People say it time and time again: "The French are so rude!" Before I ever set foot in France, I heard the horror stories of rude French waiters who turn their nose up at you, snooty Parisians who refuse to give directions, or just French people in general who hate Americans.
When I went there the first time, I was braced for it. After all, I can be nasty too, if pushed. But I was pleasantly surprised. Not only were most French people I encountered civil, they were outright friendly, helpful and kind. They even went out of their way to help me! How could this be? Where were the so-called rude French?
I didn't even have some deep secret. Really, I just followed a couple common-sense tips. Such as:
- Always at least attempt to speak French. Simply saying, "Bonjour! Parlez-vous anglais?" (pronounced bon-jouh, pah-lay vooz ahn-glay) can work wonders. It means, "Hello. Do you speak English?" Many French who would feign ignorance suddenly speak fluent English if you just try. Also, try to imagine what you would think of a stranger walked up to you speaking French and expecting you to reply!
- Be sure to greet strangers with, "Bonjour," before launching into other requests. In France, it is considered rude to just walk up and start talking like we do in America.
- Quiet down! The French are a very hushed people. I never realized how obnoxious it can be to be loud until I was in France. My husband and I were eating dinner in this lovely cafe in Carcassonne when a group of American tourists barged in, loudly shouting at one another, running around the restaurant snapping pictures of patrons and generally being rude. One man bellowed, "I wonder if they serve grits here?" across the room. Their behavior was made even more noticeable in France where the people are very low-key. I might note that the wait staff was still polite to these buffoons, despite their disrupting the dinner-time ambiance.
- Learn about the cultural differences. Many times, the French react rudely because we do something that is considered extremely rude by their standards. Know French culture and customs before you go to avoid misunderstandings.
I've had French who pored over maps to guide me to my destination, who wrote down the dollar amounts when I struggled with spoken French numerals and who went above and beyond to help me. I've gotten help in English from many French. Try getting information in a foreign language while visiting New York City!
I even ate in Paris, and the waiter was friendly. Imagine that!