Somebody that had visited Paris many years ago felt that the locals were very rude to him since he did not speak French. Has anyone else had that experience or has the attitude changed over the years. We did not find that attitude at all in Italy. Thanks
We experienced rudeness two times in 8 or 9 trips to Paris. The waiter in many of the cafes on the Champs Elysee can be curt and I think some of them like to play "I don't speak English" just for fun and to annoy the tourists! The only other time was a train conductor who directed my husband "You are in France - you speak French!". Other than that we use our polite words in French - I can understand more than I can speak and have no problems what so ever.
The most revealing thing I've heard about the French was an opinion that the French reserve their smiles for friends and family; it's a more intimate expression to them. Thin skinned people can take that as rude, unfortunately. If one makes an effort at a proper greeting in French, things go pretty well.
To elaborate a little on Kent's post , even if you only know - Bonjour Madame / Monsieur ; S'il vous plait , Merci Madame / Monsieur , and Au Revoir , you will be surprised how far a little courtesy goes . I have heard the oft repeated canard about the French my whole life ; unsurprisingly , I found it completely untrue from the moment I set foot in France .
It's another stupid urban myth. In the tourist areas they'd rather work with you in their pretty good English than your crappy French. Mine tests as native, and I don't care which language I use but I never use French except for long conversations or something technical until I'm out on the fringes of the city -- which you probably won't see.
My experience goes back to since before I had long pants and nothing seems to have changed.
Apologies, but I respectfully disagree with Ed's flat statement that it's a "stupid urban myth."
I would continue to recommend that most travelers will find they have more pleasant interactions with Parisians if they make some attempt to speak the language of the country they're in. This would include interaction with not only tourist industry workers, but also in the event that you want to actually try to interact even on a brief scale with locals other than tourist industry workers.
I have not experienced rudeness in all the time I've spent in Paris. There is certainly an aire of abruptness and all-business when eating at a restaurant or going into a shop but that is simply the way things are done. I do attempt to speak French as best I can (3 years of high school French actually is useful) but usually they get tired of my feeble attempts and kindly switch to English. Occassionally I do come across someone in France who doesn't switch so we stumble through and it's fine. These people are becoming fewer and fewer though because English is taught widely now - many people in Europe (as well as other parts of the world) use it as a common language when they run across others who speak a language other than their own.
Spend some time, think about the things you will need to say going about your daily business, and learn some phrases. Just a few hours of preparation will really help. There are quite a few free apps that can get you started. It goes a very long way to attempt to learn some of the language in any country you will visit.
Went on RS tour of Paris last summer and spent another week in the Loire Valley and Normandy. I had long heard of the notorious rudeness of the French, particularly Parisians, and went expecting to be treated badly. I was surprised and relieved to encounter the hospitality and courtesy of the French. We were never treated rudely. My earnest, but somewhat feeble, attempts at French were met with graciousness. Those who could speak English proceeded to do so; those who did not struggled along with me patiently. The French are more reserved and formal than Americans, and I respect that. I found that a heartfelt "bonjour" went a long way. Perhaps the French were equally surprised that this Native New Yorker was not loud, pushy, overly familiar and demanding -- another stereotype that doesn't always fit. It does help to brush up on some rudimentary French -- it will be appreciated. This is not to say you will not encounted any rude people, but that is true of any place. I cannot wait to return.
The OP mentioned Paris specifically, and maybe big city locals might react differently than folks from smaller towns around the world, but I've never encountered rudeness anywhere in France. Other places, yes, but not in Paris or elsewhere in France . . . unless you count tailgating drivers as "rude." :-)
Saying "Bonjour!" (in a very upbeat tone) seems to be paramount when walking into a shop, so the clerk or shopkeeper knows you are present and that you're aware of their presence and that a scenario of mutual respect has been established.
Rick's Travel News today includes a piece from the New York Times about French appreciation of Americans and their great contributions in France during World War I.
Just kidding, but I'm not surprised that Italians wouldn't hold it against an American who didn't speak French :-)
I think that in the past twenty years a new generation of service staff has come up who speak more English than their predecessors and are happy to do so, but that still shouldn't stop you from starting every interaction with "Bonjour, Madame/Monsieur" and ending with "Merci, au revoir." In my last visit, waiters in Paris would often speak to me in English, then seem to remind themselves, "oh, this is the one wants to speak French."
We've had 2 encounters in France where people were particularly rude, but I agree with Kent that a small attempt at their language / customs goes a long way. These encounters both happened on our first trip to France which was a very last minute decision (from England) so we weren't really prepared and we knew no French language or customs. The most memorable one was as we were driving between Normandy and Mt. St. Michel and stopped for lunch at a restaurant (around 2 pm). This was a huge faux pas and the owner very rudely (with her broom) told us to get out. Seems funny now, but didn't seem like it at the time.
We've been to France two times since then and not really had any negative encounters.
On our first trip to Paris (quite a number of years ago) we only went for 3 days and were totally unprepared - we knew no French and didn't understand their customs. Twice we had people who were very rude to us (based on the fact I touched merchandise in a store - I didn't understand then that I shouldn't do that!). When we went back the second time, we had learned some French and better understood what was expected of us as tourists, and it was a wonderful experience. As a matter of fact, we had several incidences where people went out of their way to help us.
I've found the French to be far less rude than the stereotype! Even in Paris, people are nicer than expected.
I was in Paris four years ago and everyone was great. I have only two years of high school French and it went a long way. As many have said previously, if you try your best with what little French you know, you will go along way. I too understand more than I can speak. I would suggest learning the basics.
I've done four driving trips through France for three to five weeks, as well as spent a couple of weeks in Paris. My first driving trip, I only knew what I call "the five basic phrases" and did just fine. Since then I have studied so that I can now speak enough French to carry on a simple conversation. Knowing more French has enriched my experience because I am better able to connect with locals. I've even been told that my French is good, but I suspect what they don't say is "for an English speaker." Anyway, I have not encountered any rudeness on any of these trips except once on my first trip involving a taxi driver in Paris. That was 20 years ago. Otherwise, I've found everyone to be gracious and helpful. Now, in contrast, back in the late 70s I did a bus tour through Europe not knowing any French and found many people in France to be rude and pushy. The difference, I think, being an independent traveler vs one of 30-some people on a bus; doing some homework so I know more about where I am vs letting someone else tell me what he wants me to know; and knowing the language, even if only the basics. Learning some French is well worth the investment.
PS: I use Pimseuler CDs because I am more of an audio learner than a visual learner.
"...or has the attitude changed over the years." Over the years I've used my very rudementary French if I could. If that wasn't possible, then I used English prefaced with a French greeting. In my younger days, ie, in the 1970s, I asked if the Parisans first if they spoke English; if not, then German. Sometimes that also worked. If the place had a sign saying " English spoken" and/or German, I used both, or just German (that was outside of Paris).
To be fair I can't say I was ever treated as rudely in person similar to some of the above incidents. There were times some real help and kindness were forthcoming Since my French is much better than thirty years ago, I can also write it if I couldn't say quickly. .
I'm sure the gross over-simplification of rude French was started by New Yorkers, who should know.
See, it's easy to be unfair. I've had lots of practice, and still love Paris.
The point of contact is often the waiters, who are too busy to help with your French lessons. They may be curt, but they are efficient, which almost always means they know enough English to get the food to your table without becoming your new-found friend.
@Jill - I wonder if that woman at the restaurant has switched to a vacuum cleaner by now to chase off after-hours arrivals?
I've just returned from a second trip to France in the month, including Paris.
In all my trips I have once or twice come across a rude person or two. In England and Italy and Germany too.
Some people are not rude and some are. I even met rude people in New York and Toronto.
I meet lots of people. The vast majority are perfectly nice. Everywhere.
These last two visits I met no rude people in France. I was cut off on the English motorway last Friday. By an English registered car.
Southam's post is worth a 2nd reading, esp. the part about French waiters not wanting to be your new-found friend. (whether you want to believe it or not. I will guess Southam has enough years to know.)
The key part to me in the post is "many years ago". Times change, people change. Many years ago gas was available for less than a buck a gallon.
"...less than a buck a gallon." How true. That was still the case in 1974.
Often times you find exactly what you focus on.
Do a little test... look for rude people in your town tomorrow and then report back. A bit bizarre to think everyone in a country all act the same:)
I remember a ticket agent in Arles who seemed particularly snarky and even perhaps pleased that we didn't have the correct change to purchase tickets, but I chalked that up as someone who wasn't suited for their job, and/or was perhaps a little jaded dealing with tourists all day, rather than her being French. I found most people on our trip to be very gracious and helpful.
There is a French Rick Steves. And on the French website, a popular topic is "Are Rude Americans a Thing of the Past?"
(their answer is, "non")
Love your posts Kent!
And Terry kathryn is exactly right... "Do a little test... look for rude people in your town tomorrow and then report back."
Hahaha Kent! Every single stereotype I'd ALWAYS read about the French went out of the window when I went to France! Started in Paris. Seven days, loved every minute of it, and never had ONE rude person. I speak NO French. I speak some Italian and more Spanish. I had rude Spaniards in the South of Spain, mostly (I think) because the British are there and demand everyone speak their language (LOL, sorry Brits!)
The French I saw were: hard working! Polite, friendly, and warm.
If you have a question for someone, start with "Please." or the French version, which I can say, but not spell! When you arrive in a shop, say "bon jour" and when you leave say "merci."
Manners, just like in MY house, will get you all kinds of respect!
My first trip to France was Paris in 2009 - and this Texan and her 70 year old mother made a point of at least learning very basic French. And, people bent over backwards to help us out - even in instances where the shopkeeper or waiter clearly did not speak English, there was enough gesturing and smiles to make sure that we understood each other. I remember telling people afterwards that "it's as if a memo went out that said Be Nice" - everyone was wonderful. And, it made me realize - in the US, we are the same. We aren't particularly nice to tourists who go against our customs and don't make any effort to speak at least a few words in English.
It's basically the old adage "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" - be sure to do at least a tiny bit of research before landing at the airport.
I have returned to France 3 times since that visit, and I'm going back again for New year's eve, and also after I finish my graduate school studies - my reward to myself will be 5 weeks in France.
And, with my extremely limited vocabulary (I know probably 200 words in French), we all get along beautifully.
We are in Paris now and have been warmly welcomed everywhere. My wife speaks a little French, but nearly everyone responds in English anyway. Just today, we were having difficulty locating a store and then finding the nearest Metro to get home. At both of these times, a local Parisian stopped to assist us very graciously.
Just got back from a month in Europe with a week of that in Paris. We speak maybe 10 words of French and didn't have any negative experiences anywhere.