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An American in Paris

Just having spent six days in Paris I was shocked at the attitude of the french towards English speaking people. I say English speaking because two Aussie couples shared my experiences.Once people saw that I did not speak the language they were rude. Paris is a beautiful city, with great cultural sites but the negativity will keep me from returning

Posted by
2000 posts

I think Paris is great, and have not experienced any rudeness, using my limited French in several trips --but I make an effort to fit in. You have to do some homework about this city and its people before going there. Learning a few basic rules of their etiquette is necessary. The French don't behave exactly like we do in the USA, but that's one reason we all love to go there right -- to experience this unique culture?

Posted by
5 posts

In all fairness I did meet one or two people who were helpful such as the young woman who walked me to my hotel. I did mtry to speak very bqsic French, please, thank you etc. I didnot project any type of negative attitude, I was thrilled to be in Paris. Again I was disappointed with the attitude. On this same journey I was in Barcelona and found the people to be warm and outgoing. Looking forward to more responses

Posted by
191 posts

I ran into a bit of that when I was in Paris in September, which was disappointing because I mostly spoke French (and am reasonably fluent). A couple of times, my husband (who does not speak French) would go to a ticket desk or security guard and say 'Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais' and he got an abrubt 'Non' in return, very much in an '(North) Americans are ignorant' kind of way. But it wasn't the norm and we certainly won't let it deter us from returning.

Posted by
875 posts

Phyllis, did you at least attempt to speak a little French? Merci, s'il vous plait, bonjour, etc.? I tried to speak what little French I have every chance I got, and I generally got positive responses from the Parisians. More often than not, they could tell I'm American and they would switch to English ... and not in an eye-rolling, sighing, "Oh, these ignorant Americans" sort of way either. In fact, I stopped a lady at a train station to ask her (again, in French so broken it should be consigned to the scrap heap) where the ticket office was. She was clearly on her way to catch a train, but she very kindly spent several minutes with me attempting to communicate -- she switched to English when she saw my deer-in-the-headlights look -- and I didn't get any sort of negative vibe off of her at all. Certainly some Parisians will be annoyed by monoglots, but for the most part I think they are as happy to practice their English (however limited it might be) as we are to practice our French.

Posted by
521 posts

I would be careful on how quick you are to judge. To be the devil's advocate here - what did you define as rude? Did you get nasty comments? My experience there is that if you are looking for overtly friendly and outgoing...probably not going to find it there. From what I read with RS, they find that to be disingenuine. That doesn't make them 'mean' just not overt and outgoing. I did in fact run into a handful of extremely helpful people - people who saw I was lost and offered their help. Sales people who took me under their wing and showed me around. The second thing I would ask is if you contributed to their negative attitude? Were you demanding? Where you loud and impatient. Things run slower there and you have to be willing to go with that flow. For instance, I ordered a soda and waited quite a while for it, thinking he forgot. He didn't. I just needed to take 4 steps back from my American fast paced standards. I can't wait to go back because it was different and it was something I had to step back and analyze my own expectations. However, having said all that - if you really don't see yourself returning..check out Germany. Oh my god are they friendly and outgoing.

Posted by
2349 posts

I agree with Amy. If you visited a large city where you did speak the language-Chicago, London, NYC, you'd have a wide variety of encounters with locals. Some pleasant, some not so much. As a Midwesterner, I had to tone down my natural smiley self in Paris. I didn't want them to think I was a smiling lunatic. Easterners can be a bit assertive and fast, so you might need to tone that down some in Paris. We had just a few negative encounters, but most were friendly and helpful. Sometimes you just have bad luck.

Posted by
689 posts

In all my trips to Paris I've never had a negative encounter like that. I have, however, seen so many Americans act quite rudely toward the French, by ignoring the very basic etiquette rules their guidebook instructs them on--always saying "bonjour madame/monsieur" when entering a shop, asking "parlez-vous anglais" instead of asking in english, expecting a waiter with limited english skills to translate the menu for them (with a smile!). So I am absolutely convinced anyone who posts as Phyllis did is the true culprit.

Posted by
515 posts

Nothing could keep me from returning to Paris. Nothing, except lack of funds. And I'm diligently working on that.

Posted by
875 posts

I certainly cannot speak French, but I always approached people with my politest French greeting and attempted to say the French word/phrase addressing whatever I wanted/needed, etc. Invariably, the person would take pity on me and speak to me in English. Once I was in a hurry and asked a question in English, and the person just looked at me blankly like I was invisible. My husband apoligized for me in French and asked the question in French, and the lady quickly responded to his question.
If someone came to your home town and began speaking to you in French, how would you respond?
We found that extreme good manners and the attempt to speak a little French made all the difference in the French person's response to us.

Posted by
180 posts

wow, when I was in Paris this Spring, I didn't get that impression at all. Nothing but nice friendly people and I couldn't speak French at all. I was even surprised how the menus had English on them too.

Posted by
14899 posts

In my 3 trips to Paris over the years, 9-14 days each, I can only remember a couple of times that the "natives" were rude: a couple snooty waiters at cafes on the Champs Elysees (but that is their style) and some of the employees at the Louvre (who were consistently rude to the English-, German- and French-speakers). When I passed folks in the side streets, if I said "bon jour" with a smile, I always got the same in response.

Posted by
837 posts

We were in France in fall 2006. We found the people very friendly and helpful. I tried a few phrases and people were, of course, aware that French was not my language. I was not sure that they appreciated the lame effort or felt that a few phrases were so easy as to exhibit no effort and that if I couldn't do a bit better, why bother. We were fortunate enough to be identified as Aussie, Canadian, or Brit, rather than American. They really HATE our leadership. The same in England. I can't say much about the Italians. Contrary to their reputation, we found them insufficiently friendly to converse (aside from employees of hotels and restaurants).

Posted by
495 posts

I don't think trying to speak the local language is really doing a favour to Europeans but rather doing yourself a favour. After all; if you're asking directions, ordering lunch or whatever, surely it's in your best interest to do whatever you can to be understood? You may feel you gain something by pointedly speaking English at someone but it's not really going to help you get directions to the Louvre.

Posted by
283 posts

We returned on 10/18. I found the Parisians helpful and kind--even when very busy. I always follow the rules: say Bon jour madame when I walk in, figure out the lines, etc. I try to speak in French, but am really bad at it. I found they would even provide the correct pronounciation if I said it wrong, which was helpful.

The French are very particular about manners and rules, so if you did not follow them, they probably thought you were rude. Also, if you will not take the time to at least try a little French, the most important language in the world to them, they are offended. They think Americans just assume everyone speaks English, and their English is probably as bad as my French. When I botch it, they are less embarassed to try some English.

Give them another cahnce, as Paris is a wonderful place.

Posted by
19 posts

I returned to the states 3 days ago after spending 11 days in Paris. I do not speak French beyond hello, thank you and please and did not encounter a single rude Parisian.

Posted by
11243 posts

What a lot of people forget is that French used to be the international language of diplomacy, EVeryone's passport had their own language and a French translation.

Slowly, thanks to the BBC World Service, which offered English language instruction, and later the internet, English became the world's second language. And the French aren't very happy about it.

While many in France are learning English and speak it when they leave their country, they prefer people respect their culture and language and at least attempt to speak it when in France.

I can understand that. I've lived in areas of the U.S. where a different language had become commonplace and those using it were rude to me because I wanted to speak English. A times, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.

I think it's great that we have people from all over the world making up our nation. I'm the grandchild of immigrants. But those coming should also have respect for our culture and the language the majority of us use. We kept our culture in our community and home, and assimilated into the rest of the country.

Posted by
11450 posts

Phyllis,your reply had an important clue in it when you cited the peoples different behaviour in Spain.. Perhaps you are the type of person who prefers the more open overly friendly style of certain countries, ie, Italy, Spain, Portugual , and yes, America. You are all very open and friendly even to strangers. In some countries there is a difference in being polite, and being too friendly . I for instance do not like my waiter fawning over me. Take my order, bring me my stuff and bring me my bill, and I am happy.

I like in France they do not pester you.

You didn't site anyones actual rudeness in your post, in fact , you pointed out that on at least two occaisons people were VERY helpful to you.. BUT that still wasn't good enough for you. Why not??

Next time I go to the States, I will ask for directions to my hotel from someone on the street, and I will see how many locals will walk me to my hotel. Do you help tourists like that at home??

Six days is a pretty short visit , hard to make judgments on that, but thats ok you won't be returning,, that just means you are one less person in front of me in a line !!!

Posted by
11450 posts

Actually Harry , I do think it makes them a bit lazy and may show a bit of arrogance( "oh they should know MY language because I am coming")

I took a night class to learn a few words in Italian( I already speak abit of French) when I knew I was going to Italy for a week this year. I did not particularily enjoy it, and I have no plans to go out of my way to return to Italy particularily , but I firmly believe it is only decent and polite to learn to speak a few words/phrases when you are planning on travelling to any country that english is not a first language.

So, I disagree with you on that.

Posted by
12040 posts

Making an attempt at the local language is all well and good. But from observations I've made over the years, I don't think this is the main issue. More irksome to Europeans (particularly in the North) is the VOLUME of our speech. If you observe the French (or Belgians, or Germans, or Polish, etc) in a cafe, or restaurant, you will note how most people speak in rather hushed tones to each other... and if there's any Americans in the restaurant, you will hear them! This is considered extremely rude.

Posted by
1717 posts

Hello Phyllis. You said you decided to not go to Paris again. If you do not want to go to France again, and if you want to go to a country in which the people are friendly and cordially helpful to people from the U.S.A., I recommend going to NORWAY.

Posted by
11450 posts

tom, I agree with you on that, but what is sad is sometimes I find that some posters react very strongly to being told that although their behaviour is perfectly normal and acceptable in THEIR country, it may be considered rude in another.
They go to another country to experience a new culture, eat different foods, see fascinating sites etc.. but then , when they discover that there are many things that are different , customs and manners, they often react very negatively. I am not saying this is anything that Phyllis said,, because I have yet to learn what she actually had to put up with, since she hasn't really elaborated, but has just passed judgement on an ENTIRE nation , after a six day visit, and discounted the true kindness at least two French persons offered her.

Posted by
14899 posts

I am upset with the very judgmental tone of some of the posts here and of the negative generalizations based on a very few isolated incidents.

Please, let us be respectful of other contributors here, of other people we encounter on our travels and of the cultures and norms of the societies we visit.

Posted by
11243 posts

As someone who has worked in the travel industry in the U.S. and dealt with people from other countries visiting the U.S., I can honestly tell you that the French are not alone in their rudeness and disrespect. This comes from people from all corners of the globe. I have had to deal with disrespectful and rude Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, French, Swiss, Aussies, British, Saudis, Germans, and more. And, yes, rude and disrespectful Americans in their own country.

You see, people are people. They bring their customs with them. And some don't like, respect, or care for the customs of other countries so they either ignore them or let you know they think it is stupid.

I won't go into detail because it would take up too much time. I have learned in my dealings with tourists as well as my own travels, to take people as people and not judge an entire country by the actions of a few.

Posted by
11243 posts

You know Harry, if you rewrote your last post...and replaced French/France with Americans/United States, I think you'd get a lot of nods in agreement from many areas of the world. No one exports their culture more than we do. No one tries to force their way of life on anyone more than we do.

I'm not saying its wrong or right, I'm saying put in in perspective.

I think the French, in general, get a bad wrap. Most people see that "attitude" with Parisians. Yet, should they travel to other areas of France, they see different people. I have a friend who was born and raised in SW France. He lived in Paris for a couple of years and now lives in the US. And he thinks Parisians are rude.

Sure, I've met rude French people. But I've also met rude Americans, British, Swiss, German, Chinese, Japanese, and so on. I don't judge an entire country by the actions of a few or the actions of a government.

I never felt as if I had to learn French to get around France, it just made it easier. And I can guarantee you something; Anyone coming to the U.S. to visit had better learn some English to get around because Americans, in general, don't speak a second language.

And the bottom line is this...if you don't like a people or their culture, don't go there.

Posted by
154 posts

Every single country has rude people... every single country has nice people. Please stop with the generalizations.

I was in Paris this past summer. It was wonderful. The people were great and the weather was beautiful.

If you don't want to go back to Paris then please don't... then maybe I'll get an empty seat on the plane beside me... so then I can stretch out when I fly over next summer!

Posted by
149 posts

I've spent more than 120 days in France in my life, and I found the French to be among the most gracious people anywhere. But the French really enjoy good manners, so upon entering a store, bus, museum, hotel, restaurant, post office, etc. you must say "good morning" or "good evening" and "good bye" with out fail. One conversation at the toll booth on the motorway went as follows: "Good day, sir", "Good day to you too, sir", "How are you this beautiful day?", "I'm fine, thank you, and you?", "I'm fine, thanks, and here is my money for the highway toll", "Thank you and good bye", "Good bye to you". And this conversation occured with 15 cars behind me waiting to pay. The old joke is: "Sir, your house (or car or hotel or clothing) is on fire!" Response: "What, you can't say good morning?". I can't begin to count the number of times the good people of France have gone out of their way to be kind me. I have traveled extensively, but France remains a country I always look forward to returning too.

Posted by
104 posts

I experienced a wide variety of friendliness this summer in Europe – just as I experienced a wide variety of languages, food, history, scenery, art, etc. Isn’t that why we travel – to experience difference? To see and eat and hear things that change our conception of the world? Most importantly, we travel to understand and revel in the fact that even though we all come from different backgrounds and cultures and histories, we are all still human beings. To stereotype an entire city of people as rude and unfriendly is to welcome stereotypes of you and your own hometown. Difference is not a negative thing – it is just one of the many facets of being human. Enjoy it, don’t critique it.

Posted by
35 posts

I went to Paris fully expecting to be treated badly and that was NOT my experience at all. Quite the opposite in fact. I found people went out of their way to be nice. I stopped people on the street and asked for directions and not only did they give me great directions but also great tips on sites and dining as well. The only person who was rude to me was a man from Queens who had been living in Paris for 10 years. His French friend made him apologize to me. I told him growing up in NY I wasn't surprised by his behavior and explained to him that the French are far more polite than he was. I think for the moat part if youare kind and considerate to people they will be in return.

Posted by
31471 posts

phyllis, sorry to hear that you and the other couples had a "negative cultural experience" in Paris.

I tried to use what I could remember of my "high school French" when in France, but was anticipating that kind of treatment also. However, I found the Parisians to be polite and gracious hosts and I never had any problems.

During my travels in several countries in Europe, I've found that it's a good idea to develop a bit of a "thick skin", as people from any country can be rude.

You might want to try Paris again, as your next visit might be more pleasant.

Happy travels!

Posted by
11450 posts

Posters like phyllis never come back, just as they are as they are tourists. Make snap judgements or comments but are not open to discussion or differences.

Posted by
1854 posts

We spent one week in Paris this May and found the people to be 100% friendly and kind. Ditto for the next week in the Loire area. Trying to speak some (fill in the blank) of the local language helps; people typically smiled at us and answered or tried to answer in English. I spend a lot of money to travel. I expect to meet friendly people and to have a good time. And you know what? I do!

Posted by
711 posts

Having just returned from 6 weeks in France I must disagree with you ...we have never been treated with disrespect anywhere in France. However I must say that I think that too many Americans think of France as only Paris, or many of the big Cities. If you only take the train to larger places and never see the beautiful countryside and meet the lovely French people of the small villages, you will not get the whole picture. We were in Burgundy, Provence, and the Var and drove over some of the most wonderful backroads I have ever seen. We were invited to a Vendage, the last day of grape picking and spent the whole day drinking, singing. and eating with some of the most wonderful people I have ever met.We went to the small weekday markets all over France and everyone was most cordial.We used the laundrymats with the French and had wonderful conversations about food, wine , and politics. We only speak the basic phrases in French, but were embraced as friends as we tried to learn about their culture.

Posted by
5 posts

I am amazed and thanful for all of the people who have responded. Mostly your experiences were positive. I don't believe that I had a negative or superior attitude to the Frrnch I remain open minded to returning to France but not to Paris. Just for the record I did try to speak what little French I could.m I did not find any of the negativity in Barcelona, which I found to be a wonderful city with not nearly as much to do or seem asm Paris