This week I have some important letters to write in French. I have a French-speaker check them over before I send them, but for the basic letters, I use a couple of books. One is called Cinq cents lettres pour tous les jours (Five Hundred Letters for Everyday; by the way, the French capitalize only the first words of a title). Of course, books like this exist in English too and tend to share the same slightly out-of-date language.
My French is actually pretty good. But I need the book for the "formules de politesse," or formulas to end a letter, which are anything but intuitive to an "anglo-saxonne."
Here are some examples I have today on my desk.
Americans use "Sincerely" for almost all non-personal letters.
The British use "Yours sincerely."
The Germans say, "With friendly greetings." (Mit freundlichen Grüßen)
The French say: "Thanking you for your confidence, I pray you to believe, Monsieur, in the assurance of my best sentiments."
Or, "I pray you to receive, Madame, the expression of my distinguished consideration."
Or, "Receive, Monsieur le Président du tribunal correctionnel, my distinguished salutation."
Or, "Please accept, Madame l'Inspectrice d'Académie, the expression of my high consideration."
Or, "In hoping very strongly for a favorable response, be assured, Monsieur, of my perfect consideration."
Or, "Please accept, Madame, my respectful homage."
A woman must not, however, send her "sentiments"or "homage" to a man (oh-là-là!) but should use "expression of my respect" instead.
These are not a joke. The French really write this way.