The Art of Hello

2004… in an office building in one of the northern suburbs of Paris…

“Listen, Snow” said my Finnish boss, young like me but better versed in the mysterious ways of the French. She had been there longer. I was a brand new intern.

“Some of our colleagues are wondering if you hate them…”

“Whaaat? What do you mean?” I managed.

“Well, you haven’t given them all bises each morning.”

“But I do give them bises! Not everyone of course but the ones I chat with and who sit nearby.”

“That’s exactly it. You know, they expect you to do the rounds, like everyone else does.”

“What? Like go around on both floors of the office building and kiss everyone on the cheek! Hahah!! How long would that take me, 25 minutes each morning?! It’d be 9:30 before I’d be sitting at my desk!” I laughed at the absurdity.

“Besides, I don’t know anyone on the other floor,” I added quite smartly.

“They all know you’re the new intern though you’ve never met, and they expect you to say hi to them each morning – to each one of them individually. And it doesn’t matter if it takes 30 minutes. Everyone does it! No one works during the first half hour after they arrive!”

“So you want me to kiss everybody, every morning, are you kidding me?!”

Just then, we heard a pop and a champagne cork flew from somewhere.

“Oh hey, I forgot! It’s Angélique’s sister’s birthday so she’s offering us all an apéro before lunch! Come on! And please promise me you’ll start the bise rounds first thing tomorrow morning.”

And so yet another day started with kir royale on an empty stomach, after which work flew by quite nicely, and at lunch time everyone was invited to go together to a nearby restaurant. Wine was served and lunch took 1-2 hours. Everyone worked very late in the evenings to compensate.

You live, you learn! The complete opposite way of working than what I had known back home. A dozen jobs later, it still seems like a dream.

But I never did do those cheek kiss rounds.

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65 responses to “The Art of Hello

  1. Oh, my, that would test my patience! I’m all for a collegial work environment, and I had my share of boozy lunches in the 80s and 90s, but that would get old fast when I was just trying to get my work done. Very fun memories for you (and for us vicariously!).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lexi! Fun memories are the best thing to take away from any experience 🙂 And yes, for me, I was just trying to do my job and over here in Finland the work culture is very different. More efficient, less fun 😀 People value their personal lives, too, and want to leave the office as soon as possible, not stay there late every night!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hehee, well you could say that. I’ve often thought about that particular work place and loved how they really did invite everyone to lunch. That was such a nice thing and I miss it. Most of the other companies I’ve worked for don’t do that; instead, people form closed little groups and they don’t invite anyone else to join in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. O my goodness wahahah How many people were there? If you have to bise everyone it will take forever wahahhah probably longer than 25min, because you still need to small talk / complain a bit to be entirely polite

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha I can totally imagine how strange that must have sounded to you! To greet each and everyone every morning. It sounds strange to me too! I have spent too much time in colder region in Europe heheh. People are more social and outgoing here than in Finland in my experience, but it wouldn’t top the culture in Paris as you’re described. Your Finnish boss sounds like she adapted quite well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • She married a Frenchman and later had kids with him, I heard, so yes she adapted very well! 🙂 I don’t mind doing bisous but as a Finn who is used to just greeting with words or a hug, cheek kisses do seem a bit unnecessary…
      Oh, all those cultural differences! 😀 They are the best part of traveling after all!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh my goodness, I would have struggled with doing that too! A different way of operating indeed. When I am at work, I like to knuckle down and do what I am paid to do, get it out of the way and then maybe relax after all is done. (there is always more to do, so I rarely relax during work hours, anyway). Btw, this tradition of kissing everyone is a great way to spread germs around the office ( that is the health worker in me, talking!!) but it sounds like necessary for work morale?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Same method here, though all the companies I’ve worked for have had strict 8h days and so I can never go home when all my work is done, I have to stick around until it’s time to punch out. But anyway, it doesn’t seem efficient that 50 people use 30min each day to say hello to each other… On the other hand, how lovely that they valued social relationships (➡️motivated, happy workers!). I had a job in Finand once where I was told off for asking a colleague how her weekend went. The superviser didn’t think hellos and chatting belonged to a workplace! The polar opposite! 😂
      And yes, though it’s only cheek slightly touching another cheek, it’s a great way to spread germs! 😁

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      • Omg! No wonder Finns here are considered gruff or aloof in the workplace!! The middle path is probably my ideal. Somewhere between the French and finnish model!! That waiting around to punch out is silly. I once worked for the tax dept. (Eons ago) and there was always a crowd around the time clock at 5pm and a queue to punch out when the clock ticked over to 5. Do many Finnish companies have “fleksitid” so that they can modify finish times to meet work demand?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, waiting around for punch time is ridiculous and also sort of a waste of the precious time you have in life. I’ve worked for so many large companies and they all had these lines just before punching out. 🙄 Argh, I don’t like this type of thing.
          None of the companies I’ve worked for have modified working hours according to demand. Maybe it’s illegal. You have to give the work schedule to your employees a certain time in advance and altering it would require permission. Most employees would not want a lower salary when demand is low. But we do have a system where you save overtime (approved by your boss) and can leave earlier some day if there’s nothing important at work. I’ve never managed to scrape together extra hours – the only time I did that, the government passed a law where everyone suddenly owed their employers lots and lots of extra hours for free (!!!) and I lost them plus owed some. I had been saving them for my twin pregnancy, to leave earlier… instead I had to work extra long hours! Aaaaanyway…….. 😁 Do you guys modify finish times then?
          Thanks Amanda for reading and chatting!!! So fun to connect again 🤗

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          • So businesses do have flexible working hours during a set weekk or fortnight and other don’t. It makes sense for offices but not for some places like retail or hospitals. I like it a lot. It is not always possible in my job but sometimes we can swap around. It is such a shame that you had to work extra when pregnant. That seems so unfair! How long do you get for maternity leave in Finland?

            Liked by 1 person

            • We can stay at home for 3 years (same job guaranteed) but the benefits are onlu good for about a year, then the monthly amount gets so low it doesn’t cover all the bills so you need savings. I’m going back to work in November… we won’t know about daycare until Oct so fingers crossed we’ll get a spot (2 actually!). They are saying all daycare centers are completely full… 🤨 Happy to hear you guys have some flexibility at least!

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    • Hahah, thanks for your sympathy! 😂 I do like how they were nice to each other – though it was only on a superficial level – since at some jobs I’ve later had people would never invite newcomers to join their lunch crew or to share a kir royale 😊 Take the best from your experiences and leave the worst, I’ve tried to learn from this one to be kind to people at work and include everyone in the room if I ask someone to lunch! 😊👍

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  5. This is a gem of a post. While I love bisous (and everything French), including the thought of apéro to interject work with, my husband always shakes his head about the French work culture. He had a dose of it when on client location in Versailles 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post made me smile. I’ve learned ‘bises’ from my French friends. I count the times (2 or 3) I have to kiss them on each cheek and now it’s in my head. 🙂 It’s interesting how greeting varies in each country. From a polite bow, a warm hug to pecks on the cheek.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, isn’t it interesting how such a simple thing can be done so differently and even cause confusion?! 😁 I had been doing bisous with friends before this but honestly never thought to do it ar a work environment with strangers and also to go out of my way to seek them out from another floor! 😂 I thought it was like using ”tu” instead of ”vous” but I guess it actually depends on the local culture (corporate culture) a lot too! Thanks for your time and thoughts! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • I guess it would be strange at work. I agree. I loved your analogy of “tu’ vs “vous”. 🙂 I wait for the person to teach me how they’d like to be greeted. And then try to remember it the next time. It gets all the more confusing when you meet different people/nationalities in quick succession. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Same here, the culturally foreign bit! Giving friends cheek kisses is fine, though they always initiate it because I forget that it’s a thing, but cheek kissing strangers is a bit out of my comfort zone… We travel to experience new things though, so it’s all good in the end! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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