• Sara Christopher

Pardon my Americanism : How to avoid annoying the French on your next vacation to France

Updated: Jun 10, 2018

Guest Blog by Lisa Russi

Pardon my Americanism : How to avoid annoying the French on your next vacation to France

Whether it be a story-line from a popular TV show, a friend’s experience, or our own attempt to visit the land of cheese and wine, we have all received the message: French people are rude and they hate American tourists. While there are the occasional French people who are way too cranky to be working in the tourism industry, I disagree with this stereotype. Instead, I would argue that the French are simply frustrated when foreign tourists unknowingly and unapologetically break all of their rules. So, if you are heading for vacation in France and want to decrease your chances of receiving an angry “oh la la” —yes, this French expression can be both positive and negative— these six quick tips are for you.

  1. Start will Bonjour/Bonsoir (Hello/Good evening).

You say bonjour/bonsoir when you walk into a shop/ boutique, when you stop someone to ask a question, when you get to the cash register of any store, when you greet the hostess at the restaurant, and when the conductor comes to take your ticket on the train. Any time you are speaking to another human being for the first time that day, it is appropriate, polite, and expected to say bonjour/ bonsoir.

As Americans, we are not expected to say anything to the boutique owner as we walk into their shop and we would usually stop someone on the street by saying “excuse me” before asking directions. No, “excuse me” can’t be the first words out of your mouth. According to my French professor, first you must acknowledge a person’s humanity by greeting them with a proper “bonjour.” To do otherwise would be rude and might just be why you get snubbed on the street when asking for directions. Say “bonjour" until around 6pm when you can safely switch to “bonsoir.”

2. While you are at it, make the effort to learn a simple phrase in French.

You know how your great aunt shakes her head when people don’t speak English in America? Well, consider this payback. You are in a country whose dominant language is not English. Learn the phrase: “Bonjour, je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous anglais?” It means “Hello, I don’t speak French. Do you speak English?” It’s the least you can do to make up for the fact that you are asking someone to speak in their second language because you don’t speak the language of the country. Imagine someone in the big American city near you talking to you directly in French. How much much more natural would it be to at least start by asking if you speak French.

3.Take the volume down, way down.

When you step off the plane, you will find the airport eerily more quiet than the one you left in the US. The French in general speak softer than those from the “home of the brave,” but this is much more pronounced on public transportation. If you take a train out of Paris, and I hope you do, pretend your eavesdropping boss is in the seat in front of you and you are complaining about your job to your seat mate. That is about how loud you should be speaking. No one should be able to understand your conversation aside from the person next to you. Everyone else will do the same, even French children have been conditioned to be reasonably quiet. If someone is being loud, either they are not French, they are rebel teenagers, or they are senior citizens that forgot to put their hearing aids up. Also, never ever talk on the phone in the train car. Take the call out in the hallway between cars.

4.Try not to “Have it your way.”

In the US, we are obsessed with modifying food orders at restaurants. This is because we really love weird diet fads and because, thanks to Burger King, we have permission to “have it your way.” In the French perspective, food is an art, the chef is the artist and to ask him to hold the cheese is to ask Picasso to paint in purple instead of blue. I know it sounds dramatic, but if you go to a fancy restaurant, do some research and try to find the meal that works for you, even if it means you cheat a little on your Whole30 diet. Actually, don’t come to France if you aren’t ready to cheat on your Whole30 diet. The exception of course is legitimate food allergies, but again look for meals that naturally don’t have the allergens rather than trying to ask for modifications. If this doesn’t work for you, Burger King does exist in France.

5. Forget everything you know about customer service.

The customer is not always right in France. If there is a legitimate complaint (objectively wrong rather than subjectively wrong), feel free to present it, and walk in with low expectations of actually being helped and the problem being rectified. You are welcome.

6. Get out of Paris.

Don’t get me wrong. Paris is a nice place to visit, but Paris is the New York of France. If you don’t want people to judge the kindness and attitudes of the USA off of their experience with New Yorkers, you shouldn’t do the same with Parisians. Get out of Paris and experience the richness and beauty that France has to offer. You can meet the beer loving northern ch’tis, the eco-friendly extreme sport mountain people of Alps, the bourgeois (yuppy) people of the Loire Valley, the très chic people of Nice and the “not-so-french” warm mediterranean culture of Marseille to name a few.

Voila, the basics before you head to France. Enjoy your stay and if you are still nervous just do the one American custom that is a crowd pleaser wherever you go: tip well!

93 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All