Old fashioned manners

Mark Hill 08/09/11A friendly demeanour, warm smile, arms outstretched and the “how can I help you sir” welcome that we’ve become so familiar with seems to have accompanied us, seamlessly, from country to country, yet amazingly, seems to have missed large pockets of the French nation.

Enormous, extravagantly decorated window displays, elaborate and expensive advertising campaigns, neatly arranged shelving and employees with freshly manicured nails lure the consumer into false and misguided impressions. These aesthetic creations merely act as an aphrodisiac to prick one’s sense of curiosity.

With the weakening of the great manufacturing industries throughout the world, and the increasing popularity and importance of the service industries, I often wonder how the French are going so wrong.

Was it my bumbling grasp of their language that was creating this hostility or, perhaps, was it that I was addressing them incorrectly? Absolutely not! I’ve made great strides with the French language, yet I’ve still not sensed a change in their reluctance to open up and show any sort of spark across the counter.

Mark Hill 08/09/11A perfect example occurred just the other night. I was in Montmartre with a group of friends, when we decided a quick drink might be nice before our farewells. We chose a simple Parisian café and parked ourselves on the terrace.

A couple of minutes later, the sullen-faced, floppy-haired waiter put down his phone in disgust and ambled slowly towards the table. Without any pleasantries, he slapped the menus on the table and glared at us, one by one, until we finally ordered. The drinks were delivered with equal disdain and without a word spoken.

This sort of interaction between unwitting consumers and employees is common. The consumer can enter the building, make a request or perhaps even place an order. Begrudgingly, the employee will process the order and the customer will leave the establishment without making eye contact or even hearing a response from the other person.

Mark Hill 08/09/11iAll this negativity and trepidation heightens the somewhat surprising and rather pleasant feeling that you experience when you do actually find a charming and courteous individual. Someone who has the aforementioned, friendly demeanour, warm smile, outstretched arms and “Bonjour Monsieur, je peux vous aider” welcome.

These kind people certainly exist in Paris and across France but, sadly, they’re greatly outnumbered by the type of person I came across in Montmartre the other night.

Maybe I’m simply another oversensitive foreigner who should just accept the fact that c’est comme ça en France, but why should I?

All Images © Mark E Hill


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Mark E Hill

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  1. Elisabeth Donato Sep 24, 2011 at 8:02 AM - Reply

    Stereotyping is fun, but it’s also a trap. Yes, customer service in France (and I would add, especially in Paris – see, I can do that, because I am from Lille!) tends to leave a lot to be desired, but you can also find (as you mention it in this post) extremely kind and helpful staff here and there…

    Nice piece, though! Hope to read more from you soon!

  2. Laura Griffin Sep 26, 2011 at 11:26 AM - Reply

    I wonder if the ambivalence of these Parisian waiters came down to dealing with over-enthusiatic and loud tourists all day…it is no excuse for poor service though. I hope you find nicer restaurants/bars soon Mark.

  3. Mark E Hill Sep 27, 2011 at 7:16 PM - Reply

    Elisabeth, thank you for the kind comment. Indeed stereotyping is fun but I think the French have a sense of humour. Laura you probably have a point about the waiters. It wouldn’t be my cup of tea!

  4. Wendy Wise Oct 1, 2011 at 10:39 PM - Reply

    Generally, I find the larger the business the worse the customer service, with the Wendy wise Award for Worst Customer Service going to Conforama! However, here in the Poitou Charentes we’ve always had good friendly service when eating out even if the food has been awful….

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