Reruns from the Dusty Archives No.2: In my book, this subject is never out of date.

I was in France with my family some years ago and observed some lovely, old-world courtesies in action. My then 9 year-old daughter asked me to translate what the people were saying as we were standing in the queue in the boulangerie early one morning. And she was very impressed as each new customer would enter the shop and say, in a lovely sing-song voice, “Bonjour Monsieur!” to the baker and, “Bonjour Mesdames et Messieurs!” to everyone else standing in the shop.

I explained to my kids that, in France, to not greet the shopkeeper is considered as rude as spitting on the floor of a shop in Ireland. They were horrified [not least by my demonstration and sound effects] at the thought of being so rude, so I was delighted when they both started saying “Bonjour” as they entered shops and “Merci beaucoup, au revoir a bientot” as we left. And I have encouraged them to continue that courtesy back at home.

I have long found the value in a cheerful greeting to whomever it is you are dealing with – shopkeepers, bank tellers, receptionists. It costs you nothing to extend these small pleasantries and you will have a better experience and better ongoing relationship if you do. I now regularly hear how well-mannered my girls are and how unusual it is to see that in children nowadays. My kids have discovered the value in these niceties; they get lots of positive feedback, as the local shopkeepers are forever smiling at them and bestowing the occasional free lollipop.

Where have the old courtesies gone? I accept that the Googles of this world would bankrupt themselves if they wrote acknowledgement and PFO letters to everyone who applied to them; but I find it extraordinary that so many companies who accept e-applications don’t have some form of polite “Thank you for applying” automated response. Better yet, the big guys should automatically generate a tracking number so you can see at a glance if your application has made any progress yet.

I have long recommended that my clients courteously telephone the night before, or morning of, a job interview to confirm that the time and place still suits the interviewer; but more importantly, that they follow up the interview with a concise thank-you note. Almost no-one does this anymore and I find myself having to ‘come the heavy’ to persuade some clients of the benefit. Read a marvellous post on this subject by Google recruiter Jason Warner if you don’t believe me. It bears out my experiences with clients at every level of the org chart.

I got an email from Seth Godin in the Spring of 2007. Me and about a bajillion other people, I’m sure. And what a thing of beauty it was. I had subscribed to his advance notice about his upcoming book The Dip. He thanked me for my sign-up and wrote:

If you don’t want to get the updates, do nothing. You’ll never hear from me again about this. … Thanks again for your interest, and I apologize for the impersonal nature of this note. I’m doing my best to keep up, but failing more than I’d like!

When I followed the link the The Dip blog, he had written:

I just hope you’ll try to avoid the temptation to hit ‘reply’ to every post! Or at least forgive me if I don’t get back to you right away. The last thing I want to do is waste your time or abuse your trust. And thanks for reading.

Old-school courtesy. Beautiful phrasing. Seth obviously got lots of lollipops from local shopkeepers when he was a kid. There’s just not enough of it about.