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France as troublesome destination

No matter what Steve Smith Smith or Rick Steves say about optimstic exzectations in France, NOTHING can prepare you for the contradictory nature of travel services in France. Ask for clarification when making reservations or seeking information: Mysteries of Paris tour booked in April would not have occurred as owner left the country; despite prepayment to PayPal and confirmtion as the American guide went back to USA and his roommate filled in after help from O Sullivans bar staff. We had a ONE hour tour when 2.5 hrs. advertised. NOT recommeneded for value or professionalism. Hotel staff wil givce you post office directions and neglect to tell you of bank holiday closures (since you did not ask that directly). Be prepared for myriad delays , frustrations and misinfor,nation and allow more time. Many many disappointments on my 5th trip in 40 years. Take a tour rather than self-guided as we wasted many hours. Reccommend extreme patience and knowledge of French as I am nearly fluent and had difficulty with informtion given.

;

Posted by
8064 posts

Marshall, dude, you might want to go back and edit this a bit. It is not very understandable as it is now written.

Posted by
42 posts

Hi Marshall,
sorry to hear of your difficulties in France. I am in Paris right now on my third summer trip in a row and am enjoying myself immensely. The people I find are extremely friendly and helpful, especially wait staff and hotel desk people. I speak some French (although in my currently jet-lagged state, I keep forgetting it) but most people will go right into English for me and appreciate my feeble attempts to say hello and ask a question. I think it helps to do as Rick says and "be flexible" and also don't hold people up to your expectations of home. It's a different culture, different continent, etc. so of course it will be different from home.

Sorry to hear about your Mysteries of Paris tour, I am probably going to do the ghost walk when I return to Paris.

D-
EDIT: I agree with Jo, I wasn't really sure what you were saying at first I had to reread it a few times. I hope I didn't misunderstand your post.

Posted by
9363 posts

Your complaints would be a little clearer if you checked your punctuation and spelling! Complete sentences would help, too. It's a little hard to believe you are nearly fluent in French when you don't seem to be in English. Sounds like the roommate of the original guide tried to accommodate you, since the other guy was gone, so there's no reason to hold him responsible for what the other guy promised. As for the hotel staff not informing you of the bank holiday, they might have assumed that you knew about it (as you should have, had you done your homework before the trip).

Posted by
11450 posts

Well, I am sorry you couldn't manage better, I hardly think a tour is nessesary for most people though.. just perhaps those not willing, or able to do a little research..

You are lucky to be fluent in French, I am not,, but somehow I have managed just fine, as a mother alone with a child, and when I have visited solo.. as I will again this summer..

In travel there are often bumps along the way,, a good attitude is crucial in enjoying oneself when one encounters small inconveniences.. which is all you have complained about so far..

It is a shame about the tour,, but then ,, perhaps if you had done the tour on your own you would have done a better job,, and all it would have cost you is some research.. ( I do understand that not everyone has time to do that though) .
I tend not to prepay things ( except hotel) for various reasons.. I guess you have sighted one of them.

Posted by
11450 posts

Marshall, dying to know,, why did you need a post office,, please don't tell me it was to cash travellers checks! LOL

Posted by
7 posts

After 5 visits in over 40 years I, too, love visiting France. Also speak French nearly fluently. Great fod and suights and people, overall. But the culture of indifference is there along with helpful people. Americans need to be more politely assertive when asking for reservations, clarifying information, etc. Rick and Steve tend to sugar coat the situations. I will co,e back agan.

Posted by
7 posts

Used post office to mail home packages. Typos due to french keyboard errors on my part.

This wqs ny 12th trip to Europe. The hassles occurred every other day and really disappointed me as you can assume some hassles in any country. We had a train strike, etc. I will definitely come back.

Posted by
11450 posts

Big cities like Paris ,, ones that get alot of tourists,, I am sure you will run into people who are rushed, too busy to be helpful,, or just plain burnt out. I live in a small but very popular tourist city,, and I see it even here ..

Of course Rick and Steve present the positive,, they are trying to encourage travel,, but, I do feel Ricks open and easy going acceptance of differences make him easy to please too.

Posted by
258 posts

I've been to Paris twice and I have never run into a rude or unhelpful person at all. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience, but I think maybe you should look at your own communication skills. You seem to be having a lot of trouble communicating in English on this board, so perhaps you have the same problems when communicating in French? I speak very little French and I got along just fine.

I do hope others read the responses here so they are not put off by your original statement...

Posted by
42 posts

I have to say that EVERYBODY I have ever met in France has been more than helpful and extremely polite (more than I can say for back home really). I always try to speak in French, even if my French is limited and usually find this makes people more open to helping me. Plus once they figure out I speak English, they usually switch to fluent English (after apologizing for their "bad" English LOL) and then I can't get them to switch back to French even if I want to :) Plus, I've read in several places and experienced myself, that French people love to help out and solve a problem. Sometimes you just need to ask nicely and say that you have a "petite probleme" and quite often they'll do whatever it takes to help you solve it. (Of course I'm making generalizations but they are based on personal experience).

The one funny thing I find is that Parisians tend to be "by the book" and if something comes up that doesn't fit the rules or proper procedure sometimes they can be a bit bureaucratic--I once wanted to purchase a scarf at the Galleries Lafayette but the young woman wouldn't sell it to me because the price had fallen off and she didn't know how much to charge so she just shrugged her shoulders and said she couldn't sell it. That was my one and only case of a "surly" Parisian and it wasn't really that big of a deal.

Posted by
10906 posts

So ,let's see, you've been to PARIS five times and on this last trip you had a couple of bad experiences. So suddently, all of France is troublesome.

First, you booked a tour, with an American, in Paris. He skipped the country, but now all of France is terrible to tourists.

Second, a hotel staff person gave you directions to the post office and neglected to mention is was a bank holiday. So all of France is a troublesome destination.

You admit on your previous four trips that everything was fine and you plan to return.

Your next to last line intrigues me: "Take a tour rather than self-guided as we wasted many hours." Would I be correct in saying your previous trips to France, and to Europe in general, were with a tour group?

As a former tour director I can tell you, I've met many tour people who think all the special treatment they get by being on a tour is automatic. The myriad of delays, frustrations and misinformation you received on your own is shielded from you by the tour director.

Perhaps going to Tripadvisor.com and rating the hotel and tour company will help others avoid these in the future.

I've been to France a few times and while I expected rude behavior the first few times, I was surprised to find most people open and friendly. (As long as I approached them speaking a little French.) I did not, however, expect it to be like America because it is not America. It's France. And more specifically, Paris.

I doubt there are too many travelers on this board who have not had their share of mishaps, itinerary changes, or frustrations. It's part of the travel experience.

Posted by
1455 posts

Marshall

I am wondering if the rudeness came from how you approached the people in France??

I took my niece last year and she was very offensive to the people. She treated the wait staff like servants, and she wrote that the people were rude and obnoxious... but it was SHE was was an offensive "american brat".

I have been to Europe many many times, and have not encountered as many frustrations as you've posted.

I am not discounting your bad experience... but I am wondering if you are giving us both sides to the story.

Posted by
7 posts

Thanks for all of your replies and comments. Rather than respond to all, let me clarify all I wanted t say was that France can require more patience than elsewhere, period. I love travelling and the experiences, good and not so good. (Typos not withstanding...) I just think that it requires more time and a less rushed schedule than other Many first time solo travelers with less language skills need to consider that. I'm already planning the next visit and wil be back and the bad tour has been refunded.

Posted by
425 posts

Marshall -- I think you need to study the way things work here, and bear in mind that some of it is a mystery to us who live here as well! :-) Once you come to terms with the way things happen I think you will enjoy it better.

Roger Bruton

http://www.fermedecandeloup.fr

Posted by
2788 posts

Spent the month of May 2009 in France which included a 15 day RS tour of Paris and South of France. Spent a total of 10 days in Paris. Not my first time there. I had absolutely NO problems with any French people and I do not speak a word of French. I brought home nothing but great experiences and look forward to going back to Europe next summer.

Posted by
8064 posts

We don't speak any French, other then the few important words that anyone should learn before going to a new country, and we had zero problems. Paris required no extra patience, it is just a big city like any other big city. Even on Bastille Day night after the fireworks, when 1000's of people were waiting forever for a Metro that had space in it, even those who were squashed in with their faces up against the windows, were still smiling and laughing. No one was rude. It is all about the attitude anywhere you go.

I know people who no matter where they go, whether it is down the street to the store or Dr.s office or to a different country, they always seem to have rude, bad experiences. It is their attitude, pure and simple. It is like they give off an inner frown that can be read from 20 feet away.

Posted by
108 posts

Wow--such a different experience than ours in 2007--flew Air France, spent 3 weeks traveling all over the country. We had read and heard so much about the prickly French and their inflexibility, that we researched hard to be prepared for anything, learned a few key phrases in French, and didn't expect a whole lot of warm fuzziness, but we had an INCREDIBLY WONDERFUL time in Paris, did encounter some polite, friendly and helpful folks. With all the helpful and thorough information available to us (especially RS books and this helpline) we will never take a tour and love the adventure of learning about a culture by trying to live like a local.

That being said, "stuff" does happen, especially in this economy. It ain't Disneyland. We had a single snafu: we didn't like our room in Amboise; the hotel moved us to a room that was more to our liking; no delays, no attitude, no frustrations and no misinformation. We encountered helpful train clerks and taxi drivers, as well as store clerks who didn't want to go out of their way to be helpful.

Near where we stayed in the 7th, there was a bistro or cafe with tables on the sidewalk, a bakery, butcher, a chocolate shop and patisserie on just about every street, the Seine, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, people walking down the street chomping on a fresh loaf of bread; and some of the most beautiful art and architecture in the world.

My overriding impression of the French: They are SO civilized! (I didn't say civil.) Like Samantha Brown said, they're like coconuts; hard on the outside, soft & sweet on the inside, but boy, they sure know how to live.

We did not want to leave, and cannot wait to get back!

Posted by
255 posts

It's been several years since we were last in Paris, but I have to say that despite our lack of fluent French (we know the basic "polite" words), we only ran into one rude Frenchman and that episode was self-inflicted (got into a heated discussion with a waiter over the bill and we were the ones who were wrong). We just expect to go with the flow and allow more time to get things done. We don't expect it to be the USA and so we never are disappointed with comparisons. We do our homework before we go and to me, that is very key to having a successful trip. I think one misses out on so much by being lead about by the hand by a tour guide. We stayed 6 nights in Paris and did as Rick recommended....become a temporary local. We shopped in the stores around our hotel several times and stopped into the same restaurant so many times for breakfast that they started recognizing us and knowing what we were going to order.

Posted by
220 posts

In defense of the hotel employee who did not tell you it was a bank holiday, he probably forgot. Almost every Monday holiday I go to my mailbox expectantly, and then remember there is no delivery. If I am at work as usual, I simply forget it is a holiday. If a French tourist asked me for directions to the post office on Presidents' Day, I would give them without thinking and "neglect to tell him of holiday closures".

Posted by
63 posts

Marshall, if you were at a internet cafe when you posted, next time ask for an English keyboard-it might help your spelling.

Posted by
842 posts

We just got back from France and Paris last week. We only speak the basic basics, but we found ALL of the French to be absolutetly wonderful. A big smile, a "sil vous plait", and a "Merci" work wonders.

From the guy that pushed the Metro door open so that my wife and I were not separated, and the person that saw that my wife did not have the correct Metro ticket, and ushered her thru the turnstiles with him, to the person who left his shop and helped us find the correct street for the restaurant we were seeking, we found all Parisians to be warm and helpful.

When we were in the small French county town, were driving around after dinner, looking for an address and were stopped in a roadblock, the Gendarme looked at us, and the the high reading on the breathalyzer, smiled and waved us on our way, when he should have "cuffed" me.

But the best part was when we were in the small seaside town in Normandy, attempting to convey our request to a shopkkeper. An elderly French gentleman and his wife asked us what counry we were from. When I said "the United States" he thanked us for what our Country did for the French in WWII. Wow! How does that make you feel?

We always act as our own guides, and don't speak any EU languages. We make mistakes; drive the wrong way down one way streets, park in the wrong spot and have to pay fines, get stuck in train stikes, get sick, miss connections, find cockroaches in our almost empty wine glass, etc, but we always treasure the experiences and people we meet in Europe, especially the French.

Posted by
7 posts

Thank you all for you all for your responses, but please keep this in perspective: 1.) |I am NOT condemning France as a destination nor the French and plan to be back very son to explore new areas of cultiural delight and wonder; 2. Those of you hung up on perfect spelling and keyboard issues need to get over yourselves; 3.) All I wished to infer was that France requires perhaps MORE patience than other European destination and I was merely making a suggestion to do so and plan accordingly--NOT to avoid France. Travel is a fluid experience and one needs to expect the unexpected as part of the total travel experience. I certainly expect no less of myself. Thanks and happy travels.

Posted by
365 posts

The keyboards in Wales are the best I've encountered so far.

(stares vacantly at travel brochure)

Posted by
66 posts

You want to try living here - LOL!

One thing strikes very true - most French do NOT offer information other than directly answering what you ask. It's not because they trying to be difficult or unhelpful, it's just the way it is.

So if you are planning to go somewhere, it's worth asking whether the place will be open as well as how to get there! :D

Posted by
253 posts

Interesting, Marshall, but not all that serious, if you ask me.

First off, asking directions of French people is not such a good idea. They are helpful, but you really need to think as a local to interpret their meaning. Second, the French are not all that fond of the English. If they think you might be English, be prepared. Third, Parisians are so used to tourists, you run the gambit on how they will react to you. But as has been pointed out, they always seem to respond to politeness. It can be like night and day, in fact.

And finally, why on earth would you need a guide in Paris? Doing some research before going eliminates problems with holidays, the days museums are closed, the hours things are open. If you expect to figure things out on the run, well, gee, that would cause delays, miscommunication, running into closures, missing out because you are misinformed. None of these things happen to us and apparently many others who post here, but if they did, we have plenty of time left to resolve it because we can be flexible with our saved time elsewhere.