Rude? No, just being French.

I took my first RS tour some years ago. I was so pleased that I booked another RS tour within 48hr after getting back home. I've had the good fortune to travel with a RS guide named Patrick Vidal while traveling in France. Since I was the only single on the trip, and Patrick was also alone, we had some very nice conversations. I asked him about the idea that the French were rude. As in,"French waiters". He answered that the French weren't rude, they were just French. The wait staff in France are reluctant to "hover" over your table, for fear that you might feel rushed. Americans, who are used to having a waitress ask how the meal is every five minutes, call the French waiter aloof or rude. Also the French are reluctant to speak English poorly. If you enter a shop and make the attempt to say Bonjour in your best Pepe LaPew accent the shop owner will cringe at your pathetic language skills, and be more likely to accommodate you with their own pathetic accent. Communication is easier than you might think. Say "Je voudrais" (I would like) and point to the baguette. Lighten up and take a chance. Au revoir mon ami.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Michael I would say rather then rude, the french are more formal. They consider if VERY rude when tourists start conversations of ANY sort with a demand.. such as "I want a ticket" or "where is the bathroom". Any verbal interaction in France must be started by polite greetings. "Bonjour Madame" or "Bonjour Monsieur" before you ask for a pack of gum , the time of day, admission ticket, anything, ,, really. Since many tourists forget that, we seem to be the rude and demanding ones so the Gallic cold may be percieved,but its our fault not theirs.

Posted by Margaret
Nashville, TN, USA
451 posts

Michael, I love to tell the story about our first time in Paris (on our first Rick Steves' tour)..........I had practiced all the polite greetings, after taking a mini-French course. We were fresh off the plane, and I politely greeted the young lady with the airline after getting off the plane, speaking my best French.........she looked at me like I was an idiot and with a very strong New York accent said, "What do 'ya want?" I still laugh to this day when I think about that. Yep, Americans really can come across as rude. We actually had reverse culture shock when we returned to the US. Airline personnel, customs, security, etc at our first connecting US airport seemed so darn rude, and we were taken aback by the sloppy the attire and fitness of most of our fellow Americans. For several months after that trip, most restaurants in the US seemed so loud, especially the chains that play loud music. America has so many blessings, and it is wonderful to live here, but sometimes it is good to go away and realize how we come across to the rest of the world....and person by
person make what changes we can.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1337 posts

hi, what Patrick said is sooo true. My first trip outside the US was for work and i had the great chance to go to Calais where our factory was located. IAC, during the great seafood dinner the company Engineer took us to that night, i noticed that we were sitting in there for 3~4 hours w/o the waiter asking us for anything. I thought it was strange until i notice "thats the way it is". the French ENJOY eating/breaking bread and are in no rush to do so. I on the other hand on my trip last march wasnt into the 3 or 4 hour meals other than dinner since i had "things to do and places to see" so i needed to ask for my check. They always looked at me in surprise that i was in a rush to get out. fwiw, AMerican eating establishments do the "get you in and out as fast as possible" to make the $$$ or more $$$. i guess the French make enough $$$ with the place full. one other thing i noticed being a born in the barn american. dont drink from s bottle or cans at the dinner table! you WILL get stares! happy trails.

Posted by Michael
St. Louis Pk., Mn., U.S.A.
5 posts

I didn't mean to imply that the French were rude. Anything but. Just a bit more reserved than most boisterous Americans and Aussies. In my travels through France I have found that The French people are very cordial when you make even a limited attempt at a friendly "Bonjour".
Next trip, Amsterdam for the tulip festival. Among other things.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
1337 posts

@ Michael, i knew you didnt mean "rude". i was responding to what i noticed on my first time there. especially about the wait staff not bothering you every 5 or 10 minutes. since i was observing how they interacted with the other natives and we were treated no different even with our French co workers. Alot of people before my trip told me that the French would be rude, but so far ive never seen that or had that happen to me. again, the only people i saw that were rude were Americans and other foreign tourist. happy trails.

Posted by Jim
Bern, Switzerland
341 posts

"noticed that we were sitting in there for 3~4 hours w/o the waiter asking us for anything." But this is normal in Switzerland too. When we go out to a restaurant for a meal, especially if we have reserved, then we expect to be there until either we decide to leave or it's closing time. Sometimes if you are well known at the place and there are many guests, they might ask you if you'd mind moving to a smaller table or a lounge area for coffee (in such circumstances the desert or coffee are normally free), but there would never be any question of them trying to rush you out the door.

Posted by Lee
USA
85 posts

I enjoy speaking French when visiting France since there's rarely an opportunity to do that in the USA. I also agree that the French people seem to appreciate our attempt at speaking their language and practicing French politeness. But I'm not ashamed or embarrased to be an American with our own cultural norms that are different than Europeans but are still OK. I don't try to dress or act like the French because I'm not! I also don't try to be really quiet, not laugh or act super serious. When I'm on vacation it's time to relax and enjoy myself. My experience is that the French are curious about Americans and I've had many interesting conversations with them as they ask me about how we live. They can learn from us just as we can learn from them. Be yourself and not ashamed of your way of life and culture.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Lee I agree with 99% of what you say,, BUT I do wish you might rethink the not being loud thing. Just returned from a vacation in Hawaii, and exactly the same thing happens each time, Americans , especially those in family groups or with friends, can be so loud its annoying. Sitting by the pool they call out to each other across other people " hey bob grab me a beer too while you are there" or " Samantha have you got that sunscreen?" .. conversations we all have to hear. At restaurants they can get so loud that everyone has to raise their voices just to have a conversation at your own table. I just find them really loud sometimes, and yes, maybe its "holiday excitement" but really we all share the spaces and some of do not want to hear your conversations . As I said, I agree with 99% of what you say, no need to be ashamed of your nationality no matter what it is, and no need to dress differently etc. We are tourists so pretending to be locals is a bit silly, but just being a tad more aware that what may be culturally ok in your country is considered a bit much in others is just being nice, not changing who you are.

Posted by Karen
Cambridge, MA, USA
9 posts

Agree with Elle. What's wrong with people these days who expect that other cultures have to be the same as ours?!?! They aren't, and we should really try harder to adapt our ways...

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1965 posts

Oh poohy, no nationality has a monopoly on being quiet and genteel. I've seen plenty of loud French on vacation, boisterous Germans on vacation, wild Koreans after a few beers. Give me a break. I'm sure there's a lone Canadian somewhere who raises his voice now and then.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1965 posts

@Pat, If you go to the States, and Hawaii is the States, you need to adapt to the culture. START YELLING, sister. "There is a reason why the phrase "the ugly American" has been used repeatedly around the world." This comes from a book of the same title published during the Cold War in the 1950s and has more to do with how other countries view our foreign policy than with how one person from the States behaves on vacation in a foreign country. After forty years going back and forth to Europe, watching all the new peoples from all over the globe coming into Paris as The Wall came down and Asia rose up, I still say that as a people we are no better, nor are we worse than others. We just ain't so ugly and have better manners than one supposes, except around the pool in Hawaii. GEMME A BUD LITE, WOUDJA PAT. ;)

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7967 posts

The main character in the book was actually a quiet, good guy who worked well with and was well-respected and liked by the people he was helping, but he was far from handsome. 'Ugly' referred to the stupidity of actions by the US government, not to individual raucous behavior. The title was a double entendre based on the above. As far as I know, the novel was never translated. I've spent right at half of my adult life outside do the United States and have never heard the term used except by Americans with faux knowledge trying to use a seemingly impressive catch phrase. In the common room of the hostel last night there where three grand people from Mexico who'd had a few extra snorts and were getting a bit boisterous. The two gals were knock-outs so 'ugly' won't work . . . . . I'll come up with something later. The guy and one girl washed everybody's breakfast dishes, however . .. . . Maybe I'll just leave it alone.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Eh, I call bullcrap on this. "Ugly American" is most CERTAINLY a thing beyond U.S. borders. So is "stupid American", "fat American", "ignorant American" and the like. I have heard all of these said by my European friends before they turn to me and say "Not you, of course!" To which I reply, "Well, I am fat and loud, and I say it proud." It's a kind of teasing as well - don't worry, I'm more than happy to fire back with "snooty French" or "humourless German" when the occasion requires it. I mean, no, I'm not really proud of being loud, but yes, it's entirely possible in a city with a lot of tourists to sit at a cafe and play "spot the American". Volume of speech has a good deal to do with it, as do clothes (whoops...) One of the reasons I can tell when an American is in my vicinity (as opposed to say, a Brit) is not just because they're speaking English, but because they're speaking English loud enough for me to hear them in public. And hey, I do it too. Compare a subway train in New York or a BART in San Francisco to an U-Bahn anywhere in Germany or a Metro in Paris for the noise level. Or any mid-range restaurant in the U.S. to it's counterpart in Europe. Seriously. If you can't notice the difference, you're not paying attention. Not all stereotypes are true and not all apply to all people but on the whole, Americans are accustomed to having a louder voice in public than Europeans do, excepting football matches and weekend evenings with the roving gangs of drunk youngsters that implies. And I do think it's good manners to try to regulate that when you travel. Just becomes some Europeans are sometimes loud and obnoxious doesn't mean it's the norm, or it's OK to follow suit.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7967 posts

The words don't match the context and the intra-personal space intrusion doesn't match the culture. Something else was going on.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

Elle, I have no idea what that was about. My French is terrible, and at this point I've had so many "weird" encounters with Europeans versus my Americanness that they don't tend to register that much, particularly if I can't figure out exactly what's going on because of a language barrier, I tend to blow it off. The fact is, and I don't want to sound alarmist or stereotypical because I love Europe and Europeans, but anti-American sentiment IS a thing here. It's not a dangerous thing, but it exists, despite people claiming it doesn't. Probably not nearly as pronounced as it was in the early 2000s and the Bush years, but it's a thing. Most people are intelligent and recognize that the average American is not our government or our country's foreign policy, but the stereotype of Americans as backward, blustery, loud, obnoxious, etc is in play. Anyone who says it's not doesn't talk to enough people. And honestly, I've witnessed enough backward, blustery, loud, obnoxious Americans that I can't really fault the stereotype that much. (Talking about the military/government community here specifically, not tourists, which tend to be recognizable but I rarely see behaving badly). But I get the sense that for some Europeans who have never even encountered Americans they already have their minds made up about us, regardless. What's there to do but try to provide a counterpoint vis a vis our actions and demeanor?

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

Elle the lady was just crazy,, I am not sure why you need to read more into it.. I agree its unsettling to be confronted by crazy people but they walk around here( Canada) saying weird things to people so imagine you just had one of those encounters.. I agree with those who told you to just forget about it.. On a another note, something I have seen on forums for years.. the assumption by mostly Americans that any slight or bad treatment they recievce from a metro clerk, grumpy waiter , or cold shop clerk is because they are American.. This is the line I have read again and again... " I have heard they( or the French) don't like Americans, is that true?" My response is always the same,, " how did they know you were American" and " why assume it had anything to do with your nationality" ,, perhaps they were just tired, burnt out or grumpy people .. ? In other words Elle, how did the lady know you were American? You could have been a Brit, a Canadian, or from Australia or New Zealand.. we all look rather alike you know.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3505 posts

I recently read a book by an American ex-pat, married to a Frenchman and living there many years. She says that the French are often perceived as rude and/or unfriendly by Americans because they don't smile. The French reserve their smiles for family, friends, and flirting. They are much more formal with strangers than Americans are. Personally, I cringe when an American waitress calls me honey or touches my shoulder or arm.

Posted by Lee
USA
85 posts

When I said I don't try to be quiet and serious when on vacation, I didn't mean that I try to be loud and obnoxious. On the contrary, I'm polite and speak in French when in France. But I'm not going to act sour and glum just to try to keep others from knowing I'm from America. I've heard loud Frenchman, especially while on the subway. I've also seen many Europeans wearing casual clothing and white athletic shoes! One other thing - I bet Europeans like the money that tourists bring to spend in their countries. Many of their citizens make a living off tourist activities, so they'll have to also put up with tourists who come from different cultures and act in ways that are different from Western European ways. Guess it's a trade-off.

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
1965 posts

Looks like Elle's post with the little story has been deleted.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7967 posts

Odd. Some disappear, some get edited. One of the mysteries of life.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7820 posts

I don't think its nice to go to any country with the attitude "they like our money so they had better put up with us" There are millions of tourists that flood all around the world, and Americans and Canadians are not the only ones,, so I think if you count on them NEEDING you , you may get a nasty surprise.. the Brazilians, Chinese and Russian are over taking the American tourists fast( in fact combined they do , being 17% , compared to Americans 14%) and numbers are rising every year. The power of one single countries tourists is waning.. North American are just not as important as they used to be to Europe.
So we should all behave and be polite. I don't think that means one has to be dour or sour faced. I don't consider the French dour or sour faced and sorry if you do.