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Paris Some Myths Debunked

We’ve all heard the stories from other travelers. And read the posts here. About Paris, it’s inhabitants can be unfriendly and rude...and we’ve all heard the warnings of no one speaking English (or unwilling to) and now of course there is that additional issue of how will I be treated as an American under the present political circumstances. Well fear not. Here is what has happened to me in the 6 days I have been in Paris and the results of interacting with hundreds of Parisiennes from all walks of life including a trip to the Vet for my dog.

EVERYONE and I do mean everyone has been exceptionally friendly, kind and polite, And to even my surprise the vast majority speak more than enough English and seem happy if not a bit embarrassed to use it. People have gotten up to give us their seats in the Metro. (Just to be clear we are not 80 and doddering either, We are 65 and in good shape)

A great example of this was the other day we were in the Sentier Metro station and approached the ticket window to buy a Carnet of ten tickets. I said “Bonsoir Monsieur, P:Arles vous Anglais?” He immediately said yes, I told him I needed a carnet and he said “OF COURSE!” And then asked did I know I could use the automatic ticket machine to buy them. He jumped up and came out of his booth and took me patiently step by step through the screens to get the Carnet from the Machine. He was smiling and helpful and welcoming throughout.

This illustrates the kind of interaction we have had from everybody from waiters to store clerks to the Vet.

Now in the early eighties I lived in Paris for about 3 months and had very much the same experience but not to the degree at all like this trip.

Come with an open mind, greet people in French, observe the niceties of politeness and I am sure you will have a great trip too.

Posted by
36 posts

I lived in Paris for 3 months in 2014. I did not stay in a tourist neighborhood, so not everybody spoke English. But, I managed. Yes, people were unfailing polite and helpful to me, but there are cultural differences. And, it does not matter if you are French or American. You may never experienced the French habit of closing before actual hours. They will pressure you to leave 30 minutes before closing time so you are truly out the door by closing hours. Once, a restaurant turned out their lights 15 minutes before closing. Another time, a friend was not allowed to use a restroom at a museum (I warned her) 15 minutes before closing. And, the best, a banker slammed his window shut at the exact closing hour while a bank employee was gathering forms for me. Ah, but I love the French and all things French, you just have to adapt. I feel Americans are much more rude than the French.

Posted by
36 posts

I lived in Paris for 3 months in 2014. I did not stay in a tourist neighborhood, so not everybody spoke English. But, I managed. Yes, people were unfailing polite and helpful to me, but there are cultural differences. And, it does not matter if you are French or American. You may never experienced the French habit of closing before actual hours. They will pressure you to leave 30 minutes before closing time so you are truly out the door by closing hours. Once, a restaurant turned out their lights 15 minutes before closing. Another time, a friend was not allowed to use a restroom at a museum (I warned her) 15 minutes before closing. And, the best, a banker slammed his window shut at the exact closing hour while a bank employee was gathering forms for me. Ah, but I love the French and all things French, you just have to adapt. I feel Americans are much more rude than the French.

Posted by
1893 posts

Come with an open mind, greet people in French, observe the niceties of politeness and I am sure you will have a great trip too

Thanks for posting this. We were in Paris in October. We stayed with a wonderful couple who rented a room in their house. We found them through Alcove and Agape.

I'm reminded of stopping in a neighborhood café after spending a wonderful morning exploring Cemetery Pere Lachaise. By the time our waitress got to our table, we had shed ourselves of our tourist trappings. I greeted her with a cheerful "Bonjour" and she launched into a description of the lunch specials - in French of course. When she finished, she noted our quizzical look, laughed and said "OK, now in English!".

No matter where my wife and I travel, I think the key is empathy - adjusting to the culture instead of insisting the culture adjust to you. Here are some hints:

If someone doesn't speak English, yelling English at them won't increase their comprehension. Most Europeans and especially the French consider speaking loudly as extremely rude. Even on the Metro, we watched those trying to get to the door to disembark ask to get through with a softly spoken "Pardon". It was amazingly effective. When we ate out, the meals were enhanced by the lack of loud talking. We tried to fit in by speaking softly.

The smallest attempts at speaking the native tongue is appreciated. You may not get far and you may mangle their language, but you prove that you are trying to interact on their terms, not yours.

Dress respectfully. Yes, I know that tons of Europeans wear jeans and sweatshirts, but I prefer to dress more conservatively and unobtrusively. We are in our late '60's, so I realize it is also an age thing, but frankly it is bothersome to see American tourists, especially those our age, traipsing into world treasures dressed in a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops.

Europe is not an amusement park for Americans. We were invited to join another couple on a river cruise. That's not something we would have chosen, but these are lifelong friends celebrating a couple of milestones. We are glad we went and overall had a wonderful time. However - I got to see brutish behavior at its worst. Both on and off the ship more than a handful regarded everyone with whom they came in contact as there to meet their every whim. They treated merchants as if they were amusement park employees and citizens as if they were there to add "color" to the places we visited.

Posted by
6908 posts

We tend to stay in non touristy areas now where few merchants speak English; for the most part they are good sports with our dismal French and happy to help us buy bread, meat or cheese or whatever. I have met no more rude Parisians than rude Americans. You do need to know the rules for politeness i.e. bon jour as the entry to any interaction, and please and thank you in French.

Posted by
546 posts

JUst to be clear I am not staying in a touristy area, it is populated by the French overwhelmingly, only two hotels, far apart and the vast majority of customers in all the shops and cafes are French. We are often the only English speakers.

And I agree with all of the sentiments expressed in the posts above and it is what RS tries so hard to teach to those who watch his series and buy his guidebooks.

Posted by
2065 posts

Just imagine the typical American NASCAR fan when some French guy approaches him and speaks in French, expecting the American to know the language. It's just rude. Even someone as dimwitted as me can speak basic French courtesies as mentioned above.

Posted by
2524 posts

These seem like sound rules. I always politely ask in the local language "Do you speak English?" We can get by in German and French if necessary. But of course anyone in a tourist occupation will be nice. I can't remember the last unpleasant encounter I had anywhere in Europe.

Posted by
43 posts

I love this thread - much wisdom here. I learned a long time ago to not take it personally if someone seems rude (in Paris or anywhere). Who knows what is going on in their interior world? That being said, I always assume that the people I meet on my travels are good and well meaning, just as I am. You most often get what you expect.

Posted by
11996 posts

I've had similar. I've had a tiny fraction of Parisiens I've interacted with that were total jerks. That number was dwarfed by the number of people who went well beyond anything I could reasonably expect, even in Paris.

As long as you are polite, which means first greet someone formally (hello madame, excuse me sir) before asking or telling them anything, you will be treated at least politely. After your conversation, end with a thank you and goodbye - even with a store clerk. Too many Americans skip these which, to us, may be normal but to them is incredibly rude.

Posted by
2466 posts

Don't touch the merchandise in an open-air market. The vendors will get them for you.
Otherwise, be polite and say "Merci, au revoir".

Posted by
1427 posts

Booo....I thought this would be about a French version of Mythbusters set in Paris. If you drop a euro from the top of the Eiffel tower and it hits a person in the head will it be fatal? Or what happens if you strap a JATO rocket to a Citron. WHY ISN'T THIS A THING?

Posted by
1893 posts

Donna, funny!

My oldest grandson is working on being #10, the student. He is graduating from high school and we are taking a scouting trip in late June to check out a Studies Abroad program. He would spend if first college semester in Paris in the Fall. It's a nice gig if you can get it!

His family has hosted two French exchange students and my grandson spent 6 weeks near Versailles as an exchange student as well. He speaks pretty good French and that, along with French history, will be his course of study.

Posted by
1777 posts

Not proud that I have been not knowing more French beyond hello, thank you, goodbye ; Also not proud I am going back again also not knowing more than that...
but will say it goes a long way to at least start and end the conversation in French with these words. Once you butcher the hello they will now you are not French and speak in English anyway but you have shown them the proper respect.
Everyone I encounter was very tolerate with me and pleasant.

For whatever reason it is thought of as extremely disrespectful to walk up to someone and ask them a question without saying hello first (even if you are in a store and asking an employee something). It is a culture thing as in the US this is by itself it is not disrespectful at all and most don't want to converse with strangers so starting with a greeting here is counter-productive vs. just getting to your point.

Posted by
8648 posts

mreynolds, I think it’s very rude even in this country to approach a service industry employee to order food or ask a question in a store and not say either “Hi” or “Excuse me” first before ordering or asking for help in a store. I see it a lot and find it low class and very rude. Anyone that’s worked in the service industry might agree.

I have seen countless Americans do this in France/Paris and I always cringe.

I especially detest here, or there, when a low class person starts with “Give me a croissant” for example, and that’s it... no please, no thank you, nothing.

Posted by
782 posts

Being polite is so important.

I must tell you a funny incident that happened while shopping at Monoprix in Paris. I took what I thought was 1 scarf to the check out then 2 were rung in. I had accidentally taken 2. When I explained in my poor French I only wanted one, the clerks reaction was so comical, eye rolling, sighing. I had to control myself from laughing. I said i was sorry many times. Not a rude response imho but such a funny incident.

Posted by
28814 posts

if you strap a JATO rocket to a Citron.

Why would you do that to a poor lemon?

Posted by
2065 posts

Yes it's sad so many Americans begin a conversation with service personnel with, "I'll have this" or "give me that." Good manners and common courtesy is, well, not so common, at least in America.

Posted by
2466 posts

I'd add that to stay to the right to the stairs of the Metro and the escalators...

Posted by
68 posts

My favourite (and only) rude Parisian story:

My husband and I visited Paris on our honeymoon. Being raised in Canada, I spoke a basic but serviceable amount of French with an outrageous accent.

We were in a casual restaurant somewhere off the tourist track, and needing the washroom, I approached the bar and said to the gentleman behind the bar, "Bonjour. S'il vous plait, ou est la salle du bain?"

He looked at me with what one could only call derision and said, loudly and to the ribald laughter of all the other patrons at the bar, "Oh la la, madame, la salle du bain? Ha!" Then he snarled, "La lavabo est là" and jerked his thumb to the back corner of the restaurant.

And that's how I learned that salle du bain and bathroom are not as synonymous in Paris as they are in Ontario.

Posted by
546 posts

The “Jato Rocket” Citron? Do you mean a Citroen? A car company that in 1933 produced the first all wheel independent suspension, front wheel drive unibody construction car? That Lemon? It took the US until the 70’s to get Radial tires and we didnt get to the technological level of the 1933 Citroen until Decades later. Yes I will take a Citroen Traction Avant over just about anything of the same era. And the new Citroens are gorgeous.

Just an update: After 14 days in France from Paris to Normandy and a drive across the country to Burgundy we have encountered nothing but friendliness, helpfulness and smiles from the French. From waiters to the boys at the gas stations to security personnel and just folks on the street it has all been great. We are now in burgundy soaking up wine and great food and impossibly impressive scenery.