Are Parisians rude? 5 tips to minimize bad treatment

Posted in: Paris Planning

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A "bonjour" and "merci" go far when speaking with the locals. Photo: Tom Meyers
A "bonjour" and "merci" go far when speaking with the locals. Photo: Tom Meyers

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 plaitgo 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.

About the author

Bryan Pirolli

About the author: With his college diploma fresh off the press, Bryan Pirolli headed for Paris and four years later he’s still there. A journalist and a tour guide, his main M.O. is pursuing a doctorate degree in communications at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. Bryan regularly travels on a budget, experiencing the best of European culture while still trying to make rent.  So far, so good. You can follow his adventures on his blog: www.bryanpirolli.com.

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23 thoughts on “Are Parisians rude? 5 tips to minimize bad treatment”

  1. I have been to Paris quite a few times and have not found the people there to be any more rude than anone else in a big city. Sure, there are always a few folks with little “attitudes” but this is not just confined to Paris alone! Overall, I have found Parisians to be quite friendly as long as you are.

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  2. I never got the rudeness thing, though I’ve certainly heard the folk tale. My French is passable — and the listener has to be very patient with me — but I’ve been fortunate to have some very pleasant conversations with table mates over dinner. You know how close tables can be, you can’t help but overhear the conversation next to you. Especially if you are eating alone.

    I would certainly agree that “Bonjour Madame” and those few other phrases go a long way. Should add that they are fun to practice too. Done well, there is a sing-song rhythm that just rolls off your tongue. You can easily practice the phrase 30 times a day, so can get quite good. It gets to be as automatic as an American “Hello” or head nod.

    Can’t wait for the next trip!

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  3. Everyone talks about the Parisians being rude, but maybe they just find “us” to be rude and annoying, and react (or act first, just in case). My first experience in Paris was also my first in Europe, on my way to a year’s study in Spain. A lady berated me for stepping on the grass in a park – probably Luxemburg – which being a green Yankee, I was unaware that’s normal in most formal “gardens”. I’ve visited several times over the years and also worked for two months on the Eiffel Tower, and have pleasant experiences every time. If I were to see Paris only once, I would definately recommend seeing it WITH the Parisians there.

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  4. Generally, I have learned to approach older women to ask for directions and to avoid those younger women who appear to be immigrants as they usually don’t know the answer nor do they speak French very well. In busy commercial areas, the under 35, nicely dressed working people will all speak English but I do approach them first with my limited French. And yes, do be extra polite.

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  5. fabulously written article! will pass this to all my visitors… Only thing to add – try to curb the natural inclination of Americans to speak loudly…projecting your voice – not so well regarded in France.

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  6. A question: do you find women and men to be equally rude in Paris? As a 5′ tall older person, I am often pushed around in the Metro and on the street by young men in a hurry. That’s the Parisian rudeness I remember and it seems I only encountered it from young men. Anyone else find that to be true?

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  7. I have been living in Paris for 3+ years and the one time a sales person was unforgivably rude with me (to the point where I started crying), another Parisian in line behind me chewed her out.

    There is one thing you did not mention in the post and it is to look your best when you are in Paris. You do not have to be beautiful or fashionable, but if you are dressed neatly and present yourself well, it will change everything. You do not have to wear stilettos, but neither should you wear running shoes to go shopping or to a restaurant.

    Reply
    1. For every rude Parisian that *might* exist, of course there are dozens that are normal, compassionate human beings…I’m sorry you had to meet this kindly Parisian under such circumstances, but points for the save!

      Interesting…I never thought of dressing neatly as a form of politesse, but it is true that looking like a mess will not necessarily make anything easier for you…

      Reply
      1. In the states, people only get dressDressing well in France is paying a compliment to those around you…it is like saying I took the time to make myself presentable in order to appear attractive to you.

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