Ah, France: the land of croissants, café au lait, and Chanel. It is a place of natural beauty, urban interest, historical significance, and well, apparently “French rudeness” to boot. You’d love to visit, but you’re worried about the impoliteness that you’ve heard referenced in TV shows and in the media. Why would you want to go to a place where the people are so standoffish?
Here’s the thing: the French aren’t rude: we are.
Now, give me a chance to explain my theory. After living in France for three months and being compelled on multiple occasions to travel back to the land of carbs and wine, I’ve found that many Americans are mistaken about the famous disagreeable French temperament.
The French are a people that value taking their time, and Americans are a people that value the notion of “time is money.” Neither way of life is inherently better than the other, but they sure are different. This ideological difference is why Americans hear of harmless interactions that become trip-ruiners for Americans visiting France, particularly in the commercial mecca of Paris.
Don’t make your judgment about the French too quickly, though. I’ll give you some context:
If someone came into your place of business and loudly demanded, in a foreign language, to use your restroom and WiFi password, would you be pleased or a bit put off by the interaction? I’d probably be annoyed by the rude customer who didn’t even bother saying “hello” before demanding my services. This situation is one that Parisians encounter every day.
In the United States, we are used to walking into a coffee shop, standing in line, and ordering our drink: “I’ll have a black coffee to go.” The cashier won’t think you’re rude when you waltz into the store without going out of your way to greet the employees, and you probably wouldn’t think to do so anyway. However, in France, it is considered rude to act like a time-pressed American, too busy to say even “Bonjour, Madame” when buying your morning jolt. Thus, the French will treat you as they believe you are treating them, ergo “French rudeness.”
Throughout my travels in France, I’ve learned a lot about French customs and culture. Thus, I’ve figured out a few ways to avoid negative interactions with the French. By being aware of my surroundings and the way that I’ve acted and spoken, I have had many wonderful, polite, and eye-opening interactions in France. Here are a few ways to avoid a run-in with “French rudeness.”
When entering a business or establishment, always say “bonjour.”
The French love a good greeting as it shows that the greeter is polite and friendly. If the shop owner or employee is a woman, say, “Bonjour, madame” in a welcoming tone. Likewise, for a man, offer, “Bonjour, monsieur.” Simply greeting the shop employees will garner you a pleasant experience, allowing you to avoid a negative reaction from the French workers. A little goes a long way.
When perusing in a shop, keep your vocal interactions demure.
This tip is small, but oh so essential to a positive French experience, particularly if you are an American visitor. When in a public, indoor place, keep your voice down. The French value respect and politeness, and keeping your voice down is a great way to avoid a nasty look and a scoff from a French shopkeeper. In addition, this tip is particularly pertinent to train rides in France. French public transport is often silent, and only hushed voices are generally to be heard.
Try using a tiny bit of French.
You are in a different country after all. The French love when they hear Americans attempting to use French. Your broken, often incorrect usages of French show them that you are accommodating and aware that you are visiting a country with a different language and culture than the United States. In my experience, the French often expect Americans to speak only English. They are pleasantly surprised when an American is culturally aware, and they show it with pleasant, polite interactions. After all, it is only courteous to learn at least a few phrases in the language of the country you are visiting.
The French are much more polite than many tourists give them credit for. If you want to visit France, I wholeheartedly recommend making the trip if not only for the magnificent museums and food, but also for the rich interactions you will have with the French people. Of course, every country has its bad eggs, but don’t make a negative judgment of a whole people based on one poor moment with an ill-mannered citizen.