In today’s edition of the French newspaper Le Parisien you’ll find a front-page headline “Dur d’être touriste à Paris!” (Tough to be a tourist in Paris!), with a two-page spread featuring differing opinions from both tourists and locals. This being Le Parisien (which many may consider as journalisticly sophisticated as USA Today), it seemed to base the entire article on anecdotal evidence and a few interviews.
The Chinese, a fast-growing population in Parisian tourism, seem to be the hardest hit, not just for rudeness but also being targeted by thieves because they tend to carry large sums of cash. I’m guessing that Parisians don’t treat everyone equally, though, because in my own experiences as a tour guide and emails from readers of the Secrets of Paris (predominantly North American and other native English speakers), the Parisians are surprisingly friendlier than most visitors expect. It could be that expectations are so low that this isn’t hard. But I do believe the right attitude and basic respect of local customs and etiquette go a long way in affecting how the Parisians treat you back.
The article cited a tourism study conducted on the level of satisfaction different nationalities have with their “welcome” in Paris, which on average seemed to be around 85%. That doesn’t really sound like crisis levels. It’s completely possible that at least 20% of all tourists simply don’t understand that they themselves are being rude and treated in kindly (which I wrote about on this site in an article about Basic Etiquette). I can’t help but cringe when I hear tourists justify their own rude or ignorant behavior by saying that they’re the client and they’re spending their money here, therefore it’s up to the Parisians to make all of the effort, not them.
France is the most visited country in the world, and in Paris alone, there were 29 million visitors in 2012, of which 18 million were not French, in a city with 2.5 million residents. That’s a lot for any city to absorb. But the Paris Tourism Office and the Mairie never stop trying to improve the level of service and hospitality for visitors. There have been many campaign (like the 2009 “Smile!” campaign) and even the Parisians themselves get fed up with the rude people and have started fighting back with their own “civility” campaigns for each other.
Rudeness is, sadly, a fact of life anywhere in the world. But don’t overlook the fact that there are also wonderfully kind people here in Paris, too. People who go out of their way to help visitors, even if they have nothing to gain and don’t work in the hospitality industry. We all have stories of horrific rudeness, but for once I’d like to ask you to share your stories of the kindness of Parisians encountered on your visits to Paris. I think it would do us all good to hear some of these positive stories instead of wringing our hands over the scare-mongering that news venues like Le Parisien use to sell papers.
To kick it off, I’d just like to shout out to the more tha 300 locals who volunteer their time to show visitors around the city for FREE. Yes, if you don’t want to pay a guide like me to show you the city, you can get a free tour with the Parisian Greeters. Knowing firsthand how hard it is to plan and execute a good tour, I’m impressed that they’re willing to do it simply for fun. Two thumbs up for these selfless Parisians.