By Bryan Pirolli in Paris—
It’s a longstanding and debatable stereotype that Parisians are rude. Many visitors to Paris who try to speak French, order a salad without pork, or try to ask for directions often have the impression that the local they address are anything but kind and welcoming.
It may be cultural misunderstanding, but then again, plenty of French people from outside of the capital agree that Parisians can be quite sour. In any case, no one wants to make the faux pas of aggravating a Parisian, intentionally or not.
Happily, there are some simple ways that the informed visitor to the City of Light can minimize their chances of things getting ugly. Playing the game à la française and adhering to some codes of politesse might keep things friendly – or not. Either way, these five tips are worth a try:
1. Most importantly, mind your manners.
When you enter a store, a café, or a bakery, a “bonjour” is always appreciated, if not expected. Consider the ice broken at this point, and afterwards the rest is up to fate. “Merci,” “pardon,” and “s’il vous plait” go a long way for shop-owners and waiters, especially if those are the only French words you know.
As you leave the establishment, a “Merci, au revoir” is also appreciated, no matter how good or bad the service was, especially if you plan on returning.
2. Kill them with kindness.
The blasé Parisian attitude is something of a cultural hallmark. The locals seem to rarely get excited about anything, which must be hard if you are a vendor or a waiter. How often does their work seem appreciated?
I find that lots of smiles, enthusiasm, and excitement, no matter how feigned, seems to abate any rudeness that might have been coming my way. Smiles are infectious even for the most jaded Parisian worker. If nothing else, you’ll have at least delayed any mistreatment for a few minutes as their Parisian brains wrap around your foreign glee. It’s worth the cheek muscle exercise.
3. When smiles don’t work, money might.
If you plan on returning to a barber, a café, or a restaurant, leave a tip. You’d be surprised at the difference it can make. My barber actually remembers my name – after months of repeatedly asking if I’m on vacation – and I feel that my consistent tips have something to do with that. Tips to a Parisian waiter or waitress are not expected and thus carry more weight than the obligatory 15-20 percent left in America. (For more info, read our guide to tipping in Paris.)
4. Sympathize, feel their pain, puff your cheeks.
Parisians are constantly anguished, and every task from opening an email to serving a glass of wine can be full of effort, pain and suffering. It’s always very helpful when you see a Parisian worker going through something egregiously difficult, especially with another customer, to play along.
When you finally engage them – for example, if a waiter just got chewed out by another Parisian client – give him a sympathetic look and let him know that you know what he’s going through. I often assure various cashiers and office workers that I encounter that my request will be simple as I shoot a glance at the annoying customer and puff out my cheeks and blow air through my lips. It’s the Parisian gesture for, “What a piece of work…”
5. When all else fails, be patient.
No matter how rude the waiter is or how grumpy the concierge may be or how disagreeable the shopkeeper gets, you won’t change them. It’s frustrating, but it’s true. I’m not saying to roll over and take it whenever someone treats you badly, but instead of getting angry and starting a shouting match (which are more fun to watch than to participate in) take the higher road. Be patient, make your demands clear, and hold your ground.
Just don’t lose your cool, unless you’re Parisian…
Your tips for avoiding any rudeness?
Do you have any advice to help others steer clear of rudeness? Share with us in the comments section.