Are the French Rude?
You hear it time and time again: "The French are so rude!" Before I ever set foot in France, I heard the horror stories of rude French waiters who turn their nose up at you, snooty Parisians who refuse to give directions, or just French people in general who hate Americans.
When I went there the first time, I was braced for it. After all, I can be nasty too, if pushed. But I was pleasantly surprised.
Not only were most French people I encountered civil, they were outright friendly, helpful and kind. They even went out of their way to help me! How could this be? Where were the so-called rude French?
But sometimes we like those stereotypes, 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
I don’t have some deep secret. Really, I just followed a few common-sense tips. Such as:
- Always at least attempt to speak French. Simply saying, "Bonjour! Parlez-vous anglais?" (pronounced bon-jouh, 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.
- 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. 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.