Let’s settle this: are the French rude?
“Not all the French are so nice!” says Mireille Guiliano over a pot of peppermint tea at Bluetrain Café in Melbourne.
My French Life™ Fondatrice Judy, and I, were delighted to meet the cheerful, gracious and elegant French sage on her recent trip to Australia.
It was fascinating to hear a French woman’s point of view on the manners of her own countrymen and women.
“It’s only when you live abroad and talk a lot… first you see that your country isn’t perfect which you tend not to see when you live there and you grow up. You start seeing the flaws, and then you start seeing how other cultures live,” Mireille explains.
As we divulged in a recent article, we’re certainly guilty of indulging in French clichés and stereotypes. We concluded that we return to clichés in an attempt to understand the “foreign-ness” of the French; to overcome “the fact that we’ll never truly understand [them].” Are the French rude? Or is this just another cliché?
We hear tales of French rudeness so frequently it seems as if everyone has a bone to pick with the Gauls. As another French sage, Laura K. Lawless, explains on her website: “Even people who have never set foot in France take it upon themselves to warn potential visitors about the ‘rude French’.”
Facts prove the French are rude
Paris was ranked 33rd in the world for ‘convivialité‘ in a TripAdvisor survey of travellers. The city’s taxi drivers were also deemed relatively unkind, ranking 30th in the world.
As Emmanuelle Tremolet explained in a recent installment of ‘Le Buzz‘, Paris’ Chamber of Commerce and Regional Tourism Committee decided that it was time to combat Parisian impolitesse.
Their campaign ‘Do you speak touriste?‘ was created in the hopes of educating the French on treating tourists better. (We highly recommend you read their PDF guide to different nationalities for a chuckle. Or, find a summary here on Huffington Post.)
The myth of French rudeness
As many people have discovered, however, there can be a lot of exaggeration to this myth.
According to Sandra Brown, Parisians don’t need that much help in being kind to strangers. “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 rely on the kindness of French strangers,” she explained in a recent article for My French Life™. “So, if the French are apparently so rude, how do I cope in their country?”
Similarly, My French Life™ correspondent Alison Eastaway says she does “not agree with the popular discourse that the French are unfriendly.” In an article on making friends with the French, she decided that it was not the French who needed to change, but her. After all – if you can’t beat them, join them.
“Paris was ranked 33rd in the world for ‘convivialité‘. The city’s taxi drivers were also deemed relatively unkind, ranking 30th in the world.”
In a guest post with My French Life™, Erin Czarra addressed the many myths of French culture. The myth of rudeness is mostly associated with Parisians, and as Erin points out: “every big city has rude people who are in a hurry or who only think of themselves.”
As she explains, friction occurs as a result of a completely different perspective. “In France, it is not rude to talk at the same time as someone else,” says Erin. “It is also a common character trait to defend oneself or an idea… So when someone challenges you, be ready to push back a little. It’ll get you respect.”
Why do French people come across as rude?
Mireille Guiliano takes the origin of French brusqueness one level deeper. “Sometimes it’s cultural,” she explains. “They don’t mean to be arrogant but they are trained to be.”
“They discuss. They like to give opinions. I see it in business in meetings – it’s endless,” she says. “We talk, talk, talk for hours and we don’t resolve anything.”
In her experience, it’s very different in the United States. Problems are identified, tasks are delegated and the next meeting date is set. “In France, I’ll go to my committee meeting and it was wonderful – we talk all day but nothing gets resolved. Next time we meet four weeks later we start again – it drives me crazy!”
Making an effort with the French
This cultural dissonance runs, however, in both directions. As Lawless also reminds us: il faut qu’on fasse un effort ! “Related to this is the ‘ugly American’ syndrome – you know, the tourist who goes around yelling at everyone in English, denouncing everyone and everything French, and eating at only McDonald’s,” she says. Oui, we all know it well…
“Every big city has rude people who are in a hurry or who only think of themselves.” – Erin Czarra
In Esme Wakefield’s experience, the British have a deep-seated dislike and distrust for the French. This means their neighbours across the Channel will have a tough time ingratiating themselves to the Brits, no matter what they do.
“I’ve noticed that the older generation especially favours a negative view of the French,” she explained in a recent article for My French Life™. “I recall a conversation with my elderly neighbour, who told me repeatedly that the French ‘let us down in the war’.”
Changing French mentality
Another UK-based My French Life™ correspondent, Selina Sykes, says that despite this, French people are moving across La Manche in droves. Young French people appreciate the freedom and career prospects on offer in London. They also appreciate the fact that Londoners are much more approachable than Parisians.
“It’s only when you live abroad… first you see that your country isn’t perfect which you tend not to see when you live there and you grow up.” – Mireille Guiliano
Mireille sees this movement of people as a positive solution to the difficulties she has witnessed in her professional life. “Today young people travel much more. In my day, when I was young, very few people left. A lot of my school friends have only been from Provence to Paris – so forget the US!”
“I was the only ‘weird’ person. They called me ‘l’Americaine‘ and then I went to Paris to study and they call me ‘la Parisienne‘,” she recalls. “I moved to New York and married an American so they called me ‘l’Americaine‘ again!”
“Most people in my town had never gone anywhere… We have a French word [for this] – ‘coincé’… But it’s changing now with the younger generation.”
Larger companies like LVMH, for whom Mireille worked for many years, are keen to send young people abroad to places like China and Australia. She’s hopeful that this will contribute to a broadening of horizons.
“Hopefully it gives people a better understanding of other cultures – and you always learn about yours.”
Do you think that French rudeness is simply cultural misunderstanding? What do you see as the solution? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.Image credits:
1. French rudeness, © My French Life™.
2. Do you speak Touriste? via the official website.
3. Mireille, © Tim Knox, courtesy Mireille Guiliano.
Il y a des généralisations culturelles partout – nos conversations en débordent. On s’amuse à s’en servir pour souligner un point de vue. En lisant votre article, j’ai pensé à une description que j’avais lue il y a plusieurs ans d’une réunion organisée pour les employés de deux compagnies qui étaient entrées en partenariat d’affaires: une compagnie hispanique et une allemande. Je raffole de répéter le récit aux autres: les employés espagnols [sud-américains?] qui sont arrivés en retard à la réunion, qui se sont servis des cafés et ont commencé à bavarder sans songer à l’agenda de la réunion. Les Allemands, bien sûr, s’impatientaient pas mal, eux qui voulaient commencer à l’heure prévue.
Je me souviens d’une fois à l’aéroport de Roissy où je venais d’arriver bien à l’avance pour mon vol de retour en Australie. L’employée m’a dit brusquement: “Ce vol est déjà parti hier – vous auriez dû vérifier!” Croyez-moi qu’étant à cette époque-là un voyageur peu expérimenté, je n’avais aucun concept d’un avion qui part avant l’heure inscrite sur mon billet (trop de films tournés dans l’aire d’attente d’un gros aéroport avec des voyageurs qui rouspètent tout le temps: “Whaddya mean we gotta wait till the morning for a return flight to Miami?”
À ce temps-là, j’ai pris la réplique de l’employé comme un exemple de l’impolitesse des Parisiens/Parisiennes, je l’avoue.
Thanks for the link to Do you speak touriste. That was a scream. My best friend and I just got back from 10 days and Paris and we enjoyed chatting with other Americans there about the various ways that the French didn’t speak to “speak American” on some things that were important to us. It’s easy to see how friends, groups (and wars!) get started over shared cultural experiences — or the lack of them.
This was my second trip and I’m already planning the third! Thanks again for the great article and for having this blog. I’m finding lots of great stuff here…
David, I’m so glad you enjoyed the article, and that you’re enjoying the site! Oh and that’s great news about your third trip back… It’s such a fascinating topic, and we no matter how long you discuss it with people it never seems to end! Me and my friends could dissect it for hours…
It’s definitely an interesting topic! I found that the French were highly aware of this stereotype, and would do or say things (like offer me change when I realized I didn’t have enough for my pastries) and then exclaim, “See? The French aren’t all rude!” More often than not though, I found private people with an aloofness mistaken for rudeness.
I agree, Alexandria. Sometimes, it’s just language and directness. A waiter asked my friend, “What you want?” in a tone that would get him fired in the US, but we laughed it off as just their style along with a very direct translation from French. We both noticed that even the slightest attempt at French lubricates things enormously and I was actually able to complete several transactions entirely in French — to my utter delight.
Haha yes I’ve had some waiters be incredibly rude – but only when there was 15 of us, no one could decide what they wanted and we took 30 mins to actually order anything because we were talking too much. But whereas in the US, UK or Australia the wait staff would be polite until absolute breaking point, in France they just don’t bother!
But you’re right David – the more French you speak, and the happier you appear to speak it, the better!
Hannah, you live in Paris now – are you finding that the French are being more polite to you when they see you as an expat rather than a tourist?
For example, the guy you buy your coffee from every morning, the lady at the supermarché – people you encounter on a regular basis?
To the credit of the French (especially in Paris!)…
Firstly, France/Paris is a huge tourism destination for people all around the globe.
Second, as I’ve seen in more than one article on this magazine, people go to France with certain expectations.
So what we have is thousands upon thousands of tourist who have their set-in-stone ideas about what they want and what they think they will be getting from France and the French.
And that must be really annoying to have to deal with every day at work.
imagine going to your work every day – or just getting the bus or whatever – and having to face people that were determined to have an experience that lived up to their probably unrealistic expectations of your home town.
I’ve worked in a whole lot of customer service jobs and i can tell you that if I was faced with this kind of thing from customers I’d be shirty too.
as a French native person, i am amused at the way people generalize and put all French people in the same bag.
there are some rude people in France, yes, even towards other French people. but on the whole, French people are good people and are very willing to help when the foreigner makes an effort to be part of the people. Manners are very important and a few words, like : s’il vous plait, merci, Bonjour, au revoir, will open the doors of kindness from the French people.
Tourists and non French people living in France need to understand that they are guest in the French home (France). and they need to behave properly. After all, we would not invite again a rude person in our home.
Foreigners, go to France, and enjoy the culture, the people, treat them well and you will have the best time of your life.
(but i could be one eyed).