One of the enduring myths is that French people are rude. But is it true?
You’ll often hear people exclaim that everyone in Paris is rude or see posts on TripAdvisor asking ‘Why are the French so rude?’. Well, maybe I’m missing something but I don’t see it.
To explain, I’ve spent a lot of time in France. I’ve been to Paris countless times, I’ve camped down the west coast and on the Med coast, I’ve got riotously drunk with truck drivers in a park in Britanny, I’ve soaked up sun on the beach from Biarritz to Beziers, I’ve trekked mountains in the Massif Central and wandered castles in… Well, lot of places.
And I can honestly say, I don’t think the French are any more rude than any other nationality. In fact, I’d go so far as to say they are as friendly if not friendlier than the British. There I said it…
So why do people think French people are so rude?
The American approach to customer service has been, perhaps unfairly, applied to the whole world. So, if you wander into a cafe or restaurant in Paris for example you’re not going to get the full, ‘Hey how are you doing today? I can recommend the special, it’s totally awesome…’ with accompanying overbearing smiles and cheeriness.
No. French cafe and restaurant workers do their job, don’t rely on tips and don’t need to apply heavy handed cheeriness to keep their job. The same with service workers in places like the metro. They work in a busy environment with lots of people asking silly questions – yes it’s their job; But I’m sure the response I get on the Paris metro is the same as the response on the London tube, British railways (which are extortionate and also have terrible customer service) and pretty much any other transport network in the world. I’ve had worse service in the USA and UK than in France, that’s for sure.
Traditionally the French were a bit snooty if you didn’t make an effort to speak French, however these days you’ll find that they are more keen to make an effort with their English. This isn’t the rule though. Sure, in most mainstream tourist situations in Paris you will probably be able to use English. Getting a ticket from the airport, going up the Eiffel tower, booking a boat trip – all easily done in English, sans problem.
However, making even the smallest effort in French will reward you no end. Asking if someone speaks English will help avoid that annoying Brit/Yank abroad vibe. ‘Parlez vous Anglais’ is a simple phrase to remember and using some basic questions like ‘Ou’est…’ (where is), ‘Avez vous…?’ (do you have) will help your lingo skills. Don’t worry your accent will be the give away so they won’t be expecting you to share a joke or whatever.
A little effort goes a long way.
One thing worth remembering is that big cities are full of stressed people who hate tourists and their life. This goes for London, Barcelona, Tokyo, Sydney… Pick somewhere big and famous and you will find service workers who are under paid and under appreciated by their boss.
People have an image of Paris as this stunningly beautiful romantic city where people walk hand in hand along the Seine and having animated conversations over numerous bottles of wine and amazing food (both true statements). So the shock of real life can come as a surprise to many.
The waiter throwing down the bill as he walks past in a hurry, the metro guy pointing somewhere indeterminate while not looking at you, someone exclaiming that you should ‘Bouge toi! Imbecile!’ when you’re stood in the middle of a thoroughfare. This is big city stuff, not France stuff.
It’s a big city, it’s busy, people are stressed, there is dirt and crime and it is probably only about 10% as romantic as anyone ever expects it to be. This may contribute overall to people’s perceptions of the French. But it’s like going to New York and saying Americans are all super busy and rude, or in London everyone English is either stuck up or unfriendly.
To re-calibrate your expectations of French people head to any other city. Bordeaux for example is a great example of friendly locals.
Of course the stereotype is of swarthy French people who think they are superior to everyone else and sit around looking moody smoking Gauloise cigarettes (without filters). Probably while quoting Satre.
Stereotypes have a lot to answer for and of course contribute to people’s preconceptions about a place. Sure, if you look for rude French people you will find them. They are there, but as I’ve stated, the same applies everywhere.
Still think French people are rude? Ignore the stereotype. Pop on your best smile and try and speak in French (don’t worry they’ll speak back to you in English anyway) and prepare to be surprised!
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