Polite Paris


*Published April 1, 2015

Ahh Paris… Just the mention of its name brings up images of sophisticated people in sidewalk cafés surrounded by elegance.  It’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world and one of the most visited tourist destinations.

The Parisians, however, have a long-held reputation for being rude. Personally, I don’t find them to be any more or less rude than any other city dwellers, and feel that their bad reputation is often caused by cultural misunderstandings.

Nevertheless, the stereotype persists, and with 30 million tourists per year, Paris is trying to improve its friendliness rating. In recent years, the Tourism Department has sent manuals to those who work in establishments frequented by tourists to help them be more sensitive to the cultural differences that give Paris, and the Parisians, a bad rap. So if you are planning a trip to Paris this summer you might notice some significant changes.

French waiter Polite Paris

Those who work in the tourist trade have been given training to help them identify different nationalities (mostly by observing clothing styles) and then to react accordingly.

For example, when Americans enter a restaurant, they must be allowed to choose their own seats. They should be given a menu in their native tongue, and they should receive the speedy service to which they are accustomed. In addition, the waiters are required to smile and to give the customer whatever they ask for.

They’re no longer allowed to say “No, you can’t have that wine with that meal – it just doesn’t go”. The waiters have been instructed to simply smile and tolerate their client’s bad taste. Then as soon as the last bite is swallowed, they are to present the bill. There are, of course, similar instructions according to the preferences of fourteen other nationalities.

Shop-keepers are to greet tourists with a warm smile and a friendly greeting in whatever language the tourists speak. If they happen to be in the middle of a conversation with one of their colleagues when a customer approaches to ask a question, they are to put their conversation on hold and respond to the client – even if it means walking all the way across the room to show something to the customer. These new regulations only apply to foreign tourists, so of course, the clerks can still be rude to their fellow Frenchmen.

The Department of Tourism, not completely convinced their countrymen will comply, has put a system in place to make sure these new rules are followed. Each shop, restaurant and touristic site will be stocked with a stack of denunciation cards near the entry. If a tourist does not receive acceptable service he simply takes one of these cards, jots down his complaint, and turns it in to the local Tourist Office. If an establishment receives three complaints the owner will be fined 100 Euros. Since this could be very costly to the business owner, we expect these rules to be strictly enforced.

As an added bonus for the tourists, no transportation strikes will be allowed during the peak tourist season. So it looks like visiting Paris, everyone’s second country as Thomas Jefferson said, will be even more enjoyable this year.

Happy April Fool’s Day! or Poisson d’avril! (April Fish!) as they say in France.

*While it is true that Paris is trying to repair its reputation for rudeness, the rest is reported in the spirit of April 1st. (It’s a joke.)  It’s common in France for newspapers and television to invent a news story as an April Fool joke.

If you would like to know more about the April 1st jokes in France, and why they are called April fish see:  April Fool or April Fish?

April fool or april fish

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  1. You had me fooled through out your great article! I was dismayed at the incredible measures being taken on behalf of foreign customers idiosyncrasies. Well done…as always.

  2. Brilliant, but I couldn’t see it catching on somehow! I’ve always found Parisians friendly. One chap even stopped in the street to help us just because he could see we were confused. I can’t imagine many Londoners doing that to be honest!

    1. Hi Jane, I don’t really buy in to the stereotype of the rude French either. I think people everywhere are pretty friendly but people in large cities tend to be busier and not as chatty maybe. I’ve had people be very kind and helpful to me in Paris… and in London too! I was just having a bit of fun with the stereotype today. 😉

  3. Can’t speak for the Parisians (though the fiancée worked and lived there for 10 years) but the northern Ch’tis are polite and helpful in a rough and ready sort of way. Most go out of their way if see me stumbling over my rubbish French, especially if throw few words of Chtimi into apology. Don’t be afraid to attempt your old school French – they usually appreciate you for trying. When you try, you often find several stop pretending the don’t speak a word of English. Most French think it’s us Anglophones that are arrogant for not trying to speak French. I’m keeping a low profile, as a mad Ulsterman in Nord-Pas-de-Calais a good targhet for poisson d’avril biloute!

    1. Well, the Parisians really do have a reputation for rudeness – whether it’s deserved or not, I can’t really say. Most stereotypes have a bit of truth to them but are exagerations. I think the people in your part of France are known for their friendliness… and their “funny language”. Watch out for those Poisson d’avril today. 🙂

      1. At the start (back in October 2011) when i first arrived “Chez les Ch’tis” i found waiters, and shop assistants rather surly, but since found that’s probably because the French are very demanding of their service sector workers. Now see the other side of their personality, when you show a bit of politeness, and they thaw, and become more natural, and have a lot of humour. As you no doubt know, getting served anywhere is virtually impossible in France, without a polite “Bonjour” to everybody. Since i’m ex pat Northern Irish, and speak a funny language anyway, i seem to have taken up the northern Ch’ti dialect easier than “proper French”. When visiting the sis in law to be in the Morbihan, the poor Bretons think my terrible French and weird mangled accent is because i’m a Chti! Ah one day we’ll “do” Paris. Only ever seen it flying in and out of Roissy, and with anything but grand vitesse, while passing through on the TGV, at a snail’s pace. The poissons are flying here today! Bonne journée Margo.

  4. I was thinking this was so absurd it had to be a poisson d’avril…but then I thought it could j.u.s.t be true…Very funny Margo, well done! Hope to see you at #AllAboutFrance tomorrow.

  5. Awwww!
    I was so excited! I thought, “Great! Maybe this will catch on in NYC also!”. I guess I will remain the Country Mouse!

    1. Sorry to disappoint you, Country Mouse. It is a little bit true, however. Paris is working to improve their image with tourists, but I’m afraid American-style service with a smile won’t be the norm anytime soon. 😉

  6. Nice. Reminds me of the time I was in the hotel lobby in the middle of Paris talking to an American mother and son. I excused myself and said I needed to cross the street and get tickets at the Metro station. I get up to the window and with my high school French, ask for the tickets. The ticket person just looked at me, stoned cold; so I tried English and he turned around and totally ignored me. I go back to the hotel and tell the story to this American family and the son says, “Come on, I’ll get the tickets for you.” We get in line and finally get to the counter and get the tickets. As we are going back to the hotel the son says, ” The women in front of us we speaking in Spanish and Swedish. The ticket seller was speaking in both languages. Don’t worry about it; he was just being French.”

    1. Hi Gerry, it’s nice to hear from you.
      Your experience is exactly the kind of thing they are trying to change. That ticket agent will definitely have to go through retraining. 😉
      Best ~Margo

  7. Very clever 😊 I was thinking how interesting it would be to have a look at the instructions for the various countries and how strange it was to use stereotypes to address the stereotype of Parisians being rude. Haha!

  8. Fabulous! It started my day off with a good chuckle. Always a good way to get a day going!!

  9. I believed all this to be true because often the French uphold strict measures to make change 🙂 I was actually helped by friendly people in Paris when I asked for directions so I am relieved that the stereotype may not always hold true . . .

    1. Thanks Rose. I have often been helped by people in Paris as well – so just think what it will be like when all these changes are implemented! 😉

  10. We’ll all take each other out for a glass of wine and enjoy Paris in the spring!

  11. I was totally fooled as well! I didn’t find the people in Paris to be any more rude than other places. In fact many were very helpful and friendly.

    1. I think their reputation for being rude mostly comes from cultural misunderstandings. For example, approaching someone and asking a question without the proper “bonjour” or “exusez-moi” is considered rude by French standards and sometimes earns the tourist an equally rude response. I think the answer is for all cultures to learn a bit about each other and to practice tolerance. 🙂

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