ARE you in a good mood? Hopefully... because today is officially La Journée de la Gentillesse (Niceness Day) in France.
Psychologies magazine, which launched the day in 2009 as the French version of World Kindness Day, has suggestions for how you can be nicer in general or at work, school or on the internet and is asking people to post a message on their Facebook page saying “Proud to be nice”.
Its website also invites you to test your niceness levels or to post about the nicest thing that’s happened to you on the internet; and it invited a panel of journalists to vote for the “nicest politician” – won by a figure more used to brickbats than bouquets - President Hollande.
Suggestions for boosting niceness in daily life, sent in by firms, included organising picnics with colleagues, taking part in sporting challenges or doing something together for the community (in one firm they picked up litter on the local riverbanks).
Suggestions for schools include the teacher handing out drawings of a flower – the child puts their name in the centre and then it is passed round and each class member has to write on a petal one of the person’s good qualities. There are also educational cartoons that can be downloaded in a series called Max et Lilli veulent être gentils (Max and Lilli want to be nice).
Business consultant Franck Martin, whose new book Le Pouvoir des Gentils (The Power of Nice People), ties in with the day, insists being nice is the best way to get things done and does not mean “being taken for an idiot”.
He told Le Monde: “Real niceness is anything but weakness and fragility; it’s a momentum, a force, which allows the people you interact with to open up to you, as much as you open up to them.”
The French word gentil originally meant “of noble birth” and gained its current meaning due to the good manners and honourable behaviour supposedly associated with the aristocracy.
That is the meaning, for example, in Molière’s comedy Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme about a rich merchant who tries to act like a nobleman, but makes a fool of himself.
Online dictionary Trésor de la Langue Française Informatisé notes you can call all kinds of things gentil but that this is falling out of use among the young – such as “c’est gentil chez vous” (your home’s nice) or in literary quotes like un gentil clapot (a nice splashing sound, talking about paddling a canoe) or les voix gentilles des cloches (the nice voices of the bells).
It can also be used to talk about “a tidy sum” of money - une gentille somme (note the word is pronounced the same in the feminine).
It is used in talking about films too – les gentils et les méchants means the ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’.
French phrases and famous quotations about being nice include:
La gentillesse est la noblesse de l’intelligence (actor Jacques Weber) – niceness is the nobility of intelligence
La gentillesse, c’est l’amour donné par petites bouffées - niceness is love given in little puffs
Le plus court chemin d’une personne à une autre, c’est un brin de gentillesse - the shortest path from one person to another is a little niceness
Je peux me défendre contre la méchanceté; je ne peux pas me défendre contre la gentillesse (actor and comedian Francis Blanche) – I can defend myself against nastiness; I can’t defend myself against niceness
World Kindness Day was started by kindness associations from several countries, in Tokyo in 1998.