The afternoon of 3 January, the title of a mail I received was, Pour la 200ème fois aujourd’hui, bonne année ! – “For the 200th time today, Happy New Year”.
Indeed, from midnight plus one millisecond (but never before) the first, and then right up to last day of the month, the French nation will be wishing each other happy new year, along with all sorts of nice, somewhat personalized, other things such as new furnishings, good sex or a modicum of success, etc.
But whatever other sentiments, they will ineluctably be followed on with a “but, especially, good health”.
Without good health, it is commonly believed among this culture group, despite all the evidence to the contrary, nothing is possible; the wish for good health is a sort of universal codicil on the General Will towards a more perfect year.
At the risk of sounding like the deluded slavey in Down and Out in Paris & London who admires the mean behavior of some American brute – expecting the help to hop to it and with enthusiasm or get their wages docked or some such – I say there is something magnificent in all this bonne annéeing.
I don’t say one doesn’t get really fed up with it after the first two or so days, because, Golly!, one does. Worse still is gauchely bonne annéeing somebody who wouldn’t or won’t or shouldn’t bonne année you.
One thinks of one’s downstairs neighbor.
However, in spite of such inconveniences, the rigorously unacknowledged Puritan in me insists on approving forcing everybody, without exception, to bonne année for a month together, even those one would rather not bonné année, even those who bonne année through gritted teeth, if one wishes to be seen as a worthy human being, sans histoires.
I admit, I don't know what's going on in this wonderful country’s cachots (and nobody can or will tell me there are none). Do today's crop of suspects with a political grievance say bonne année? Or is bonne annéeing one of those things that makes “Abrahamic” religions so colorful, like the prohibition of accidentally brushing against a woman, not already or yet a slave, born on a Wednesday in a leap year with a large clitoris, who may or not, have her period, and/or, of drinking soda water on Thursday evenings for which the temple tax has not been previously paid by an authorized representative?
Probably. As we live in a free society, cachotiers must surely be exempt from bonne annéeing.
So, as I was saying, the principle of obliging ordinary people to wish each other well, even if it's only once a year and requires only mumbling the obviously false good health wish into the white noise of a malfunctioning hard disk, seems to me a socially salutary principle.
There are advantages to the principle, which may, possibly even eventually involving money. As fellow Americans, we can’t pooh-pooh that, surely. In the meantime bonne annéing gives clever people like the sculptor-painter Isabelle Braud, who works out of Limoges, the opportunity to cheer others up with a bit of playful aesthetic, along with a modest chance to keep in contact with people whom one cannot see every day.
Too, wishing everyone well one time, once a year, is a far, far better thing than saying “have a good day” at every turn of the daily routine.
Demonstrating the truth that not only do words never become “empty”, so-called empty words actually get filled up with the grittier realities, “have a good day” has become firmly associated with the un-appealable, legally-perfected and inexplicable refusals to acknowledge or act and the uncontrolled datamining-with-a-smug-smile of today’s market-state. Like a real-life security agent’s “I'm sorry, ma'am”, “have a good day” actually signifies: didn’t care, don't care, not sorry and we have pepper gas and pistols to prove it to any emotional negro or would-be negro who don’t like it.
So. So what if just today, by Jesus, I've bonne annéed forty people I don't give a hamster’s crap about? I know that, once this small – not always unpleasant (one sometimes discovers heretofore unknown friends through the ritual) – task accomplished, a citoyen or legal resident of this great nation is wholly free to commend others to any contextually appropriate place he or she, or both or several, might choose, up, down, between, around or over.
So, friends, like Taylor Swift, I’ve a got blank space where you figure for a hearty Bonne année!
And, surtout, a revised and corrected, “Especially, good health, which really beats bad health!