PBP Preparation: Rest, Check Bike, Learn French

biergarten

Paris-Brest-Paris is less than a week away. That means that training is over. Any hard or long rides from now will just fatigue your body, rather than make it stronger. All you can do to get your body into top shape is rest.

That doesn’t mean you cannot prepare for the big ride. Your bike probably is in good shape after you’ve ridden the qualifying brevets and trained for the big event. However, there are two things you can do that take little time, yet can save some aggravation during the ride.

First, if you have bar-mounted shifters, replace the cables and housing now. Your bike will shift better, and you eliminate the risk of a fraying or breaking shifter cable ruining your ride. Second, check your brake pads. Most riders don’t need to brake a lot in PBP, but if your pads are worn, finding replacements mid-ride will cost valuable time. Both maintenance items are not expensive and don’t take much time.

Finally, now is a good time to brush up on your French. With less than ten words, you can go from “stranger” to “nice guy who appreciates our culture”. Here is how:

Any time you talk to somebody in France, first say “Bonjour”. If possible, add “Madame” (if it is a woman) or “Monsieur” (if it is a man). This is basic politeness, and not greeting somebody before talking to them is incredibly rude in France. (You are entering their private sphere, and need to announce that intrusion.)

Second, follow any request with “s’il vous plait” (please). Again, it’s considered very impolite to omit this, even among friends.

Finally, receive any favor or information with “Merci” (thank you). That is all.

Let’s say you want to buy a croissant in a bakery. It’s perfectly acceptable to walk in, say “Bonjour, monsieur/madame”, point to a croissant and say “s’il vous plait“. Then, after you receive the croissant and pay the amount shown on the cash register, say “Merci”. Everybody will marvel at how well you speak French, and how nice you are!

I wish all readers who participate in PBP a great ride!

About Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

Spirited rides that zig-zag across mountain ranges. Bicycle Quarterly magazine and its sister company, Compass Cycles, that turns our research into high-performance components for real-world riders.
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19 Responses to PBP Preparation: Rest, Check Bike, Learn French

  1. Jonathon Cassel says:

    What media will cover the PBP? No chance of an app to follow with is there?
    Thanks

  2. Good advice for anybody visiting a foreign land. Politeness goes a long way.

  3. Gert says:

    Bon Route a Vous aussi
    My french is limited to only a few sentences, but is does make a difference in a small cafe where nobody speaks anything but french.

  4. Jonathon Cassel says:

    Well in regard to content of post- may all Americans be civil in visiting other countries! Courtesies and humbleness should be the mantra!

    • It’s rarely ill intent, but lack of knowledge. I went around France for years, wondering why people were somewhat cold, until somebody told me that I had to say “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur” before asking a question or requesting to buy something. Easy to fix, if you know…

  5. Greg says:

    Bon courage, monsieur Heine! Roulez sans problèmes, au top niveau!

  6. Christophe says:

    Bienvenue à Jan et à tous les participants au PBP. Rendez-vous au départ. Welcome Jan and all PBP riders. See you at the start.
    Well, maybe… there are more than 6000 riders from all over the world this year, we may or may not meet there (I will start with the last group on Sunday at 8 p.m., il you see a big guy on a titanium bike with disc brakes, that may be me).
    Bonne route à tous !

  7. Bob says:

    I haven’t received my invite to the QB PBP picnic, shown in the photo above.

  8. John McNamara says:

    Congratulations to all those doing the PBP, it would be amazing to undertake such an event (meanwhile I still need to do my first 200k). Bon route!

  9. Rodolphe Matas says:

    I find it funny that Americans need to be reminded of the need to greet someone before asking them for something; it is true that when someone bursts into a place and asks for something without any kind of greeting, we’ll say “il/elle n’a dit ni ‘bonjour’, ni ‘mxxxxx’ en entrant” (basically something like “he/she said neither ‘hello’ nor ‘fxxxx’ when they came in”), but twenty-five years ago, I was a student at Indiana University in Bloomington-IN, and I went quite the other way around; though I had a reasonable knowledge of the language, I didn’t know about something called ‘small talk’, or how much of it was deemed appropriate AFTER having said ‘hello’ to someone, and BEFORE telling them why we had come to see them; so when I finally realized what it was all about, I told one of my American fellow students ‘we French people are much more straightforward about what we want to request from somebody, and go straight to the point much faster than you Americans after we’ve greeted the person’; with a bright smile, she replied: ‘I KNOW! You ALWAYS do that!’….
    Oh, and before I forget, tailwinds to all of you who will ride the PBP!

    The coasting Frenchman

    • My Japanese friends are always amazed in the U.S. that perfect strangers strike up conversations out of the blue. That would be incredibly rude in Japan. It’s not that one way is right and the other wrong – it’s a different game, and it’s best to use the rules of the game that is being played. So in France, say “Bonjour”, in Japan “Sumimasen” (I am sorry/Excuse me), etc.

      In the U.S., “Excuse me” is a good way to start a request, but it’s not necessary to say “Hello” before the “Excuse me”. On the other hand, not saying “Bye” when leaving a shop in the U.S. would be unusual and perhaps even rude.

    • Michael says:

      Rodolphe,
      Here’s a refresher for you so you are prepared when my fellow Americans come:
      If I was at PBP, I might greet you with:
      “Hey, Man, what’s up? Man, is it crowded, or what?!?!?! At least it’s cooler here than in the U.S. right now, y’know? Killer hills back there before Brest, huh? Not like the hills around where I live, though. Sometimes when I first see the big ones on Brevets back home I’m like: “Say, whaaaat?!’, yeah, right!”.

      To which you should reply: “That’s crazy, Man! That’s insane!!!”.
      (But be sure to interject your choice of “Mm-hm?”, “Yup”, or “Really?”, at the end of each sentence that the American speaks to let him/her know you are acknowledging each sentence of his small talk.).
      (Now coming to the point of my real question for you): “So are you from France?”.
      (Next I start the real flow of not-well-traveled-American inquiry)
      “I’m Mike, you are…?”
      “This your first PBP?”.
      “Been to the States?”.
      “Man, your English is good!”.
      “Oh, you studied in Indiana?”.

      This is all tongue in cheek, of course! But it is interesting how different cultures use language. My wife is from Canton, China and sometimes they greet each other by saying: “Hello, have you eaten?”. This is very odd to American ears!

  10. David Pearce says:

    As a Washington, D.C. born & bred native (unusual!) and U.S. Citizen, I loved being in Mexico.

    For one thing, in Mexico, I was tall (but that’s another story!)….

    But for language, I loved going down “los caminos” and greeting a stranger with whom I had some interaction, “Buenos días!” or “Buenos tardes!”, etc., and getting a smiling rejoinder in return. My knowledge is that the people of Central & South America are very friendly and open, and I put that down to the Spanish notion of “hospitality”.

    When I try the same experiment in the U.S., saying “Good morning!”, etc., to U.S. natives, I often get confused looks, or no looks, or people have earbuds in their ears and don’t hear me in the first place. The hobby horse I ride is that we in the U.S. are so much richer, on average, or so much more class conscious than our southern neighbors, or overly into the idea of “privacy”, that we are able not to acknowledge strangers in the street.

    But every time I greet someone of obviously Central or South American descent with “Buenos días”, I invariably get a smile and a similar reply. I like that.

    I wonder if we become different in different countries. If we’re depressed in one country, maybe we’re not depressed in another country (?). Frankly (and there’s that French again), when I was in Mexico, talking to Mexicans seemed effortless to me, and I felt happier.

    • It’s funny that in D.C., people don’t acknowledge each other in the street, whereas in Seattle, it’s common to say “Hi” when you meet somebody on the sidewalk… So the cultural differences run not just between countries, but even regions.

  11. Simon Harrison says:

    My 4 year old son and I will be setting up a small free water and chocolate stall on the north side of the street in Gorron. A small table draped in a Union Jack. I am open to requests if I can be of any help as you all pass by. harrison792@hotmail.co.uk
    Jan, what time do you think would be the best to do this for the outbound leg please ?

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