La Vieille France

From the Atlantic archives, Alice Furlaud explains the old cult of French civility:

I used to smolder with quiet rage in Paris shops where I’d have to wait my turn while the proprietor or the clerk gossiped with another customer, talking of their winnings in the Loterie Nationale or the state of their livers, without even a sidelong glance at me. Finally, a Frenchman waiting in line ahead of me at my neighborhood department store, the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, while the cashier endlessly passed the time of day with another customer, explained why the expression "I’ll be right with you" has never passed French commercial lips. "That would acknowledge a call to work," he told me. A job in France comes with a wide range of generous perquisites and retirement benefits, but one is not necessarily expected to work very hard at the job, and fawning on customers would be too much like work. Nothing uncivil about ignoring them.