I've been living in France for 10 years now. I'm English (from London) and married to a French (very French!) girl. I've been around the clock and would like to give a few survival tips to any foreigners coming to Paris.
1) as with law; innocent unless proven guilty, in Paris you're an arsehole unless proven otherwise. This might not help you, but it helps to be warned that it's rare to be welcomed with big smiles and open arms (like in most big cities come to think of it). I might just add that France has a long history of being invaded and occupied and so the French are wary of strangers, more than any other nation, and do not give away smiles for free. Speaking of which...
2) Smiles won't get you far (they'll think you want something from them). Respect will. The French have an inbred inferiority complex. Bow down to them, show them you NEED their help and that without their help you'd be dead, and you'll get what you want!
3) Parisians stare. Don't worry. They don't think it's rude. So don't worry.
4) Paris has an illegal immigration problem and has had some pretty bad (mostly non existent) integration schemes for ethnic minorities. Result is high crime rates and racism. Watch your bags etc in the metro. Common sense. If you are black, you may have trouble getting into night clubs etc. sad to say so, but you have to work around this... dress well, go with a white friend!
5) Superficial is not a word that the french know. Either they like the look of you or they don't. At least you know where you stand! It's quite a struggle to break the barrier. Say you hate George Bush and Tony Blair and you've got a friend for life, wherever you come from! speaking of which...
6) French talk about everything while they eat: politics, sex, personal problems. It's not considered impolite.
I could go on for ever but I have to go out now. Any Q's or comments... pop me a mail!
While standing in line at Nôtre Dame Easter 2003, waiting for the church to open up for the Pâques mass, I turned around to strike up a conversation with a couple from Atlanta; when I turned around a French man had ducked in front of me! I tried to explain to him that he had skipped line but apparently he didn’t understand the concept.
For the 1st time of this entire trip I didn’t have the ability to convey my meaning, not even thru hand gestures. Presently, he moved off to the side to carry on a conversation with another person so I moved on up to claim my spot RIGHT NEXT TO THE GATE (sucker). The Atlanta couple & I shared a moment of bemused eye rolling.
Perhaps it's true what they say about the fundamental difference between the English & the French: the former know how to queue up in line and the latter don't! Now I don't wish to further any stereotypes but I do think it was funny and it was definitely an eye-opening cultural experience.
So the best thing to do is stake your claim on your spot but if someone happens to move ahead of you just chalk it up to cultural differences, try not to be offended, laugh it off. You are here to have a good time, attitude is everything and a good one will carry you far. It is France after all - c'est la vie!
Address: 6, Place du Parvis, Ile de la Cité, 75004 PARIS (Ile de la Cité - you can't miss it - it's at the historical center of Paris!)
Photo: March 2001
This tip is in an effort to dispel the myth of the "rude French people". Sure, there's bound to be a rude Parisian or two out there - every culture has them, but for the most part I found the French to be extremely kind, helpful, curious about our culture, & very polite.
One of the kindest things that ever happened to me was when I got lost on the RER. I took the WRONG direction! About the time we pulled into the Stade de France stop was when I noticed. I got out looking about me in a very confused fashion. Out on the platform was a lovely French gentleman who could barely speak English yet he helped me get to the other side. I was having trouble conveying to him what went wrong so eventually I just pointed to the other side. He took my hand, walked me down the stairs took me to the other side & pointed me the way. Very kind gentleman & since then I've had a difficult time understanding this stupid stereotype of the rude French people. It's been my experience that they are very kind & willing to help and are especially helpful when I've made the attempt to communicate in their language!
During my trip in 2003, I was doing my best to use my (limited) French. I went to Nectarine, used French to order cafe, s'il vous plait, use the right gestures to get the check (l'addition, s'il vous plait). As I went to pay the bill, a young man told me I was welcome to come back any time in French, which tickled me.
Different folks moved out of the way when I stopped for a photo, others posed most graciously when asked, others complimented me on my efforts to speak French. Another lady saw me taking a photo of a Smart car in the Marais. She discerned I must be American to take a photo of such a silly subject. She inquired "American?" using the English pronunciation. I replied, "Oui, je suis Americain - Etats Unis" using very limited French. She then said "Bravo, l'Americain" at my feeble efforts.
Photos: Feb 06
As an American, I think we expect a certain level of cordiality when meeting people, Either in the workplace or just going down the street we pretty much feel offended if a smile is not given or returned. For many countries in Europe this is just not done and France is one of these. On my first trip to Paris I misunderstood this to be rudeness. Of all the people in Paris I’ve met on our three trips there, I can honestly say I only met one person who was truly rude. That’s probably not much different then in the US. On out last trip it was around midnight and we were having a big problem finding our hotel. A lady saw our distress, asked us what the problem was and proceeded to walk us to out hotel even though it was out of her way.
The stereotype of the rude Parisian could not be further from the truth. In my trips to Paris I've actually found that the French are some of the nicest people around and they will literally go out of their way to help you.
How to stay on the good side of Parisians:
1. TRY to speak French. They know that your French stinks, but they appreciate it when you try. They'll probably reply in English just to make it easier for both of you. But showing a little respect by attempting to speak their language is a good way to go.
2. Don't inconvenience them. Parisians hate to be inconvenienced. They don't mind stopping to help you out, but they hate it when you hold up lines or block sidewalks. DON'T ask 50 questions of the ticket seller in the Metro if there's a long line behind you. DON'T stop in the middle of the sidewalk if crowds are trying to get by.
3. Don't be so darn loud. Americans aren't the only ones guilty of this. In fact, there are other nationalities even louder than us. In general, the French speak in softer tones-- particularly in public places like restaurants. They find it rude when you carry on loud conversations in places like this.
If it's your first visit to Paris, I bet you'll be surprised at how lovely and accomodating the people are. I've come to truly love and respect the French and always enjoy my stay in Paris!
Yes, I had a bad experience (read my sports tips) with people some people in Paris. It was pretty crappy, but you know what, that was a few people out of a whole country and I'm not going to condemn the city of Paris because of the actions of two.
People are the same no matter where you go. Some are nice and some are not. Please get over the stereotype that Parisians are rude or snotty. And don't encourage the stereotype by approaching a local with a chip on your shoulder.
Look, before you go to any country where the main language is something other than English you should take it upon yourself to learn 4 or 5 simple phrases. It's not to appease the locals, but to help you along on your trip. Learn to say Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank You, and for christ's sake, learn how to ask for help. This is for your benefit, but it also makes local people happy to see that you are trying to speak the local language. This will make for helpful and pleasant interactions.
Finally, the only reason I was able to go to Paris at all was because of the generosity of a Parisian. I was introduced to a girl from Paris through a friend and she invited me to come and stay in Paris with her in her apartment. That's some pretty incredible hospitality from someone who only spent a few days with myself and our mutual friend in the states. I stayed with her and she took time off of work and school to show me around her city. It was a huge demonstration of hospitality on her part and that's something I can probably never repay her for.
So I was surfing around David Lebowitz' wonderful food blog, http://www.davidlebovitz.com, when I came across an item he wrote titled Métro Hands...and Cheeks. As is his wont, the article of the day veered from his germaphobic topic regarding the dreaded "Métro hands" to losing one of his favorite gloves to the wonderful Parisian (nay, perhaps French or even European!) habit of placing lost items where they might be found.
This would NEVER happen in the US, at least I've never seen it happen, not even in the midwest (where I now live) where good courtesy is taken for granted. Nor does it happen in the south (where I grew up) where excellent manners are considered de rigueur.
Monsieur Lebowitz, an American now residing in Paris (lucky dog!), had lost one of his favorite gloves. Knowing the above-named French habit, he went out in search of the lost item only to discover it in his very own elevator cleverly tucked away in the hand rail (read the blog, it's really funny)!
Anywho, I'd read the blog a week prior to my latest sojourn to the City of Light. While traipsing around in Montmartre this past November, *I* came across a hapless glove myself (somewhere along rue Lepic between Place Jean-Pierre Baptiste and rue d'Orchampt)! Naturally, I had to take a photo just for the edification of you good VT folk.
In any case, in the war of French politesse v. American manners, I think the French have one up on us. I've vowed to continue this nice practice here at home but I'm not sure if it'll ever become popular. Of course, I'll never know the outcome of these Samaritan acts but it certainly won't hurt to try!!
Photo: November 2007
One of the most stricking differences for overseas tourists, especially Anglo-Saxons is the conception and importance of privacy.
Paris is a very densly populated city. People are always surrounded by other people, and it is not rare in a restaurant or bar to have to share your table with a total stranger.
The Parisians will completly ignore you. This is often misunterpreted as being snob or snotty. For a Parisian, it is a mark of respect and politness. Privacy is very important, because there is so little of it...
On the other hand, if someone talks to you in a restaurant or bar, it means that he/she really means it!
I can't help but laugh at the French sense of humor expressed in the film Amelie
(Le fabuleux destin d'Amelie Poulain)
during (Jamel Debbouze) Lucien's recitation of the merits and character of the vile "Collignon."
One negative effect of the film "Amelie" is intensified overcrowding and gentrification of Montmartre,
but let's face it, parts of this movie are funny and overall it's a good film.
I lived in Paris for 3 months while studying. The Parisians are not the stereotypical snobs that they are made out to be, but they are people from a major city that is constantly barraged by heavy tourist traffic. I had plenty of Parisians who were very nice and helpful when I needed directions or help. Think of them like New Yorkers, but more European. They tend to keep to themselves. Unlike in many places in the US, they will very rarely engage strangers in any sort of contact or conversation if there is no reason to. They are not going to smile at you on the métro. (I am speaking for public places like the métro, the streets, etc. Bars, clubs, etc are where you may meet and socialized with locals)
Also, they speak much quieter than people do in the U.S. This is most noticeable is when you are on the métro. If you are traveling with others, take a moment and notice the volume level in the train. The train itself may screech on the tracks, but, for the most part, the Parisians speak barely above what we americans would consider a whisper. If you are yelling and being significantly louder than the rest of the train, expect some annoyed stares. Do your best to keep your voices down, and you will find that you fit in much better, and have a more pleasant experience.
Well I'm French and a Parisian, so I can be fair on that one.
Parisians don't hate foreigners, they just don't care.
Parisians are not on holidays, they work ! You enjoy some relaxing time there, but, for them, Paris means "everyday, pressuring life".
They are always in a hurry !
Whatever the place they go (for business or for pleasure), they want to be there as fast as possible , especially if they are late ;-)
Means, they walk as quickly as possible and they moan about those "tourists in front of them who walk so slowly and don't move" !!
Parisians, and French people, are not "immeidalty friendly" unlike the Americans. You don't become friend with them just by saying "Hello !". But once you're friends with a French person, she/he won't forget you the minute you're left !
Sometines people are rude, sometimes they aure very friendly. Depends on the person and on her/his mood... just like you !
Best advice : whatever the country and the city you are visiting, keep an open mind and don't believe strereotypes. Most ofter they are wrong !
I heard so many stories about snobbish & unfriendly to tourists frenches. Smth like "they hate tourists", "they don't want to speak english" etc.
Well,, I have no idea but their attitude to English-speaking (however I was several a witness of the conversations held in English and can not say anything negative at this point).
But for non-friendliness.. I'd like to tell 1 story that happened to me there.
I came to Paris in Mid-July but it was Xtremely cold & rainy there. I left Kyiv at +30 & I came to Paris at +11, raining cats&dogs, with no umbrella, no rain shoes, no raincoat brrr.... I was pulling my big bad (ruling, to my luck) and I hide near the entrance to a small cafe, it was about 1pm there. When a waitor saw me hiding there from a rain, he almost dragged me inn with my lugguage. That's not all. Those guys (waitors, or owners,, I don't know) gave me a cup of coffee and refused to take a money when I wanted to pay.
So U can tell whatever but how can I say after that smth like "frenches r rude?"...
Sorry, I can not, for me they r nice people :)
The stereotype that many Americans have of the French is that they are "rude" or that they "hate Americans." The thing is, WE are the rude ones! This so-called "rudeness" of the French comes only in reaction to the rudeness of Americans who invade their country and expect everyone to wait on us hand and foot, all the while speaking to us in English, even though we are in THEIR country! Again, as mentioned in one of my other tips, you will be amazed if you seek to be a HUMBLE tourist and at least ATTEMPT to speak French, even broken French. They will adopt a completely different attitude toward you (a much more pleasant one). Give it a try, and see the difference!
My family and I just returned from our first trip to Paris. Contrary to what we were expecting, everyone we encountered was friendly, helpful and tolerant of our stumbling efforts to speak French. Some of the nicest people were the waiters! Several times strangers approached us on the street and offered their assistance (in English) after seeing us consult our guide books. After our arrival at CDG Airport, a French gentleman used his own phone card to call our shuttle service after seeing me struggle with mine. It is important to say "Bonjour, Madam, Monsieur, etc" and any effort to speak French seems to be appreciated. Most of all, remember that you are a guest in their city. A little courtesy and respect goes a long way.
Although the Parisian concept of customer service leaves much to be desired, there is no end to the pleasantries that one encounters whenever entering or exiting a business, restaurant, or hotel. Always, always say "Bonjour Madame/Monsieur" when you come in, and "Au Revoir" when you leave. Trying to speak the language goes a long way with Parisians. If you bump into someone on the street or while awaiting/pushing your way into transportation, always say "Pardon" to excuse yourself. The proper way to answer the phone is "Âllo," but if you use this on the street, you'll blow your cover.
Parisians are polite, especially to older people. In Paris, the difference between getting good and bad service is the difference a little meek politesse and careless rudeness. Tone and facial expressions can work wonders. Maintain composure at all times and act like you mean business; speak softly and politely (do employ the standard "monsieur/madame" and "s'il vous plaît") to Parisians in official positions, especially if they are older than you.
Avoid arguing with Parisians. Do not assume you can talk your way into something. When the concierge sitting in front of a rack of keys tells you there are no vacancies, or when the maître d' insists that he cannot seat you in a restaurant full of empty tables, move on.