How to Avoid the So-Called Rude French

Use These Tips To Avoid Snobby Treatment

Waiter in Nimes
••• Smoking waiter in Nimes. Getty Images/Stephen Fallon

Are the French Rude?

You hear it time and time again: "The French are so rude!" Before ever setting foot in France, you hear the horror stories of rude French waiters who turn their nose up at anybody and everybody, snooty Parisians who refuse to give directions, or just French people in general who hate Americans.

So when you go there for the first time, that is what you are expecting and preparing for it.

Most people can be nasty too, if pushed. But you will be pleasantly surprised. Not only are most French people you meet thoroughly civil, they were outright friendly, helpful and kind. And yes, they will go out of their way to help you! How could this be? Where were the so-called rude French?

But sometimes those stereotypes are comfortable, particularly when we’re used to them. We used to go every year on visits to a brasserie near the Ecole Militaire in Paris called Thoumieux It was in the 7th arrondissement and quite charming, all decked out as a Parisian brasserie should be. The waiters barked at you, handed you the menu without a smile and took your order in wooden silence. We got used to it and it became a game to get the waiter to relax. It was sometimes successful. Then Paris decided to run a charm campaign and trained the waiters to say Bonjour or Bonsoir with a smile, and listen to what you were saying.

We walked in and the waiters did just that. But it wasn’t the same. Perversely, we wanted our grumpy waiters.  We knew where we were with them. Well don’t worry; it takes all sorts and if you’re lucky you’ll get the grumpy ones. Persevere with whoever you get; Thoumieux is charming and great value.

How to Charm the French

There is no deep secret. Just follow common sense tips that you would anywhere in the world. Such as:

  • Always at least attempt to speak French. Simply saying, "Bonjour! Parlez-vous anglais?" (pronounced bon-jouha, pah-lay vooz ahn-glay) can work wonders. It means, "Hello. Do you speak English?" Many French who would feign ignorance suddenly speak fluent English if you just try. Also, try to imagine what you would think of a stranger walked up to you speaking French and expecting you to reply in that language.
  • Be sure to greet strangers with, "Bonjour" before launching into other requests. In France, it is considered rude to just walk up and start talking like we do in America.
  • Quieten down! The French are a very hushed people in public (though when animated or excited by something they can rev up the decibels). I never realized how obnoxious it can be to be loud until I was in France. My husband and I were eating dinner in a lovely cafe in Carcassonne when a group of American tourists barged in, loudly shouting at one another, running around the restaurant snapping pictures of patrons and generally being rude. One man bellowed, "I wonder if they serve grits here?" across the room. Their behaviour was made even more noticeable in France where the people are more low-key. I might note that the wait staff was still polite to these buffoons, despite their disrupting the dinner-time ambiance.
  • Learn about the cultural differences. Many times, the French react rudely because we do something that is considered extremely rude by their standards. Know French culture and customs before you go to avoid misunderstandings.

I've had French who pored over maps to guide me to my destination, who wrote down the dollar amounts when I struggled with spoken French numerals and who went above and beyond to help me. I've gotten help in English from many French people. Try getting information in a foreign language while visiting New York City. So don't go with a prejudiced idea; treat everybody as you would at home and you'll have a great vacation.

A Few Tips to Read Before You Travel

Top Myths about the French 

Smoking in France

Restaurant Etiquette and Tipping in France

How to order a coffee in a French Cafe

More Planning before you go to France

Plan a Budget French Vacation

Check out these Savings Tips when you're in France

Lodging Options in France

Edited by Mary Anne Evans