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Safety and attitude

I am a 65 year old New Yorker looking to visit Paris and Provence during Spring of 2018 with my wife. Besides the terrorism factor which I believe is today's norm and can happen anywhere, I've been told by a number of people the "French" dislike (to put it mildly) Americans and it is not prudent to travel there at this time. I'm a big believer in treating others the way you want to be treated. Hopefully that will ring true should we go. I would like to know what the true current attitude towards Americans are, good or bad, from people who have recently traveled there as opposed to those who "heard it from a friend". Thank you.

Posted by
1120 posts

I get so tired of people saying that the French don't like Americans. It's always a story from a friend of a friend. Normally people who have recounted first-hand stories generally deserved such a reaction. It's simply not true and this sentiment was fueled by the whole American press when the "freedom fries" thing happened.

The French, in general,love Americans. They eat big macs, listen to lots of American music, and English words are cool to say (whether or not they're good at English is another story = "likez sur Facebook" - !). They're Americanized more than they know (and I wish it would stop!) Just because they don't agree with our politics doesn't mean they hate us. Frankly, they're right on many issues. They are curious and may ask you your opinion. Two summers ago I was at some friends' house for dinner in Loches and they asked me and another American our opinions on the Trump-Clinton campaigns. They saw that my friend and I were polar opposites on our views and understood the political gaps thanks to this.

I have never encountered a Frenchman who hated me for my nationality (have met more Quebecois who hate me for this!). But I have also treated everyone I meet there with respect. Remember it's not Disney World and people there speak French. Try your best to use what you can of their language and you'll see how charmed they are by your efforts.

Since the terrorism in France I have traveled there 4 times. I never once felt unsafe---but I love France with all of my heart.

Posted by
38 posts

I was there with my wife in May 2016 and early 2012. No problems whatsoever.

Posted by
2466 posts

The French population as a whole do not care one way or another about tourists.
Their main goal is getting to work on time, taking the baby to the "creche", and getting back home.
"Heard it from a friend" is normally the "kiss of death" - you should really not believe what your friend told you.

It is true that there are armed soldiers and police around to keep us safe, though.
I wouldn't let that spoil your parade.

It would be nice if you could learn a few words of "politesse", though - Bonjour, Merci, that type of thing.
If you give attitude, you will get it in return. Just don't do it.

Posted by
6488 posts

This may have been the attitude about 20 years ago but, even at that time, it was usually brought on by 'ugly American' attitudes on the part of the tourist - loud obnoxious behavior, lack of using the common courtesies when initiating an interaction (bonjour madame, monsieur, mademoiselle), etc.

If you have a polite attitude toward the French citizens that you encounter, they will counter in kind. I had no problem with interactions with anyone, including the dreaded Parisians.

Posted by
139 posts

I agree with the previous posters.

I've visited Paris as a tourist three times now and have found the people to be friendlier than people in most large American cities. And frankly I'm a typical Ugly American - I speak very little French and have only learned a few of the customs (saying hello - Bonjour - to folks when you enter a shop for example).

I haven't been to Provence since the early Seventies, but the 'country' French were very pleasant to us then. And I will say that in Normandy the last couple of visits we ran across a number of folks who thought Americans were great - although it might have been because we visited over the weekend of June 6th :-)

Have fun!
-bruce

Posted by
21087 posts

I spent 89 days in France this summer. I had a great time and was treated well everywhere. When something went wrong, folks went out of their way to help. And I speak very little French, quite badly.

My trip did not include Paris, where I wouldn't be surprised to find people a bit less warm-and-fuzzy than in a provincial town, just as folks here in Washington DC may be more business-likek than those in a small town in Georgia. Be polite and you will receive politeness--or more--in return. [Edited to restore text inadvertently deleted]

Do be prepared to be asked occasionally about the current inhabitant of the White House. If you don't want to talk politics, you can usually get by with a bemused shrug.

Posted by
8293 posts

The "number of people" who told you that the French dislike Americans are full of baloney. I'll wager not one of them has travelled further than Las Vegas. Do us a favour and ask at least one of them to offer a personal experience of animosity to Americans while in .France.

Posted by
13525 posts

It would be nice if you could learn a few words of "politesse", though
- Bonjour, Merci, that type of thing.

Works wonders, that. I speak almost zero French and probably mangle the "politesse" words I've learned but no matter: if you greet everyone, ALL the time with "Bonjour", you're in. :O)

Also don't confuse "rude" with "busy"? Most of the locals you'll encounter are not on holiday. They are working and /or have a host of chores to complete, as we all do on ordinary days. Paris is also overrun with tourists, which can be a bit wearisome for the locals, I would assume. They may not have the time or inclination to chat you up, and a few might come across as brusque but that doesn't mean they dislike you.

We loved Paris, and didn't have an problems with "attitude" at all as long as we kept the "busy" factor in mind. It's also such an international city that you'll probably run into quite a number of people in the hospitality industry who do not originally hail from France!

Posted by
784 posts

I just returned from 2 weeks in Paris yesterday and had nothing but positive experiences in my encounters with the French people. The French do have high standards of what they consider to be politeness, which means it is important to know a few basic phrases of French to use whenever you attempt to interact with locals. Hello "bonjour", Thank you "merci", thank you "s'il vous plais", and good-bye " au revoir" are the bare minimum and will help make your encounters go smoothly. If you can learn how to order coffee and ask for the toilettes, you will do even better. If you go with an adventurous attitude of learning about and respecting their culture and not expecting things to be like they are at home, you'll do fine.The French may not like American government policies, but they hold no animosity towards Americans in general.

Posted by
2894 posts

You are a New York and you believe the line that the French dislike Americans? Wow, I am shocked -- I thought New Yorkers had a vaunted BS meter (and I say that as a person who was a New Yorker until 11 years ago). I have been traveling to France since 1982 (for example, this year, I went in May, July and August and am going again in January 2018) and have spent summers in France since 2010 (except one) and I can tell you from what I have seen that the "French" do not dislike Americans. Think about it, a statement that the French dislike Americans is just way too general to make any sense.

Posted by
4673 posts

The French, in general,love Americans. They eat big macs, listen to lots of American music, and English words are cool to say

Just because they indulge in a bit of American culture doesn't mean that they love Americans. Nobody eats a Big Mac because they love America, they eat one because they're cheap, ubiquitous and easy to silence the kids with.

I wouldn't say the French hate Americans just as much as I wouldn't say the French hate the British. There may be a minority of the populace who do but every country has their share of nationalist morons who rarely, if ever, travel anywhere beyond their own country (although some hypocritical Brits are quite happy to spend two weeks in Spain despite their supposed hatred of foreigners).

The dislike of America that is often expressed by much of the world is aimed primarily at American foreign policy and not towards the average American citizen, it is the politics of the nation not the people. I have never experienced any negativity whilst in France and I have never witnessed any expressed towards Americans. In fact I've only ever observed people being treated equally irrespective on their nationality.

Yes I've come across some Americans in Europe who perhaps could have turned the volume down a bit but a lot of Americans are gregarious in nature and why should they change? We all have our foibles that are often characterised by nationality, after all, stereotypes need to come from somewhere.

I was in Provence this summer. I ate in restaurants in quiet little towns and was never treated with anything other than warmth and friendliness. I also acknowledged a number of Americans who were also treated exactly the same. My French is embarassingly lacking but with the basics combined with the local's better English we always managed. I would be extremely surprised if you experienced any hostility based upon being American.

I've no idea who these "number of people" are but having spent considerable time in the US I am no stranger to the level of ignorance expressed by many people regarding places and events beyond the US. This is nothing short of Chinese whispers gathering momentum fuelled by ignorance. Ignore them, you'll have a great time.

Posted by
30 posts

Thank you all for your replies. I do believe in going to the source and where better than this forum. I was hoping for positive comments and was not disappointed. Sounds like were in for a great trip. Once again, je t'aime beaucoup.

Posted by
855 posts

On my first trip to Paris, I thought the French in the shops were not rude, but kinda cold. I was on the trip with my elderly Father, we are from French south Louisiana. We walked into a shop and I said Hello.
I just got a cold look. My Father next to me said, "Bonjour". She lit up. Afterward he told me that anytime you come in contact, just speak in the little French that you know. He also said that the shopkeepers don't say hello first, their culture dictates that the customer greets the shopkeeper first. So I tried it and
"Voila!" it works. Dad spoke cajun French to them and they loved it and asked a lot of questions about where he's from, "I thought you were American" So he explained and even I with my limited polite phrase French was welcomed and found them friendly. Dad told me that when they come to the US they don't expect Americans to speak French, they expect to speak English.

Smile, speak the polite phrases, and you'll have a great time!
PS We use the Rick Steves Phrase books for the country we are in. Hubby and I plan our trips way in advance. We get the phrase books and quiz each other during dinner at night, while we are in the planning phase of a trip. It works!

Posted by
1120 posts

Just because they indulge in a bit of American culture doesn't mean
that they love Americans. Nobody eats a Big Mac because they love
America, they eat one because they're cheap, ubiquitous and easy to
silence the kids with.

Big Macs are not "cheap" in France and McDonald's isn't known for being cheap. I disagree with your statement. Having taught French kids and discussed these subjects over and over, I was informed that most of them loved the American allure of le fast food. Ubiquitous, yes. Which brings up the issue of Subway: why on earth would a French person eat at Subway? Granted the quality there is better than at American restaurants, but it's no cheaper or better than a local boulangerie can do.

Posted by
4480 posts

We were there last year in Annecy, Lyon and Paris (along with Italy locations). The French were very cordial, and we felt like they were very happy to see us since tourism numbers were definitely down.

Greet them in French immediately when entering a shop, etc. Most will immediately respond in English because my French is so basic.

Have a great time!

Posted by
7196 posts

Also please show these real life responses to the number of people that think travel to France is a bad idea, that way they learn something new and stop spreading it.

Posted by
27762 posts

the "French" dislike (to put it mildly) Americans and it is not prudent to travel there at this time.

absolute rubbish.

They're just jealous.....

Posted by
12898 posts

I am two years older than you, my first time in Paris and France was in 1973 as a backpacker behind the backdrop of Vietnam, definitely more anti-Americanism then. I've heard all these fairy tales then about Americans being disliked in Paris, etc, etc, etc.

The main questions are: : should that matter to you? Are these fairy tales going to deter you from going? I knew of them in 1973, couldn't care less. These people you know have perpetuated this fairy tale, what should you care even if that were the case? . I wouldn't. In 1977 I went back to Paris solo as is true three more times in the 1980s, and more trips there in the last 30 years, the most recent the first week in July.

If "heard it from a friend," then I discount it, since that presupposes they know more about Paris and France than I do...not very likely at all. If that person speaks French fairly fluently, (if only a smattering or just passable French, that's not good enough), then I would see his/her comments as being more credible.

Posted by
12898 posts

In July I spent a week in Quebec City, a fantastic, great place, interacting with the Quebecois, interesting linguistically, culturally and historically, well worth going back. They knew I was a tourist since I have tourist written all over me and American too.

It's true that among the west European countries in the Cold War days, only the French slapped a visa on US tourists going over to France. That was in 1987. I went anyway, went to the French Consulate in SF (near the Chinatown Gate), waited, paid, and got the mandatory visa. The US government did likewise to French tourists coming to the US back then.

Posted by
7618 posts

I haven't traveled to France recently, but I am an American who has lived here (in Paris) for 11 years. It's impossible to say what "the true current attitude towards Americans are" . . .because people are different, and you can't generalize. In my estimation, there are probably some French people who don't like Americans, some French people who like Americans, and some French people who don't categorize people (or their reaction to them) according to their country of origin.

Just think about it: would you say that Americans like or don't like French people? No. You'd say that one friend met a French person and liked them, and met another one and didn't like them . . .etc. etc.

Posted by
3621 posts

Please allow me to echo Nigel. Absolute rubbish. We've been to France many times (including recently) and have never been treated in any manner that would lead one to think we are disliked or being treated badly because we are Americans. Of course we always make it a point to use the customary greetings when entering or leaving shops, restaurants, and etc. We also use plenty of s'il vous plait and merci during our dealings. And we smile a lot. Perhaps that comes from being raised in the South. At any rate, many French business people are busy, efficient, and involved in taking care of business. But there is a lot of difference between that and treating Americans badly -- which, as stated before, has never happened to us. Please go, treat them the way you want to be treated, and you might just be surprised at how warmly you'll be received.

Posted by
6632 posts

I suspect anyone telling you that the French don't like Americans yada yada just doesn't travel much and if they do they go with tours where people whine to each other about the locals. Most people don't care; they are not spending a lot of time thinking about America or paying attention to the random tourist.

We have been traveling to Paris for stays usually of a month or two for 20 years and have never had a deeply unpleasant experience with a French person. There is the occasional jerk just like there is in New York and a bonus is that Paris is MUCH safer than any American town or city. There is virtually no violent crime and we have taken the metro from one end of Paris to the other at midnight and walked in all parts of the city. We have friends who live in the heart of what Fox news called a 'no go' zone and have been there many times including leaving late at night after a dinner party and have never had the slightest concern. It is a fascinating vibrant part of the city with lots of unusual opportunities for dining and market purchases

The only distinctly negative political experience we have had in Europe was years ago in Florence when some Germans we were sharing a bench with were shocked that we didn't support President Bush and throught that everyone should 'bow down to America' for all the good the country had done after the war. Alas we are now the international bad guys so we may get a little shade but in our experience most people we encounter who want to talk politics assume we, because we travel, are in need of commiseration about our politics rather than condemnation.

We find people in butcher shops, cheese shops etc to be good sports about our pathetic French and to be helpful in assisting us to get what we want. We shop in the markets and have always had good experiences with vendors.

It is absolutely crucial to a good experience to know the basics of politeness. In particular, you never start any sort of interaction including checking out at the grocery store, or asking directions without a greeting e.g. Bon jour or Bon soir. And of course please, thank you and good bye. With those and a few words you can do what needs done.

Posted by
5 posts

We've traveled to Paris and Provence many times over the past 21 years (most recently 3 years ago) and have always had positive experiences with the French. If you are a believer in treating others the way you want to be treated, you should be just fine. Be aware that the French are very proud of their language. Make an effort to learn the common courtesy phrases and use them. Also take the time to learn about their culture. Get Rick's book or any guide book and learn about the cultural differences. My experience is that any 'attitude' I witnessed in France was displayed by tourists who expect things to be and work the same as they do in their home country. No - they don't have English menus, the signs are in French etc. Be a traveler. Do your homework and enjoy your trip.

Posted by
12898 posts

One has to ask the question regarding restaurants in France or elsewhere on the continent for that matter, why should a restaurant have a menu in English? Nowadays, lots of places do, but you can still count on a lot places that do not. The menu given to you will be in the local language, just as it was in the 1970s and '80s.

In Paris I've been given an English menu a few times, if it was in a tourist restaurant, but most often I get a menus en français instead. In eastern Germany I always get a German menu, they know I'm a tourist regardless.

Posted by
3685 posts

You have validated an old prejudice of mine, that the myth of French rudeness (or whatever) has been generated by New Yorkers who, considering their own city, should know better. To the poster who offered a comparison to Quebec: What? Quebec City is part of Canada, not France, and while it is not Toronto, it certainly is not Paris. Great place, by the way.

Posted by
1423 posts

I've been told by a number of people the "French" dislike (to put it
mildly) Americans and it is not prudent to travel there at this time.

You were given bad information.

Posted by
116 posts

We are fairly experienced European travelers; been there 40+ times - have visited most of the countries traveling independently

Several years ago on a flight back from France I remarked to my wife: "As far as the "average person" goes, meaning someone not in the tourist business HAVING to be pleasant, would I be safe to say that the average French person is probably the NICEST we have met in ALL of our travels. Her simple reply was: "You bet."

Posted by
781 posts

I traveled to France and Paris for the last four years and was in Provence in late April for seven days staying in Arles and the people were great from our hotel to restaurants and different venues and finished with twelve days in Paris and never had any problems with the people who were very helpful and seemed happy to see us.
Mike

Posted by
2466 posts

I've lived in Paris for 10 years.
It's amazing that when your turn comes in a shop - food, clothing, what-have-you - you are the only customer. Even if you just want one thin slice of ham, like one regular I know does.

Other people may puff and huff behind you, but you are the only one that counts when it's your turn.

The only thing that turns me off is when Anglophones insist on walking 4 to 6 abreast across the sidewalk. They don't even realize it.

Posted by
362 posts

I have yet to make it to France, except to change planes in Paris.

Having said that, I can honestly say that most of what others have told me about traveling to Europe is false. They clearly either have never been there, or they also listened to 'others' who didn't know what they were talking about.

I love visiting Europe. I hope you have a wonderful trip!!!

Posted by
1669 posts

A few weeks back I was camping near Barr in Alsace, but between different nationalities, mostly Germans and Dutch outnumbering the few French visitors there it was not so obvious in which language to greet, as nowadays you can’t see from the outside where somebody comes from. So to make it easy I greeted with “guten Morgen” and as the Dutch don’t bother with that I got most of the time a response. But in case greeting a Frenchman this way I got a far from enthousiastic response, but directly correcting myself and started to say Bonjour I got an understanding smile.

I think in general the French are not rude but sensitive and as far as I have experienced actually easy to get along with.

Maybe some have bad experiences I think traveling around with there own fixed ideas about politeness and have also expectations how others have to behave. And are likely disappointed if somebody don’t respond according that standard, so seeing this a bit like aproc already noted. I think some Americans (like some Dutch too) have a moralistic approach to politeness and in France it doesn’t work, finding out how will be an educational challenge to accept.

Posted by
12898 posts

How true, Wil. Your point is well taken. At breakfast especially in smaller hotels, you can always tell who the Germans are when you say "Guten Morgen" or just "Morgen" as you enter. the room.

Posted by
6649 posts

Americans I've traveled with just assume that American standards of smiley-friendly-first name familiarity and I-want-to-be-your-friend attitude, are the standards of all cultures. The more formal and polite cultures of Europe (imbedded in their languages) seem standoffish and rude to them. One of those things to be learned from travel, or not.

To the original question, some people just can't say "how great for you going to France, have a good time". I think its human nature for many people to want to deflate a good thing for you, by repeating whatever (bad) thing they know about the subject.

Posted by
30 posts

Stan, you mention "the smiley-friendly-first name familiarity and I-want-to-be-your-friend attitude" that I live by. That being said, I found your reply to be most helpful. It explains this issue in a way I can easily understand and I feel better knowing it. Thank you.

Posted by
6649 posts

jgreenb371, I'm glad you took it the intended way. I understand that friendly to strangers is the way we were all taught to be. Not my original thoughts, but along the way, and in other threads on this site, its been noted, that the stereotypical rude French waiters, for example, are usually well-paid and trained professionals (not college kids) they do not necessarily appreciate informality in what to them is a business transaction. Also, have heard directly from Europeans who "humor" Americans, but think smiling at strangers indicates drunkeness, amorous or nefarious intent, or just plain simpleness.

The language thing is what I noted from basic classes in German Spanish & Italian, which all retain a "polite" and an "informal" second person singular. Granting someone the privilege of referring to you in the informal is supposed to be a big thing.

Posted by
13525 posts

Ooh, my friends abroad say the same about the smiley-friendly-first name familiarity and I-want-to-be-your-friend thingie. They find that odd and uncomfortable, and especially if showing a lot of teeth. It's OK, they say, to look pleasant but showing a lot of teeth and doing it constantly is just weird.

A dear friend from England spent a week in my Midwest state of origin a couple of years ago for a wedding. When she got home, she wrote me that when when stopping into a gas station, a convenience store, a restaurant, etc. she was almost aways greeted with a chirpy "Hi! How ya doin'!!" She had no idea what to do with that. "What do you SAY to that? Do they really want to KNOW?"

I just rolled as it's such a Midwest thing!

Posted by
1345 posts

Stan, a Spanish friend shared a band - 'El Diablo me tutoye'. 'The Devil Addresses me as 'tu''

The informal is something English had but no longer has. Even between varieties of English there are ones which are formal, and ones which are informal. British English can appear frosty to the speaker of US English.

In France, the formalities are best to use first 'bonjour/bonsoir monsieur/madame'. One of my French treachers pointed out that the French can be distant because it is common to correct each others' grammar, going through the formalities and speaking basic French even if you need to operate in English helps cross that divide.

Posted by
13525 posts

It's not a wish to be less friendly, it's just that we are used to
something a bit less in your face.

I completely understand, Emma. It was just so funny as she's such a good soul and truly baffled as to what was expected as there's often not a question mark at the end that greeting.

The usual response is just "Good, thanks."

Posted by
2894 posts

Correcting grammar and mispronunciation seems to me to be an automatic response from the French. I like it because I am always trying to improve my French and I take it in the spirit in which it was given. However, I notice that in America people rarely if ever correct a stranger pronunciation and that cultural difference, I think is one of the reasons why some Americans think the French are rude. The same is true for when French people answer and say they do not speak English. Most times they are not trying to be unhelpful, they are just shy about or not confident in their English, but to the English speaker it can seem like the person is being unhelpful and unpleasant.

Posted by
12898 posts

When I am in France speaking my French slowly, if I am corrected on form and structure afterwards, I'm glad they mentioned it and took upon themselves to correct me. In Germany if I happen to be corrected on diction, all the better. I'm glad. One must use proper diction in language.

This notion that everyone or just about speaks some English is a myth. This summer's trip and that of summer blatantly demonstrated that, even in the train stations. So, you encounter a local say is 45-50, who learned a few years of English at 15 and 16, if even that, do you expect him/her still to retain the English? What if the person did learn English for 5 years in secondary education but doesn't want to use it with you. There are people who don't want to speak English, I 've met some...these were French and Germans.

Posted by
2894 posts

I hope my post was not taken to mean that I think that all French people speak English. I know for a fact that they do not. For example, last month at a laundromat in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, I had an excellent conversation with the woman working there who spoke not a word of English. The same is true for the spa attendant at hotel in the 6th where I stayed last year. I could name dozens more occasions in Paris and forget about English is some parts of the countryside. I was trying to point out that at times we English speakers misunderstand shyness about using English as rudeness.

Posted by
12898 posts

@ JHK...Your point is well taken. No misunderstanding on what you wrote.

"...an excellent conversation with a woman working there...." Such a conversation means that you are fluent in French, i envy you. I can do likewise in Germany and Austria, no problem at all, but no way in France, since I'll get tripped up in the word order, use incorrect verb forms, esp with the irregular verbs, tense endings, etc. So, it has to be slow and simple sentence structure.

Posted by
2466 posts

There is a trend in Paris in big American-ized stores where the sales assistants insist on greeting you in English - even when you speak French - and giving you the big spiel on their specials.
I'm speaking principally about the Gap, Sephora and other stores on the Champs-Elysees - though there are others in the Marais.

You should always address people who are under 12 as "tu". Older that, it's "vous".

Posted by
8 posts

I am in Paris now and the people are lovely. Everyone I ask for help is very helpful and happy to be asked. Paris is a big city and I find that people in big cities anywhere don't engage with passersby as much as smaller towns. But they seem to love to speak to you in English - which most speak at least a little. Please don't listen to the stories - they are very welcoming, know a lot about our country and want tourists to come here and see their beautiful city.

Posted by
18 posts

Chexbres: split the formal and informal at age 12? I would have thought that cutoff would be at an older age, dunno, 16 or something.

I'm struggling to learn french right now, but this feels more cultural than linguistic.

Posted by
6632 posts

People who make their money from tourists usually have the English they need to get by, but that doesn't mean they 'speak English' any more than the fact that I can order a sandwich and shop at the market in French means I can speak French (as I discovered when having surgery at a hospital where no one spoke English except thank goodness, the anesthetist they pulled in at the last minute since the main anesthetist couldn't) You will quickly discover if you try to have a conversation in English that a person who knows how to sell food in English probably doesn't know much more.

We have been in places with locals like the sing a long French cabaret song nights at Vieux Belleville and some in the group heroically dredge up their schoolgirl English to include us for which we are grateful. We now usually stay in the 17th or 13th when visiting Paris for weeks at a time and most of the people we do business with in these areas see few tourists and don't speak any English or more than a few phrases. It is easy to acquire enough French (or English) to get by; it is a real challenge to learn enough to have an intelligent conversation. One of our friends has been married to a French woman for 40 years and spends months at a time in their home in Paris and still has a fairly sketchy grasp of French. Mastery is difficult.

Posted by
2466 posts

The 13th and 14th arrondissements are chock-full of Anglophones. It's because of the Catacombes, the RoissyBus and the giant Marriott.
French, Arabs, Indians, Africans and others have all learned to speak more-or-less fluent English to them.

If I walk into a boulangerie, the first words are "Next, person, please".

It's hard to get a French word in edgewise...

It can take a couple of years to understand and participate in a conversation.
Concentrate on phrases, don't get hung up on word-to-word translations.

Posted by
6649 posts

If you make it through a whole trip to a non-English-speaking country without interacting with someone who does not speak English, you're not trying very hard, and definitely not off the beaten path. Its the most fun part of the trip.

Posted by
1000 posts

Last summer, we were in France for 15 days. We had many wonderful interactions with locals in both small and large cities, because my husband attempted the language. (I have no talent for languages, unfortunately. I smile and let him talk. This reverses in the US. LOL)
This summer, we spent a couple weeks in Germany, followed by 3 nights in France. We were surprised in Germany that there is no expectation that we speak German or consternation that we were unable to. We asked locals whom we met what the protocol is, should we greet in German, etc. Nope, they just don't care. It was English everywhere. We'd use the German greeting, and the waiter would say, very friendly, "I'll get you the English menu!" Even a very old man at the train station heard us speaking English, and struck up a convo. His daughter had married a GI, I think, and he had American grandchildren. He seemed so pleased to be able to speak English to us.
We drove across the border into Alsace and the switch flipped! Yes, even if you're thisclose, they're French and expect the French niceties. And we were happy to give them.

Posted by
12898 posts

"...in Germany there is no expectation that we speak German...." I don't get that feeling at all in eastern Germany, especially in the towns and sites where international tourists do not visit or are hardly ever seen at. In eastern Germany you are addressed in German and it is expected that you reply in kind, but, this sense is subjective, depending on the people you encounter.

Where I have been in eastern Germany, once or repeatedly, off the tourist radar certainly of anglophones, Magdaburg, Neustrelitz, Frankfurt an der Oder, Küstrin-Kietz, Neuruppin, Wustrau, Babelsberg, Meißen, Schwerin, don't always expect to find English to be available, which generates another question: Why should it be available?

Posted by
12898 posts

"...where sales assistants insist on greeting you in English, even when you speak French...." That reminds me of a scene in the late 1990s at the American Express on Rue Scribe. I was with this French woman friend and her sister, the sister did not speak English. The girl behind the counter knew I was American with these two French women. (Very slow that moment)

The sister goes to the counter, asks her something in French. To my surprise and certainly that of the sister, this girl replies in English. Wrong move! This sets off the sister and she starts to chew out the girl in French in a firm, still polite way, saying to her: I ask you a question in French as a French woman and you talk English to me!! Do you believe I don't understand my own language? Obviously, the sister saw the girl's reply in English, ie from a French to a French as an insult.

Posted by
2466 posts

That was in 1990 - this is 2017.
Things have changed greatly. Almost everyone speaks some English.

Posted by
2466 posts

Dylan - I only had 2 years of high school French and some French literature courses in college - that was a long time ago.

What you do, if you can, is leave the TV on all the time. Most TV's now have subtitles so you can check yourself.

You should also invest in the best dictionary you can. I use the "Petit Robert", which is in French. But you could also use a big Larousse English/French dictionary.
I also read every newspaper and magazine until I finally got the gist of things.

Your brain is hard-wired for languages until about the age of 7. After that, some people have an "ear" for it or they don't.

Culture is completely different from language. You have to learn how to "see" how other people do things, then do exactly what they do.

Check meal times, which are different from the US.

Be polite, don't handle the merchandise and that's basically all you need.

Posted by
1813 posts

Sounds like we're in for a great trip.

Prepare to fall in love. You've gotten some great viewpoints here.

I'm 67 and my girlfriend is taking me to London and Paris in three weeks. We've been to both together before, but that was in 1966!

In the last two years we've been to Italy, France (Strasbourg), Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. Unfortunately, I've witnessed the "Ugly American" syndrome first hand. There are those who think if they just yell English the "natives" will understand. Some dress like slobs, more like they are making a run to WalMart than visiting some of the greatest historical and religious sites in the world. Some tend to act like Europe is one big Disney World and everybody there are staff to entertain and serve them.

We've found demeanor crucial. As others have pointed out, even the smallest attempts to meet them halfway is returned with kindness (and often bemusement). Tact and courtesy are universally appreciated. Preparation is important. Learn as much as you can before you go. This will make your trip more enjoyable and folks tend to help those who have helped themselves. Be flexible and take a good sense of humor. We had a little self inflicted confusion taking a local bus from a small village to Florence. It all worked out and after a few moments of panic, we were able to see it as another grand adventure.

I'll report back on our trip. Relax and prepare to have a wonderful experience.

Posted by
12898 posts

That is imprecise. That scene at the American Express was in the late 1990s, either '97 or '99, the last two times I was in Paris in that decade. Nowadays, it is still a myth that everyone speaks some English. If so, then the next question is, does that person want to use it with you?

My last two trips in 2016 and this summer gave me examples that not everyone speaks English, if only a smattering, does that count? I certainly met Germans, Austrians, Serbs (Frankfurt) and Czechs (in Brno. Slavkov) who did not speak for sure, ie, at train station counters, the chateau. On the language issue, meeting the Czechs was more interesting I would say.

Posted by
21 posts

We are just back from spending 2 weeks in various parts of the country and I can honestly say the only rude person we encountered was a security person at Versailles who questioned my small-for-her-age teen daughter about getting in for free. He checked her passport, which she thankfully had with her, and then asked her to identify a person drawn in the passport! He replied that even though he was French, he knew who that person was! All other people we encountered in the 5 different areas of France, restaurants, taxis, trains, hotels, etc. were very welcoming.