, and so that you can reply appropriately.
One aspect of daily politeness here is that when you enter a shop, you say bon jour (good day) or bon soir (good evening), even if you don’t see anyone. It’s a little awkward in a big place like a supermarket or a department store, so instead you say bon jour/bon soir to the cashier. This morning I was in a supermarket line. When I got up to the cashier, I greeted her with bon jour in my horrible American accent. Apparently the matron in line behind me was astonished to witness good behavior by an American, because she said élégant!, and gave me a big smile, as well as an au revoir when I left–not typical.
This morning I was waiting for the metro when a middle-aged woman walked up to me. We were alone in the metro station, so this felt odd. “Excuse me–you really shouldn’t keep your phone in your pants pocket when you ride the metro,” she said. “Someone will steal it. You should keep it in your buttoned jacket pocket.” (I think that’s what she said–my French got weak at the end of the last sentence.) I thanked her and put my phone in my jacket pocket. “Really, not on the metro,” she said, and smiled and walked away.
I stopped at the florist the other evening to buy some flowers. Leaving, I fumbled with my change, and dropped a 1-Euro coin (about $1.35) on the ground. It was dark, it was raining, it was cold, and I couldn’t seem to find it, so I shrugged and walked off. “Excuse me, mister,” said a middle-aged man, and pointed at the ground–right at my coin. How nice. I think he might have been carrying a bag that said “judo,” but I was too shy to ask him about it–Parisians typically don’t like to interact with strangers–and have regretted it for days.