It feels like every year someone starts a “Parisians are rude” rumour. It is almost always in the summer just before tourists arrive in their droves to the most famous and most visited city in the world – 29 million people visited Paris in 2012.
This year is no different – international newspapers are all repeating the same story – a booklet has been issued to Parisians who deal on a daily basis with tourists to help them improve their relationship with their potential clients.
Taxi Drivers, waiters and sales staff have apparently been issued with a new hand book called “Do you speak touriste?” and it is aimed at giving those on the front line when it comes to tourists, a more rounded understanding of etiquette and the culture of foreigners.
I don’t really get why newspapers are saying that this is proof that Parisians are rude – pas du tout (not at all).
To me it shows actually that they care, that they are trying to be friendly and understand the different ways of their clients. The handbook for instance states that the “British like to be called by their first names” – well yes this is true – by our friends. Not sure about a taxi driver though, if I got into a taxi in London and the driver asked me my first name I think I might get out again!
It also contains such gems as the Chinese like to shop and Brazilians like to party. Doesn’t sound to me like this is a “you must not swear, ignore and spit at visitors” type of thing it’s being made out to be.
Earlier this year SNCF, the French train network launched a campaign to improve politeness on the trains – they say it is a very French problem – again I say pas du tout. I invite the heads of SNCF to take the train into London from pretty much any suburban area any day of the week. As an ex long term commuter I have seen manners on the trains in the city of London deteriorate to a level of boorishness that I never thought possible. I’ve seen people kick each other, scream and shout over whether someone could move further down the carriage or not and witnessed puerile behaviour I haven’t seen since I was in primary school when two 6 year olds fell out over who was going to sit where.
SNCF have actually employed 100 mediators to travel on trains reminding people to take their feet off the seats, not smoke and not make rude hand gestures – is this an act of a city that is full of inherently rude people – I don’t think so.
Every city I’ve ever been to has its share of surly waiters and sales staff and rude residents. They have to deal with difficult clients, customers who don’t speak their language and often rude visitors. Some people are just rude – in a restaurant in Normandy I was ignored by a waiter for so long that I actually went up to him and tapped him on the arm – you’d have thought I tasered him – he over reacted so much! He had been sweetness and light to the customers who were clearly regulars, kisses and handshakes galore. I told him I had been trying to attract his attention for 15 minutes, he told me he was busy. I got up and left mid course. On the other side of the coin I have seen more times than I’d like, foreign clients in restaurants clicking their fingers and calling “gar-kon” at the top of their voices – I find a bit of eye holding and a smile usually works wonders.
When I first visited Paris many moons ago I thought that Parisians were quite cold, not rude exactly but not friendly. Since I’ve become immersed in the French way of life by living here I realise that on the whole this is a cultural thing. French people are in fact incredibly polite, but cautious, guarded, restrained almost. It is not usual to swap first names on meeting, it is not usual to ask someone into your home and it certainly is frowned upon to ask too many personal questions. A pet hate of my French friends is the fact that us Brits and Americans always want to know “What do you do (job-wise) and what do you earn” – they are flabbergasted at the rudeness! We on the other hand are astounded when we have to queue anywhere to find that its a free for all – every wants to be first and can be if they push and elbow hard enough!
What I will say is that whatever shop, restaurant, taxi, hotel, museum you go into in Paris – people will invariable say “bonjour”, they will say “merci and sil vous plait” and they will wish you a “bonne journée” (good day), and if you don’t respond then you may be subject to the famous Parisian haughtiness (rudeness) in return!