The French may tend to be more politically incorrect, more intuitive and impulsive -- they have Latin blood and they prove it in everything: art, la joie de vivre, cuisine, the entire Paris is a testament of their Latin blood in action.
Is that considered rude? By some standards, yes, by others, not so much.
Also, who are the tourists who complain? They are (mostly) of English language and (mainly) Americans, as the neighboring Brits know who they are dealing with, they have had their games on and off the field with the French and they are like the good brothers who like a good healthy fight every so often. They love to hate each other because secretly they admire each other the most.
I have talked about this subject in November of 2013, when Karen Fawcett from BonjourParis.com guest blogged on my website with this very topic "Are French rude?" stirring a huge discussion on Social Media and mainly on LinkedIn, where for months on end people would pitch in with their two cents adding up to 82 comments.
The most interesting were the comments coming from two French ladies, both expats, living in the U.S. and NZ respectively. They couldn't have had more different opinions. And this too proves the dramatic, passionate, Latin blood coming out through this thread.
Well... lets ask ourselves one question, what is the definition of being rude?
* because you expect tourists to respect and be open-minded about another culture?
* because Parisians / French people cuss a lot... yes true I still do... I kept my good Parisian manners, but I cuss in French!
* because Paris is a busy city and people are always in a hurry and as a tourist you are everything except in a hurry.
* because tourists (specifically from U.S.) expect French people to speak English because making an effort to speak French is too hard for them, because all they learn at school is that U.S. people are the best and after all ,the U.S. saved the world and France in 1945... and the world has to spoil them for that?
Paris is dirty? Well people deal with it, maybe you should travel more, or just stay home because trying to understand and open up to another culture is too hard. So let's be honest just be a potato couch, drink sodas and stay home...
* because French restaurants serve smaller dishes and there is no "all you can eat"??
* because French people are sarcastic and many people do not understand the word or that kind of humor?
* because French TV shows naked people, bare boobs, naked butt?
* because the restrooms are dirty and small... well I agree but deal with it, I did for 28 years!!!
I could go like this for days, the only point I have is please be open-minded when you travel, be curious about other cultures, way of thinking, do your homework , learn a couple of words in French to show that you care and people will be more than happy to help you with a smile and never EXPECT OTHERS -- does not matter French, Americans, Chinese -- to RESPECT YOU if you do not try to ADAPT yourself to ANOTHER CULTURE different from yours.
I love my heritage, my culture, the fact that I am born in Paris, I lived there most of my life and now I live in beautiful Southern California (oh yes it is paradise). I will not hide it I am spoiled now -- immaculate streets, green grass (yes green, not yellow) big cars (nope I drive a Smart car) big houses, huge bathrooms, huge towels (yes tourists complain about that too!). When I go to Europe I fall in love again each time with Paris and with French people that I miss so much; they are moody, smell like an ashtray, cuss like crazy... but I will never ever get enough of them....
I have dual nationality -- French and New Zealand. Compared to New Zealanders, the French are arrogant, always negative and don't have "attitude." They are at their worst when they travel and get themselves a very unenviable reputation all over the world. They criticize freely and seem to cling to the "droits aquis" like a lifeline. Their behaviour is due, in my humble opinion, to the education system which never praises, only demands for better performance however good they are. No wonder they compensate once they are out of the reach of French jurisdiction and judgement! They become "les petits chefs" ready to push everyone else around -- they get pushed around at home! I use "they" whereas I could say "we" because I now live in New Zealand... what an amazing country where people don't judge but have such a refreshing positive attitude. Here it is "I give you the benefit of the doubt," as opposed to the French, "I'll notice you if you prove to me that you are worth my attention!" Yes. the French are rude.
Most of the Americans speak to this along these lines:
If anything Americans are rude. We leave the U.S. then expect things to be the same when we get to Paris. The MacDo mentality. I've only ever witnessed fricative interactions in Paris when the visitor was being rude and demanding. The French cannot be rude as a matter of course. Politeness and social regard is built into their language and interaction. French is one of the few languages which still regard proper address with tu and vous whereas in the U.S. it's Bill, Bob or Suzy; a careless familiarity without regard. I think what we may be misinterpreting as rude is an unconscious response to the unwarranted familiarity which telegraphs a suggestion of subtle contempt. Let's imagine a grocer who has been properly address his entire life; then an American shows up to the shop, "Hi, Pierre, can I get a couple'a frogs legs, two dozen snails and a cows tongue; and can you hurry, I'm double parked out there." and his 12 year old daughter chimes in, "Yeah Pierre, we're in a hurry."
Why did I come back to this topic today?
Because this month, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius launched a multi-million Euro campaign aimed at encouraging the French, in particular those in the service industry, to be warmer to tourists. He said: "To put it diplomatically, we have room for improvement here. When we come up against a foreign tourist, we are all ambassadors for France."
Reactions took many shapes and came on many mediums. The most interesting to me was the video published by HuffPost Live with Ben McPartland (Country Editor, The Local France), Fred Finn (Guinness Book of World Records Holder, World's Most Travelled Man), Jo Piazza (Managing Editor, Yahoo Travel), and Zoe Reyners (Co-Founder and CEO, Katch & Reyners) which is very interesting to watch, and also to see how the opinions that you read earlier in this article are mirrored by the panel.
What I noticed as a silver lining in all the articles and interviews, including the comments in Social Media, was that the one thing that would turn around this situation would be if the tourists would attempt to use the French language even if just a little. The intention would be applauded by the locals, they'd feel respected and they'll respect the tourists right back.
What I also experience is that people are afraid to try to speak in French -- not only are they scared to embarrass themselves in French in Paris, but they are also embarrassed to try to speak with me, as their French Language Coach. When I offer conversation lessons, sometimes people tell me "oh, no, I'm not yet ready to try, my French is very poor," as if the prerequisite to start learning a language is to be already good at speaking it.
It shocks me (and I'd appreciate your help here) that most people dream for their entire life to learn to speak French and to go to France, yet when they are facing their first French lesson they are completely frozen, afraid to feel stupid.
The way I see it is this: if you don't feel embarrassed by your headache when you go to the doctor to fix it, you shouldn't feel embarrassed about your level of French in front of the "French language doctor" -- me -- when you try to learn it. And I'm sure this happens to other tutors and language coaches too.
So the truth is somewhere in the middle: between the French who feel that they are not respected by tourists who don't attempt to speak even a little French, and the tourists who are paralyzed at the idea that they will make a fool of themselves if they tried.
I am convinced that Hell is paved with good intentions, and while the French and the tourists have both their great intentions, playing it safe in their comfort zone, M. Laurent Fabius is spending millions of Euros making Paris a little less French.