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.
Aisha,So sorry to hear you've been having a bad time in Paris. I'm guessing there must be some sort of cultural misunderstanding, because while it may be expected to run into one or two rude people when spending a week in a big city, it's not normal that EVERYONE is rude. You obviously are trying to be friendly, but without any actual examples of what you are doing and how the Parisians are reacting, it's hard to help out. Désolé!
Hey,I am currently in Paris staying for a week. Today is my seventh day here. I have experienced rudeness literally everywhere. I constantly greet them at the beginning of every conversation; smile, say please and thank you but they are still rude. Restaurants, hotel, stores, and streets when asking for directions. But I have been warned about their typical french rudeness so it is given. No wonder why Paris is being ranked as number one most unfriendliest place.Note: English is not my first language although I speak English fluently.
I visited Paris in 1999 so my experience may not matter much now, but out of all the places I visited in Europe, the Parisians were the most rude. While in Paris for only 1 day, I was either ignored or given rude answers or by the locals when I would ask questions or directions, like the time of day or can you tell me where such and such place is ? ..ect.. When I went to the Louvre , I could not get in because there was no warning ahead of time that backpacks were not allowed in because of some bomb threat years ago, and the guy just said to get lost and laughed at me at the entrance. That said, the most friendly hospitable place I ever visited in Europe was in Brittany France , just to the west of Paris. The torture I endured walking across rude Paris for a day was well worth the effort if only it meant getting to Brittany, for the Bretons are the stuff of legend ! I long to return again someday. Cody in America
Waiters in Paris FranceI first saw Paris in 1995. I stayed in Montmarte at Le Hôtel de Fleur de Bouquet de Montmartre (18th. arr., now sadly closed). In back of the hôtel, is Le Vrai Paris café, on the Rue des Abbesses. Every morning I ate a croissant and coffee there. And sometimes I would have an espresso in the afternoon. The same waiter was always there. He was the most distinguished waiter I have ever seen. With his small white mustache and full head of all white hair. His white apron, and punctilious manner, he was the very model of the Parisian waiter.I don't speak French. Not even enough to order quickly. So I would say to this waiter, in my best English accented French: "croissant et café, beurre et confiture". I came to realize that he had other customers to serve and my lack of proficiency in speaking his language did not give me a privilege to take more of his time than another customer. He would bring the food, serve it and leave. The fewer words he spoke to me, and everyone else in the cafe, the better. He was not rude, ever. But he was almost officious, and with everybody in the cafe! The French and the other nationalities had to endure his office. Then, one afternoon, the butchers from across the Rue came into the cafe. My waiter lit up like a Christmas tree! I still hear him say: "Monsieurs!" (with spoken emphasis on MON) and all the appropriate male-to-male endearments allowed in Parisian culture. They got the good service, the extra attention, the patience of Job, his care and concern. And as I reflected on this, I realized that those fellows were likely the sons of the butchers who had first patronized Le Vrai Paris when the waiter was new there, before his hair turned white. He had an almost intimate relationship with the boys. Probably meeting them when they were first taken to work with their fathers. So, it occurs to me that this waiter was short with almost all other customers. That, as those fellows he knew came in everyday and that the waiter saw their custom (and tips) as his bread and butter. Everyone else merely another customer.Repeat business. That's what makes all waiters glad to see their customers. But, in Paris, that can take some time.
When I was in Paris last summer with my husband, we decided to visit the Chanel boutique on Avenue Montaigne. This was the fine jewelry Chanel boutique rather than the clothing and handbag boutique. We walked in, I promplty greeted them with "bonjour" before realizing that this was the jewelry boutique. I explained to the lady that their jewelry was far beyond my price point but she insisted that I still look around and offered to show me any pieces. I was so surprised as this would never happen in America. As soon as you tell them you can't afford their store, they ignore you. This was not the case in Paris that day and both me and my husband appreciated that. I'm going back to Paris this fall and I can't wait.
I was taking my group of high school students to Charles De Gaulle airport for our return trip a few years ago. We were surprised to see that there were THREE stops for the airport, and we had no idea which one to take. I announced (in English) across the subway car we would take the first one. But just as we were about to do it, nearly everyone of the people in that subway car yelled "Nooooo" and a man next to me explained "next one". We had no idea they were involved in our problem, and saved us invaluable time!
Wishing to substantiate your belief and mine as well, that Parisians are not generally rude, I wish to submit this little story. My husband and I recently returned from a 3 week trip to France and the Netherlands, ending the visit with 6 days in Paris and it's suburbs. One particular day it was very warm and we had walked a great deal that day and not consumed enough water and I was feeling extremely exhausted. We were just a couple of blocks from where we were to meet our host and had no phone, but I could not go a step further. Trying to revive myself, I was leaning against a building resting and a woman walked by. Apparently sensing my situation, she turned around and came back asking me "ca vas, madame?" To which I replied, "non, pas mal". I then asked if she could speak English and she replied affirmatively. She cordially agreed to call my friend using her cell phone and after speaking to him briefly, she handed the phone to me. After telling him where we were and determining that we would wait for him there, I handed the phone back to her where they again discoursed in French. I thanked her profusely in both English and French and she wanted to stay and wait, but I assured her that I would be okay. I cannot really imagine that thoughtfulness occurring in the USA.
I just got back from 11 days in Paris. The majority of people were very friendly. The rudest person I encountered was an American at the airport yelling, "Why don't they make announcements in American?!" Dude. "American" is not a language and you are in France.I enjoyed trying to speak French, and even got some compliments.We had 3 people offer us help. One was a man in Montmartre who asked us if we needed directions to Sacre Coeur. Which he gave, in Spanish, which my Californian husband can speak.The second was at a street market next to Pere Lachaise. I stopped a thief who lifted a jewelry case lid and palmed a ring. I couldn't believe it when he put it back just because I told him to! The owner was so scatter brained, she didn't even notice. I tried to tell her to lock her cases but she wouldn't even try to listen to my words (except combien coute, she listened to that). A nice man stepped in, asked if I spoke English, and he translated. Very nice fellow. (She never did lock her cases.)Then when I was buying a silver pin from her, she didn't know how to use her own credit card machine. Another man stepped in, said he worked in a hotel, fixed the paper in her machine and showed her how to use it. So nice.
Heather, thank you for this story. I have always found that the people who say, "those Parisians are so rude" have never been to Paris. Besides, whenever someone says that to me, my immediate response is, "Been to New York lately?" I have been going to Paris off and on for nearly 30 years, and NOT ONCE have I ever been rudely treated. Correctly and without much warmth a few times, but never rudely. As the other commenters have said, a cheery bonjour or bonsoir, along with sil vous plait and merci will do wonders.Once, several years ago, I was returning to Paris one Saturday after spending the day in Normandy where I visited the grave of my father who is buried at the Normandy American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. It was very late in the afternoon, and the Metro was unusually crowded (which should have been a tip off). Anyway, some pickpockets got me but good (several hundred francs). I have to take some of the blame because I was tired and my defenses were down (plus the fact that the thieves were damned good). The following day, after getting some more cash, I was lunching at a favorite Left Bank bistro. The hostess, whom I had gotten to know, recognized that I was not my usual cheery, goofy self. When I told her what happened, she was horrified. Some young Parisian friends of hers were also having lunch there, and when the told them about it, they were outraged. One young man, not old enough to remember Vietnam, much less World War II, almost had me in tears. "To have this happen to anyone visiting Paris is bad enough," he said, "but to have it happen to you after visiting the grave of your father who died for our freedom is monstrous." They then paid for my lunch, which I protested, and then paid for several rounds of coffee and Armagnac (which, if memory serves, I did not protest). And people wonder why Paris is my favorite city in all the world.
Hi, Hi I have been visiting Paris and France for many years. I lived in Paris for 18 months at one point. No matter where I was, I found the french to be helpful most of the time.. A few examples:I was having trouble w/ my tv and went to the shop near the Bastile, my french is not very good, but their was a another french person in the shop, who explained my situation, and everything was resolved. I have had so many people help me whenever I had a problem , not only in Paris , but all through France. It's important for people to remember that a smile and a bonjour and a merci are critical. Thanks, Milt Gersh
I have only been to Paris twice but wish it was twice a year, at least! I have never, ever been treated rudely there…all anyone has to do is a little homework on social mores before a trip and then respectfully keep one's voice down, don't feel the need to handle every item in a store before making a purchase, always greet and thank people, etc. I always have an apologetic smile on my face about my middling French but I always feel that people appreciate that I'm at least trying. My ONLY complaint is that many times when I ask someone for directions they give me incorrect ones…a Parisian friend finally explained to me that they want to be helpful but cannot bring themselves to tell you when they actually don't know where something is, so they just sort of fake it…I often feel embarassed by loud, obnoxious, ignorant Americans and don't mind seeing them get what's coming to them or the cold shoulder.
Yes! You need to know the rules of etiquette to have a good experience in Paris. I have had some very rude taxi drivers, but I always chat to them and tell them much I prefer Paris to London etc etc and before long they usually relax and apologise for being stressed and chat away! I find it helps if you can moan about something with them, like the weather or the traffic etc. I also find people help me with my pushchair whenever I go on the metro, and they are very courteous and helpful when you're pregnant too.
My first visit to Paris was in 2011. I went with one goal in mind, to experience Paris. I wanted to see for myself this great city. I wanted to eat the food, see the sights, and most of all meet some Parisians. When I returned to the US the first thing I told everyone was how polite and kind everyone in Paris was to me. It became a joke to us to seek out and find that Rude Waiter everyone had warned us about, we never did. All we found were polite and friendly people, with good manners, well groomed, and charmed by our efforts to speak french. The Parisians seemed as interested in practicing their english as we were to try our french and the result was lovely. We helped them with english and they helped us with french. We did prepare ourselves by learning the golden key to the city……."when you walk into a shop or restaurant have the good manners to say Bon Jour or Bon Soir". Following this advise given to me years ago by Julia Child, it seemed the whole city opened up to us. Bon Jour can turn a frown to a smile in a second and I found the people of Paris to be wonderful.I returned to Paris in 2012, and cannot wait for another visit. The city is clean and beautiful and safe, but it is the welcome of the local people in the neighborhood that still warms my heart today.I hope everyone will go to Paris, but please, remember to say "Bon Jour"!
It's unfortunate that tourists go to Paris fearing rudeness, because that inclines them to see it. I've been to Paris about six times, and no one has ever been rude to me! A couple of times young men have made what they surely thought was a humorous comment that was instead just dumb. A tourist who expected to encounter rude people might take it as rudeness, but it was just the silliness of young males. More than once a Parisian has come up to offer help when I was studying a map on the street and salespeople have always been courteous. Now, if you asked about the rudeness of New Yorkers, I could tell a different story.
Let's see, two stories, both from our 2nd trip to Paris, in May 2009.We're from the US.I wanted to get a new SIM for my phone so I could make reasonably priced calls.I went into the phone store, and trying to be polite, I asked the saleswoman if she spoke English.She responded that she was sorry, Tuesday was the day she didn't speak English.I could have taken offense, but I knew she was joking, so I told her that was too bad, as today was the only day I couldn't speak French.We laughed and took care of our business.The second story involved eating at we decided, based on all the families, and not many tourists, was a local hangout. Lucky us!When we were about done eating, I asked for the check, and it turns out it was the owner I asked. He made some smart-ass comment about it being ready the next day or something, and chuckled at his friend who was sitting at the bar.Again, I took the humorous approach, and said something about not being able to pay until some future date. He like that, he and his friends cracked up, and he gave us a free dessert! Also, my wife was using a cane at the time, and so we used the bus instead of the subway, less walking. People were almost falling over to give her a seat, no matter how crowded the bus was. Sad to say, not typical behavior in our country.Basically, we've had a great time each visit and can't wait to return.
Let me jump in and add that I've been to Paris 9 times and I can count on one hand the times a Parisian has been rude to me. On the contrary, I follow the rules and "Bonjour and Merci the hell out of them", and I do it with a smile ( I'm from Alabama, I can't break the habit at this late date) and I find them to be friendly, smiling and helpful in return. I think Americans prance over there and expect that "They all can speak English, but they won't", and absurd assumption and are loud and pushy. Thanks for this great article, I'm sharing. ALso glad to find your blog.V
I have visited France twice, for three weeks each visit and while I agree that people in Paris do remain somewhat aloof in the city, I have found the same to be true in most big city's. But when traveling outside the city I found the people of France to be friendly, helpful and lovely. I have lots of great memories but the one that stands out most is the time my friend and I were wandering through I believe it was the Burgundy area when I got out of our vehicle to take some pictures and my friend got the car stuck in a ditch while attempting to turn it around. There we stood, sun beginning to set, in the middle of nothing by grape vines for as far as the eye can see and out vehicle is so incredibly stuck we have no idea how it's ever going to get out. Not five minutes later a nice young lady in some kind of uniform (maybe military?) and pulls over to see if she can help. Unfortunately she speaks no english and my French was coming straight from my phrases book. She offered her phone but then we laughed when we both realized that wasn't going to do me much good either. So she ran to talk to a farmer who was out working in his field and he comes over with his tractor just as another vehicle with two men obviously coming home from work stop and offer their help. They pulled a chain from their work vehicle and wham, bam have us pulled out quicker than it went in. All this time the young lady and I are having a silly conversation about men and their tools (with the help of Rick Steves book), laughing our heads off. Twenty minutes later we are back on the road having had a memorable experience with warm, wonderful people we will never see again but who left us with the feeling we had been dealing with the real people of France. It has been my experience in traveling that if you remember that it is you who are the interloper in someone else's country and be cognizant of their way of life, not expecting them to live like you or speak your language people will treat you better. Our entire trip on both occasions was by the seat of our pants. No reservations. With the information and suggestions from the wonderful people we met we had a great time, and hope to one day do it again!
I read your article with great interest. My wife and I visited Paris last October for the first time. Before our trip we did brush up on some basic french from our school days many, many years ago, which we used to great success. We also did our research on Paris and Parisians. We found the Parisians not to be rude at all; instead we found them very helpful and polite. When our pronunciation was corrected we answered Merci, and smiled. When we were lost, or could not figure out how to use the pass through gates on the metro, perfect strangers, one who spoke no English at all, volunteered help. The waiters were also very helpful and polite, and this enhanced our dining experiences. For rudeness I would have to say that the Chinese and some Americans are at the top of the list in Paris. The Chinese for their pushing and shoving in the museums, and the Americans for expecting everyone to speak English, (or American as I heard one fellow ask), and not understanding that the Euro, and not the U.S. Dollar, was the accepted currency.We will return, and try to be as polite and helpful as the Parisians who helped us.