Truth or Fiction: Are Parisians Rude to Tourists?

EUROPE, SERIES, STAFF, TIPS&SECRETS — By on April 13, 2012 at 01:13

By staff writer Estrella Azul. Photos Copyright © Estrella Azul.

Paris is swarming with tourists!

I did my research before leaving and read several articles on different websites. This one here, Why Paris Sucks by Bellanda in Paris, about how the city can and does suck sometimes, is the funniest.

Given all of the above, I had some preconceived notions on what Paris and my trip overall would be like. I love that I was proven wrong!

As opposed to all my friends telling me so (mostly repeated from hearsay), and the universal warning about French people’s resentment towards visitors, I must take this opportunity to state that all the locals I spoke to were very sweet and willing to help.

Tourists at the Eiffel Tower

The lines for the Eiffel Tower are the longest

I told you already how I had to take a bus from Beauvais-Tillé Airport to arrive at Porte Maillot, Paris. From there I took the metro to my hotel.

After coming up from the metro, and while keeping my eagerness to explore in check, I asked for directions. That’s when one lady confused me for a Parisian (within 2 hours of my arrival). I had correctly pronounced the street name I was asking about and she started talking to me in hurried French—until she realized what my confused stare meant. She immediately switched to faulty English and made sure I understood which way I needed to turn: just a little bit to the right because the street I was on turned into the one I was looking for.

(Even with looking at a map, the streets in Paris can get a bit confusing.)

Interestingly, I never had to ask for directions again while walking through Paris.

Jardin des Tuileries

Mostly tourists walking through the Jardin des Tuileries

Before leaving, I had especially heard about waiters being impatient with tourists. Having now experienced dining in Paris, I imagine that to be on account of how busy all the restaurants are and how they don’t have large staff. However, for me at least, there were no problems. I had lunch and dinner in different establishments each time, and everyone spoke English.

There was one Asian waiter who was the sweetest: he even let me combine a different meal than what the fixed menu offered. It was in Paris that I had some of the best mushroom sauce (my waiter’s recommendation) and fish that I’ve ever tasted!

As I had previously bought my metro ticket from a ticket booth, a very nice young woman guided me through buying my ticket from a machine when I was heading to catch my flight home. With the machine being set to French by default, I simply couldn’t figure out which buttons I had to push to switch it to English.

Inside the metro, it was a bit tricky to figure out on my own (the signs there are all in French), so an elderly French couple helped me figure out which platform I should stand on to face the right direction for where I was heading.

These are my positive experiences. However, some people aren’t as lucky.

Mona Lisa

One is lucky to get close to Mona Lisa

When I recently discovered one of my friends has also visited Paris, I had her e-mail me a few thoughts detailing Parisian’s attitude towards her as a tourist.

She found the information boards and signs unhelpful, as most of them are only in French. Some people, when asked for directions, simply said “I don’t speak English” and turned their backs.

The well-done steak she ordered was only cooked to medium. While it was still before closing time, a guard at the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery sent her and her friends out of the place when they had only a few more meters to reach a grave site they wanted to see. When they missed the metro and were trying to call a taxi, upon answering they could only “speak” to a recorded voice.

But they also found some helpful Parisians, like a man who was willing to help them out and call a cab. Like a woman with her kids that they met on Champs-Elysees who was interested in the languages they spoke and asked how to say different things in Hungarian. And like the baker near the Bagneux metro station who taught them some pronunciation.

Some of the 30 million tourists that invade Paris every year

Some of the 30 million tourists that invade Paris every year

Paris is so beautiful; one can’t help but fall in love with it at first sight. But what made me fall in love with the city—even more than its breathtaking sights and the charming merry-go-rounds—was the locals. Because, the truth is, Parisians carry a great love for their city and it’s their over-protective nature towards the last secrets of Paris from 30 million tourists a year that might come off as rudeness.

It really depends on one’s luck. There are people unwilling to help anyone. There are people like that everywhere in the world! Naturally, you may come across Parisians who have had a tough day at work, who are tired and impatient.

I believe it’s always best to try and use a few of your rusty French sentences: it truly goes a long way with locals. And it only works to your benefit to be patient and kind when asking for directions, ordering dinner, buying a book or whatever you need assistance with.

Since we ourselves aren’t continuously in a bright and sunny mood, could we really expect anyone else to be?

Now let me turn to you, dear readers, and ask: Have you been to Paris? What are your impressions? Are Parisians rude to tourists?

———

Estrella in the Greek Amphitheatre ruins,
Taormina, Sicily

Estrella Azul is a young emerging writer, passionate about reading, floral art and photography, with an artistic personality and a soulful outlook on life. She is a Hungarian girl living and writing from Cluj-Napoca, Romania, the capital of historical region Transylvania. Estrella is our European correspondent, and she dreams of embarking on a round-the-world trip. To read more of her creative writing, her thoughts and daily happenings, visit Life’s a stage – WebBlog©.

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    17 Comments

  • I haven’t been to Paris, but I certainly agree that rudeness could be the product of one person having a bad day. You never know what is happening in a stranger’s life!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Exactly. Being respectful, kind and patient in any situation goes a long way.
      Plus, I didn’t add this above, but smiles and “Thank you!”s will also earn one extra points 🙂

  • Ann
    Twitter: AnnHolly
    says:

    Hi Estrella! I was in Paris 2 months ago and EVERYONE was very, very friendly! I found that trying to speak French, a smile and asking Parlez VOUS English went a long way! Americans tend to drop the VOUS in the sentence – which is basically TELLING them to speak English, rather than asking if they did.

    Everyone I ran into was kind, congenial and helpful and I had a wonderful time in the City of Lights!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Hey Ann, I was waiting for your comment! 🙂

      I am so happy about your positive experience, and that’s funny about Parlez VOUS. I never would’ve thought Americans tend to drop a word when they’re asking if Parisians speak English… I’m sure they don’t appreciate that and were very happy about your proper use of the phrase.

  • Kim says:

    I’ve been there twice–the first time my husband only spoke Spanish (he’s fluent but a native English speaker) and that was in a store ordering slide film (?) and the friendly woman in the store answered him back in Spanish. Otherwise, he kept quiet and I humbly attempted French as much as possible. Everyone was very nice and when I said in French that I don’t speak the language very well, they were very accommodating.

    Fast forward five years: My husband now thinks that French and Spanish mixed, what I call “Frenish,” is suitable and he angered all the waiters he talked with, including one who loudly dropped cups on our table. I am convinced that the issue is often one of language, and occasionally, like the young woman serving ice cream at the Musee Rodin, rudeness. Or maybe she was just having a bad day.

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      That is the best approach, I think, if you speak another language than French just ask if they do too, and go with that if they’re accommodating. Also, I have noticed myself that they’re very nice if you do try those few words and tell them you’re not very good at it.
      I’m just remembering this, but even the security guy at the airport was very sweet and they’re not usually too amiable.

      Oh my gosh, your husband sounds cute to give that a try, but I probably would’ve just quite after managing to anger one person 😉
      And of course, rudeness is also an issue one shouldn’t take personally. You never know if someone’s having a bad day, but even if they’re just rude by default, I wouldn’t stoop to their level.
      Thanks for the smiles though with the Frenish story 🙂

  • Bloggoneit
    Twitter: bloggoneit
    says:

    Estrella,

    You make an excellent point. As someone who lives in a tourist destination, it can get really annoying to be constantly behind someone from another state who clearly doesn’t know where they are going or what they are doing.

    I bet I am rude, too, and my accent isn’t as sweet!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Thanks, I know the frustrations of being behind people who clearly have no idea where they’re going (even when they’re not tourists…)
      It’s a good thing when one is able to admit they’re not being nice.

  • Tammy
    Twitter: earthprayergmail.com
    says:

    I would not say rude. I might say intolerant about certain things and so am I. French? yes but a few generations ago.

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Yes, intolerant more than rude, although that’s common too.
      It’s always tough being in a country one doesn’t speak the language of, so local people’s intolerance might burst one’s bubble 🙂

  • Tammy
    Twitter: earthprayergmail.com
    says:

    And one my thought while I’m here. Your sign in says email will not be published and then it is – but shown as a twitter handle. This needs to be straightened out to gain reader’s trust.

  • Betsyv
    Twitter: betsy_v
    says:

    Hi Estrella!
    People get the same impression of natives of New York City. I always hear that New Yorkers are Loud, rude and crass. In my opinion, loud and crass…Maybe ;o), but rude Not so much really.

    I think if you live in the big cities of any country, you will get a lot of tourists. I can see how it may get frustrating having to field questions from tourists, as you are trying to go about your day, but if you are proud of your city, you should think about how you are a Representative of that city/country and try to act accordingly.
    I think most people know and accept this, and try to be pleasant and helpful in any city/country.
    Mike and I are planning on a stop in London/Paris, while traveling to Ireland in 13, so I will let you know what we think when we return.
    This is a great article, very thought provoking.
    Thank you I enjoyed it!

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      Thank you!

      Yes, you are spot on, one should always think of themselves as a representative of their city and act accordingly.
      Let me know how your trip was after you return, I’d love to hear all about it 🙂

  • JM Merchant
    Twitter: JMMerchant86
    says:

    Very interesting post Estrella.

    As a Londoner, I must admit I find tourists frustrating at times, especially in pedestrian zones when you’re trying to get somewhere fast. Central London gets so crowded! Fortunately, I don’t tend to get stopped by tourists very often, but if I do I try and help them as best I can. I guess we’re lucky that English is so widely spoken, we don’t have to worry so much about the language barrier here.

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      You attitude is great, it’s a good thing when you try to help as best as you can if you do get stopped.
      And I’m sure English being so widely spoken makes things much less frustrating there 🙂

  • Laurita says:

    It’s so good to read about your experience in Paris. It’s one of my favourite cities. While I think one can encounter rude people everywhere, I think the reputation Paris has is undeserved.

    Really great piece.

    • Estrella Azul
      Twitter: EstrellaAzul
      says:

      It’s one of your favorite cities? That’s good to hear; hope you like my other travel articles about Paris then.
      And you know, I think so as well, Laurita – it makes so glad to see you agree with my observations.

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