Who says the French are rude?

Paris - My French Life™The two times I’ve stayed in Paris (and parts of France), I’ve found the majority of locals to be extraordinarily kind and polite. I appear to be in a minority though, as many people say the French are rude!

As I use a motorised wheelchair due to my disability of quadriplegia, I’m ‘forced’ to interact more often with strangers than non-disabled people. I need to ask people to open doors, pass me items from supermarket shelves that I can’t reach, pick up something I may drop, and even ask chefs to cut my food.

I rely on the kindness of French strangers.

So, if the French are apparently so rude, how do I cope in their country?

The French are rude - Kindness of French Strangers - My French Life™

Unexpected help learning French

On my first day in the hotel in Paris last year, I told the staff I was in Paris to speak as much French as possible.

From then on, they corrected me and praised my attempts. One concierge even lent me her childhood French verb conjugation books from her home for me to use during my stay.

The kindness of French wait staff

Musee Dorsay - My French Life™When I was in the Musée d’Orsay, I went to the restaurant there. I ordered my meal, and because I can’t grasp a knife, I tend to choose meals that I can eat with just a fork or spoon.

That was all good until I ordered bread and cheese. The pieces of cheese were quite big (no problem with that in theory!) and I looked at my plate thinking how I could eat without looking like a farmer on a lunch break in the back paddock?

Up came a waitress and she asked me quietly if I would like her to break and butter the bread and slice the cheese for me. Not only that, she arranged the cheese beautifully on the bread for me.

The thoughtful French

Another time I was in a café and the waiter put my change onto the table. A Frenchman leant over and told me to put my change into my handbag and secure my bag more firmly (to stop the pickpockets stealing both).

The Frenchman who gave me directions

Oui - The French are rude - My rench Life™One day I was so lost it was no longer funny. I was hot and tired and I could see I was nowhere near anywhere I should be (curse this adventurous spirit of ‘have wheelchair will travel!’).

A Frenchman came up to me and asked if I needed help. I said yes, I didn’t know where I was. He gave me directions and off I went. I became frustrated soon after when a footpath became inaccessible. Up came this man again (clearly he had been watching me to make sure I was okay). He pointed out another direction and walked with me until we came to a road I knew.

I have countless examples of French people being kind and polite to me.

Do you think the French are rude? Or do you have other examples of the kindness of French strangers? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments box below.

Image credits:
1. Aerial view of the Eiffel tower
2. If we all do one random act of kindness, by Heath Brandon via Flickr.
3. Restaurant Musée d’Orsay, by Patrick Müller via Flickr.
4. Learning French, by X on Flickr.

About the Contributor

Sandra E Brown

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  1. Selina Sykes Nov 6, 2013 at 8:21 PM - Reply

    I could not agree more Sanda. This idea of the French being rude is a myth – this goes the same for the Parisian stereotype! If I ever looked lost I would often be approached and offered help. As for a non-Francophone speaking French, the reactions and comments I always got about my French were always positive ones. Great article!

    • Sandra E Brown Nov 7, 2013 at 10:46 AM - Reply

      Thank you Selina! From my experience as an English language teacher, my students (mostly Sth Korean) say that when westerners come to their country and speak to them in English, they often feel quite confronted and confused at first. Although they know English, they rarely speak it. So their first instinct is to say they don’t understand. I don’t know whether the French are the same, for the same reason. Everyone was nice to me.

  2. Catherine Broughton Nov 6, 2013 at 11:21 PM - Reply

    Interesting read, Sandra, thanks, but I’m afraid I do think that anybody in the world is helped with kindness and empathy if they are in physical difficulties.
    It also depends on which part of France you live in, and on how deep the experience you have. The French in tourist areas are nowdays told to be polite and pleasant to tourists, but this is a new thing and is still not national. On the whole the French are very rude and off-hand, their idea of customer service is abysmal and they have a defensive way of speaking if you try to engage them in conversation.
    I have lived in France a very long time now and I have lived in Spain (4 years), South Africa, Australia, Belize, Switzerland (the Swiss are dour, though not out-and-out RUDE) and England.
    I am an up-front chummy sort of lady; I make friends easily and I get chatting easily and I have loads of friends from all over the world except France. Although OF COURSE there are nice French people, on the whole they are rude, very rude, and also unfriendly.

    • Sandra E Brown Nov 7, 2013 at 10:56 AM - Reply

      Thanks for your reply Catherine. It’s always interesting to read different viewpoints and you’ve certainly had a wealth of experience in where you’ve lived. If I’ll think the same or differently about the French when I go to Paris next year – that will be a new article:)

      • Meliane M'BOUA Nov 7, 2013 at 9:58 PM - Reply

        As I am french, I can give you a local point of view.
        I have lived in Paris for many years, and I think that indeed french over there are quite rude. But I would like to make a difference between Paris and the rest of France. I am come from a little town in Normandie and I have travelled in other part of france. And people there are very nice and friendly. Many people who come to visit France go to Paris and they assume that all French are like this. And it is not true. Even in Paris, there are still nice people. I realise as well, that some behavior are more a display of character rather than something directed to you, if you are not used to it you might take it personnally.
        You might think that my opinion is bias, but having lived in many countries in spain, Mexico, UK, i feel more like a citizen of the world 🙂

        • Sandra E Brown Nov 7, 2013 at 10:25 PM - Reply

          I think your opinion is valid Meliane of course and I enjoy reading views different and like mine. That’s half the fun of being a Writer:) I have a good friend who is from Dijon and a more hospitable person could not be possible. But because of my disability I also had interactions with workers such as train staff in Paris that other tourists don’t and they weren’t just ‘doing their job’. They were genuinely funny and engaging with me such as one chap making me repeat every platform number after him until he was happy with my accent! Maybe I just enjoy these little adventures more because my life is more challenging than many and so I’m less likely to take notice of a rude person. Or maybe I’m deluded;)

  3. Mary An Gonzalez Nov 13, 2013 at 12:09 AM - Reply

    Hi Sandra. Reading your article brought back happy memories of my 2009 trip to France. It began auspiciously even before we left the Philippines because of Corinne Jacquin who went out of her way to answer my concerns regarding wheelchair accessibility in Dijon. If I had a question she couldn’t answer, she went out of her way to find the answer and I thought that very sweet of her. At Ikea I was surprised when the cashier waved me to go to the front of the line because of my disability and the people who should have been ahead of me gave me a smile instead of being irked, which I was half-expecting. We did have one or two unfriendly experiences but these were superseded by the rest of the French we encountered who were solicitous and helpful in lifting my wheelchair up the train or giving us directions when we were lost. Looking forward to reading more articles by you.

    • Sandra E Brown Nov 13, 2013 at 6:07 PM - Reply

      Hi Mary An (Mary An and I have never met in person but I know her through Corinne)! As you and I both know, just because we use a wheelchair, it does not mean everyone in the World is kind to us. In fact some people are downright rude and resentful of our needs. Interestingly France has an extremely low rate (compared to the rest of the First World) of people using wheelchairs living actively in the community. I wasn’t surprised to hear that but I don’t blame it only on access (I am researching the reason). However as Mary An and I both know, they are not discriminatory (or are they in a good way?) and in fact seem quite impressed by our apparent ‘courage’. The French to me are too smart to be rude. Maybe they are just protective and discerning?

  4. Susan Walter Nov 15, 2013 at 7:03 PM - Reply

    I think this idea that the French are universally rude and will ignore you if you can’t speak French no longer applies. According to my French friend Charles Henry, who grew up in Paris but has lived in the US since the 60’s (yes, he’s a million years old…) France is like a different country since the 1980s. Prior to that he would have agreed with the old stereotype, but not now.

    • Sandra E Brown Nov 16, 2013 at 6:24 PM - Reply

      I agree Susan – it does seem to be a stereotype from perhaps when people traveled less and also were less likely to learn a second language (both the French and English speakers). My French tutor says she loved it when travelers spoke to her in beginner French as she felt proud of their efforts.

  5. Alan Watson Nov 16, 2013 at 12:56 AM - Reply

    Nice article. I was last in France (mostly Paris) the summer of ’82. I didn’t experience any rudeness on the part of the French. Although I took French in school, it didn’t teach me everything, and my listening comprehension with the native French was pretty poor. I even felt that some wanted to practice their English with me. I have traveled extensively, and, quite honestly, the French are no more rude than any other place I’ve visited. This world is full of kind people and rude people, and they’re everywhere.

    • Sandra E Brown Nov 16, 2013 at 6:30 PM - Reply

      Thank you Alan – it’s great hearing from travelers who have met so many people in different countries. So many factors come into what makes an individual rude. It’s certainly hard to see how an entire population is/was seen as such. I mean it’s an extremely popular country to visit so if the French were THAT rude …

  6. Terry Hickman Nov 16, 2013 at 2:58 AM - Reply

    I have been to Paris twice, for one-week visits each time. I’m on a pretty low budget, so I mostly just walk around as far as my stamina will let me. In neither of my two visits were any Parisians ever rude to me, in fact, just the opposite. I met with nothing but courtesy and kindness everywhere. I speak maybe “intermediate” French, so they might have had a chuckle at my butchery of their language, but never when I was present. I love Paris and the French! (And their language and breads and cheeses and art and science….etc., etc.)

    • Sandra E Brown Nov 16, 2013 at 6:32 PM - Reply

      Ah low budget travelling means you meet the locals, so lucky you Terry! I’m with you on the language, bread, cheese …;)

      • joanna Nov 18, 2013 at 9:29 PM - Reply

        Really interesting article Sandra. Having lived nearly 10 years in rural France I would say that at times it is hard to meet French locals who are ‘ouvert’ and warm, but I think there are just some cultural differences and that contrary to stereotypes us English do not have the stiff upper lip as often suggested! But for me I have noticed it is a quietness, a modesty about the French people here that maybe can be interpreted as rudeness by outsiders. I certainly agree that customer service leaves alot to be desired but the common courtesy of kisses and ‘Bonjour Madame’ as you enter a shop or building is still maintained. I can also go into a room full of teenagers who will all stop their chatting and come to greet and kiss you politely, this would not be witnessed in the UK! When we first arrived in our tiny village, we were soon invited to aperos with the neighbours and bundles of local produce were thrust upon us as was help with the garden, chopping wood, the house renovations etc. Would a foreign family elsewhere receive such a warm welcome? Hmmmm….

        • Sandra E Brown Nov 18, 2013 at 10:16 PM - Reply

          Thank you Joanna – I want to have lived in France for 10 years too! Your experiences sound thoughtful and considerate of the reasons the French seem rude. Quite frankly in Melbourne, the new approach my bank has to customer service is way too personal and fake friendly. I’d prefer more aloofness when getting money from someone who knows as much about my finances as me! Back to you, I’m fascinated by how many people move to France despite this alleged rudeness. Did you think about it when you moved there?

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