“The French Are Assholes.”
Or so think many of the thousands of visitors to Paris think after returning from a vacation in “The City of Love”. Coming away with a bitter taste in their mouth after dealing with the Parisians. Now dont get me wrong, there are plenty of people who leave Paris and have had a wonderful experience. Maybe they meet all the right people, the ones who are kind and helpful, or maybe they were simply in blissful peace not understanding what was being said in French about them, right under their noses.
Either way, I want to help. I have had three completely different experiences in Paris and it really opened my eyes to the way the city works. Giving you a few tips for how to navigate the city of lights and enjoy your time walking along the beautiful Seine river and taking in the Eiffel Tower.
My first experience in Paris: Not Speaking French
The first time I visited Paris I was with my whole family. We spoke no French whatsoever and we were new to Europe Culture. Our first encounter with a Parisian was at our campground where the man at the tourism desk utterly refused to admit to us that he did in fact speak English. After stringing us along letting us try and try with the few words of French we could string together. Not the greatest.
After that though we ventured into the city, hit all the highlights, and overall did all the touristy stuff we could fit in. Eiffel tower, Rue Cler, Arc de Triomphe, chocolate crepes from a cart, etc. It was fun and we didn’t really try and engage with the French much after that first experience.
My second experience in Paris: Speaking Only French
The second time I visited Paris I was with my two host sisters and we spoke only French. We had a different type of experience, we went to pubs and talked for hours with interesting people in French, got much better prices at the crepe carts, were approached a lot more because we spoke French. It was a much more social visit and it was great, we met lots of really friendly nice people.
My third experience in Paris: With an American Speaking English, understanding French
My third visit to Paris I showed around an American friend who had flown over to Paris to experience Europe for the first time. As I showed him around I translated and showed him the best bars, views, sights, and experiences that I had accumilated throughout my times visiting the city. I felt like a proper tour guide.
However this time, I started to notice little things that I hadn’t before my first two expereinces in Paris. I noticed the looks we got when we were speaking in English. I overheard French complaining about Americans. Little things, things that didn’t really matter, no point in mentioning them. It wasn’t until this happened.
My friend went up to the bar to pay for our drinks. The barman didn’t speak English back, which was fine, I was on my way up to translate. When I heard him say in French to his buddies “Ugh I’m not in the mood to speak English to these Americans.”
Of course this barman had no idea I could understand. I let the conversation go on a bit longer, till I inturupted saying in French “Well if you wanted to speak in French then you could have asked. But being rude to an American when you do speak English is quite rude.” He was of course very embarrassed that he had been caught and apologized to my friend.
However after this happened I started to notice it happening around me even more to other tourists. Them asking for help in the Paris metro and being ignored, not understanding a menu item and being scoffed at. So I started to translate and help.
When I returned home I thought about it a lot and what the issues were and how they could be avoided for other travelers. So I compiled a list.
How to deal with Parisians:
Understand that this is not just the French and do not Stereotype them.
While I am making this post about Paris, this is not just them. This is a big city mentality and you would get some of the same issues in places like New York. The difference here is that it is in a language you do not understand and therefore harder to deal with.
Try and speak French to them
One of the things that bugs the French is that Americans come to France and do not even attempt to speak their language. Whereas when the French go to America they are expected to, and try to speak English (or the language of wherever they are visiting.)
Now I’m not saying you have to learn how to speak a whole other language. All you have to do is learn one phrase that will quickly soften them up. Learn how to ask them “Do you speak English” or “Can you help me please?” in French. And when you approach them, start straight away with the French, showing you are not expecting them to understand English but that you are trying.
“Hello, do you speak French”
“Bonjour, parlez-vous Anglais?”
“Can you please help me?”
“Est que tu peux m’aider s’il vous plait?”
Approach the right people
Now when you need help or are asking for directions. One mistake I saw people making in Paris was they were approaching the wrong people. They went up to the buisness men, the people in a rush. When you choose who to ask for help. Try and pick the right person. Go up to a middle aged couple who is smiling and looks happy. Try the college kid who is probably learning English in school and looks nice. Ask in the right places. If you really look it’s a lot easier to pick out who will help you and who might pass you by. My French host grandma is often in Paris and loves helping travelers find their way. She doesn’t speak the best English but she is kind. There are always those people who can help you.
If all else fails, find a fellow traveler who might have the metro system down a little better than you.
Smile and be friendly
Be nice. If you approach someone and are happy and kind, show you are trying. And they are STILL rude to you, well then that’s not you’re problem, that is theres. But people forget the power of a smile.
In short, the French aren’t bad people. There are of course those people who could be rude, but there are people like that everywhere. You can’t let that effect your vacation. Enjoy your stay and remember this is a big city, and most of it has to do with the hustle and bustle of city life.