The Rude French

When preparing for my 1st sojourn to Paris in 2006, I received LOTS of suggestions from people. Two things grabbed my attention the strongest: Get a crepe with Nutella, banana, and almonds; and the French are incredibly rude!

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The rudeness of the French is as legendary as the Eiffel Tower is iconic. Even though everything I read said that one did not need ANY French to visit Paris, I don’t travel that way. I like to learn as much as I can of the local language. I studied French on my own for about 6 months before heading to Paris.

Did I need French? Non! Everywhere I went, almost everything was either bilingual or so obvious I didn’t struggle.  One may not know what a boulangerie is, but if you look in the window and see the baguettes and other breads, you know it’s a bakery.

It may not be clear what sortie means, but since there was a photo of a person walking out of a door and large crowds of people were getting off the metro and heading in that direction, even a person without a word of French can figure out that’s the way to the exit.

My first encounter with the rude French was at my local boulangerie. After 3 days of getting my breakfast there before beginning the day’s exploration, I was asked something in French I couldn’t remember. She waited patiently while I pronounced it over and over. When I was obviously drawing a blank, she finally said (in perfect English): “I asked if you would like it heated.” I was blown away! She had NEVER spoken English to me. Then she went back to French. She knew I was trying hard to learn French, and she had been accommodating that the whole time. What a bitch!

eiffel tower, paris, france, rude french

My next encounter would occur later that day. I was trying to find the Parthenon and was having a bit of a struggle. I stopped a well-dressed man carrying a briefcase and politely asked “Ou est le parthenon?” He stopped in his tracks, guided me backwards almost a block, and patiently gave me directions up the street to the building, smiling and waving goodbye as I uttered a grateful merci! Such a prick!

Time after time I kept having these experiences. I was confused as hell. Where were all the rude French!

Almost seven years later I returned to France with my son. I figured perhaps I had been in such awe of Paris that I simply saw what I wanted to see. I pondered if the romance of it all had blinded me to subtle rudeness.

This time we began in Lyon. We headed to our hosts and arrived at their home at close to midnight. Even though they had to work the next morning, they fixed us food and visited. They made sure I had more books and maps than the tourist office offers before saying goodnight finally.  On our last night in their place, they fixed us the local typical meal of raclette. We had spent only a few nights in their home, but when we left, it felt like we were leaving old friends.

Their fellow citizens of Lyon were equally friendly and wonderful. We couchsurfed for a couple of nights with another fabulous couple before heading to Paris.

paris, france, rude french

Our welcome to Paris? As Tigger struggled to get his suitcase through the metro turnstile, someone went out of their way to come help him since I was in the process of getting my stuff through my own similarly narrow passage.

The next day I watched someone go down a steep set of stairs simply to help a woman trying to go up the stairs with a stroller.

Out of over a week traversing the City of Lights, I only had 1 person that I was tempted to use some of my “other” French words on.

Still, I thought it must just be me. Then we met up with some fellow bloggers, Patti and Abi, who had been traveling in Paris. We wondered together at the absence of the rude French.

Maybe they were all on holiday? Or, maybe they’re all hiding in the villages.

Even our hosts in Lyon told me how rude the French can be. I still haven’t seen it.

And I’m okay with that. France remains one of my favorite countries, and Paris still owns a big part of my heart. Even if it is full of allegedly rude French people.

Have you ever experienced a local culture that seemed markedly rude?

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  1. great post! i really enjoyed it, I spent six months in Paris and I didnt encounter any rudeness at all except at a clothing store once, but it happens everywhere! She started speaking english in a rude manner to me while i was practicing my french, english is not my first language. oh well.. i replied in spanish and smiled..
    jajaja french usually like when people try to learn their language, it is definetly a must everywhere you go!

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    • I find most people enjoy when you at least make the attempt. I know very few things in Thai, but every time I greet someone in Thai and say thank you in Thai (we’re in Thailand currently), I love the look on their face. So few people seem to bother. It makes such a huge difference!

      During my 1st visit to Paris, my accent was a horrible mix of French and Spanish. In one restaurant, she started speaking to me in Spanish, and I thought “Works for me!” LOL

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  2. Awesome article Talon, I love it!!

    I’ve met quite a few French, although the Quebec kind, and they’ve all been super nice.

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    • Thanks! I’m so glad to hear other people have had similar positive experiences.

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  3. Very fascinating. I have heard of this before but I do not wish to say anything as France is a great place. I have been to Paris once and I wanted some directions. I asked a man in English and was given a cold response in English that he do not speak English. When I said something in Hindi, he quickly learnt I was from India and then he talked to me in English. Amazing place, love the French.
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    • Some in Paris, particularly, are really put off by people who don’t try to learn the language. I’m glad he warmed up to you when he realized you weren’t just a lazy Brit or American. :)

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  4. I’ve certainly encountered an amount of “Linguistic Inflexibility” in Paris. Not that they were rude, but that apparently a word is only understandable if spoken exactly 100% correct without any form of traveler accent. I end up reverting to point and grunt.

    We went to a pharmacist for some cough drops last year. She spoke fine English advising us about all the options. Then she asked us why we didn’t speak French? Well, between the two of us we speak fluent English and German, conversational Spanish and basic Italian. So we are far from the dumb American stereotype and while I can read basic French, i can’t speak it. This seemed to make her feel better though she still tried to convince us that French is better to learn. So maybe it is less rude than just an overriding feeling that their language is superior? Not sure.

    The worst rudeness I have met has been with the trains. This was years ago, but I went to the major station to buy a ticket to Chartres. The ticket agent spoke no English apparently, and though he apparently understood me couldn’t get me to understand that I was at the wrong station. A very friendly next-guy-in-line helped me though. And on a different train a year later, I had reserved a seat on a TGV. That seat was taken and the woman would not move. The conductor wouldn’t move her either and just told me to find whatever seat while rushign around. It was not a great experience, but whatever.

    Overall I find that stereotype to be untrue in the interpretation not the symptoms. That feeling of linguistic superiority is there, but it isnt out of bad feelings for others.
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    • Some of that seems fairly common for big cities, but I’ve definitely heard of an air of superiority regarding French. Even though I never encountered it. I’ve heard from other native French people who tell me they get treated poorly for their French in Paris. There is definitely some language pride there. :)

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  5. I so agree Talon, the French really do have a bad rap for being rude. But they do exist. However they tend to work in closed off places behind counters like the post office and the bank..
    Wait, those exist in the US and canada too.
    Every once in a while i do come across a rude person where we live here in France but no more than i would anywhere else. I deal with them the same way i would anyone else. I push back and they usually back down.
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    • Very true. They exist everywhere. I wish I knew where the origin of this particular stereotype got started, though.

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  6. I LOVED Paris! We didn’t come across any rudeness while we were there…Just friendly, helpful people. I always try and learn the basics like hello, please, thank you etc when in a foreign country (which I think is just a respectful thing to do really) but on occasions when I was struggling, the French would try their best to communicate in english to help me out.

    I loved France and can’t wait to go back again to explore this country more!

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    • Yep! Wonderful, helpful people. And it makes a huge difference when people try to communicate in the local language. I’ve been told this time and time again from locals.

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  7. I found the French I encountered to be perfectly nice as well. Want to know who was rude to me? Random, one-off people in one-off situations just about anywhere I’ve been. It’s not an entire place. It’s always one bad egg that spreads a bad rap. I always say you can’t base millions of people on one encounter. They (we) all differ.
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    • Boy, isn’t that true! I know someone who had a bad experience in Mexico (something was stolen), and now she bad mouths the entire country. There are stinkers everywhere, but there are a vast majority of really wonderful people out there. Definitely can’t hold an entire country to one experience.

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  8. I had the same experience in driving all through France, top to bottom. I found that as long as I made an attempt at the language, they were more than accommodating. I did, however, notice a remarkably absent amount of children there. I was wondering if they hid them all.

    I must add, while in Corsica this past summer I encountered more rude French people than I would have liked to. Maybe, they shipped them all there from the mainland.
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    • I’ve heard several people say they love French people but not French tourists. I haven’t had that experience yet, either, but then again the only time I was in a place with a healthy amount of French tourists was a very chill island where we got a ton of backpackers.

      I noticed that about the kids as well. We did see more in Lyon, but mostly on the metro and shopping centers right after school. I asked the same about Spain, and I’ve been told it’s a European thing, that they’re afraid their kids will get into trouble so they aren’t allowed as much freedom and independence. I don’t know if that holds for France as well, but it sure seemed to be the case.

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  9. Great post – I didn’t meet one rude french person in my whole time in Paris, if anything they went out of their way to be nice. LOVE the picture of the Eiffel Tower xx
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    • Definitely has been my experience as well. And thanks!

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  10. Indeed! We spend a month in Paris each year and are still waiting to encounter rude locals. Admittedly, I’ve seen it at a distance occasionally, directed at self-abosrbed Americans who refuse to speak the language, adapt to the culture or respect local norms. I want to be rude to them as well.

    From our experiences, the French have been incredibly kind, patient and helpful at every step of our journey. My favorite story — several years ago, my first year their for an extended period, when I went to purchase the month pass for the Metro (typically reserved for locals), the kind guy working the Metro booth spoke little English, and I, little French. While a small line gathered behind me, he pulled up Google translate on his computer and we both typed, communicating back and forth. He then walked me to the machine to buy the first card needed, then carefully assembled my pass, smiling and laughing and typing with me the entire time. Yep, pretty rude. And what’s even more amazing, the people who’d gathered in line behind me patiently waited their turn, smiling at me and our efforts to get a pass. I’m in love with the country and its people, and as for the rude visitors who taste a bit of chill when wandering the streets of Paris, I suggest a look in the mirror first. Well done article!

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    • That is so cool! Thanks for sharing that. And I’m envious you spend a month there every year, by the way.

      It makes such a big difference when one is respectful of the local culture and norms and makes an effort. They see that and appreciate it no matter where you are.

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  11. I think, like anywhere, you can have really bad experiences or really good ones! When I went to New York I was told that New Yorkers were incredibly rude and yes, Mum and I met quite a few that’s for sure but we also met some lovely people who helped us when we were lost or offered to walk us to the subway station when we couldn’t find it; they really were lovely! I haven’t met a country that I’ve not enjoyed because of the people but Singapore was pretty crappy because I was there when it was a Malaysian National Holiday and they were so incredibly rude – even Singaporeans didn’t appreciate them being there :/
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    • I think a lot of it DOES have to do with attitude. I know I’ve met some tourists that I wanted to strangle for sure. I also think some of it is cultural difference. For example, in a restaurant when the waiter leaves you alone until you wave him over, some Americans may find that to be downright poor service, when, in fact, the waiter is being extra polite by leaving you alone so as not to disrupt your conversation, your meal, etc. I think when you go into a place either aware of the culture or open to the fact that things may be done differently, it affects your experience in a positive way.

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  12. I’ve only been to Paris once, more often to the south of France. Even down there they apologize for this image – but blame the Parisians! Never come across it anywhere is France, which is more than I can say for England or Spain!
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    • Spain has been the worst so far for me as well.

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  13. I’ve been to Paris twice now (2011 & 2012) and have yet to encounter any rudeness, it was not my experience at all. I would say that my encounters in Paris were quite opposite. I learned French in school in Canada though it had been 20 years since my last class, but I used what French I knew. I also think there is a lot to be said for how we act in cities around the world where English is not the first language. I think it’s important to learn hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me (if you need to pass or to get someone’s attention) at least, it can go a long way.
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    • It really does go a long way. Not only that, it really enhances the experience.

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  14. I didn’t find any rude people in France, either of the two times I’ve been there. My French prof at college said it was very important to say Bonjour! when you enter a business and “Au revoir” when you leave. Everyone is a momandpop store and they all greet you. I do that here in the States now, as well.

    In Poitiers in 2011, I asked for directions, and got a lot of hand waving with the directions (of which I didn’t understand it all), so that helped.

    The French are as proud of their country and language as Americans are of theirs. It’s not rudeness, they just want you to know that France and French are the best in the world! I found that big smiles and friendly attitudes help you around the world.

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    • Definitely! I was REALLY happy they worked with my French more this time. I’m sure in 2006 my French was probably painful to listen to. Especially since I kept adding in Spanish. Made for some interesting moments. LOL

      I love the Bonjour! and Au revoir! upon entering and leaving. Even in the big dept stores they do it. It’s a lovely tradition in my opinion.

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      • Oh, yeah. In 2007, in Paris, I stopped a woman on the street to ask a question, in French. She looked at me like I had two heads! My French is not horrible, but it’s really slow. And I’d been practicing the question in my head, too, lol.

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        • I had that happen to me at Versailles with a security guard, but after my 3rd attempt I realized I was asking the 1st part of the question in French and the second in Spanish. LOL

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  15. Haha! Love it. We had the same type of experiences. Everyone was super friendly and extremely patient. They had no trouble pegging us as foreigners and it seemed like that made them that much more friendly. Our stay in Paris was too short and we’ll definitely be going back one day.
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    • It never seems long enough. I’m hoping to be able to go back for at least a month. Albeit in warmer weather.

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  16. So true Talon! We looked for the rude French but couldn’t find them! They must have been hiding for the 3 weeks we were there! Sure, there were a couple of people that we tried in vain to ask directions from but hey, I find those people in the U.S. all of the time. Those people were far out numbered by those who would stop walking, rattle off in French directions and gestures until we finally figured out what they were telling us and everyone who worked in a shop was nothing but kind and helpful. Someone, who has spent 30+ years guiding tours in France, told me that the French are not rude, they just have somewhere to go and they don’t see the need to make eye contact with everyone on the street. And when you live in a city with 2.2 million people, where personal space is almost nonexistent, you just better get moving or get run over. That’s not rude, that’s life!
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    • I love how when you walk into a business, they make sure to yell out Bonjour! Even for being such a big city, I found them to be so much more friendly than other large cities (especially Madrid).

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    • And that was how it was explained to me about New Yorker’s as well. Interesting correlation there.

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      • Yep. Typical big city. I’ve got things to do!

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  17. Great post. When I was lost in Paris the only person close to being rude was a black man in the subway information box under the sign ENGLISH and he didn’t speak a word in it. I got lost a few times and people either spoke to me in English or looked at my map where I wanted to get, took my arm-I swear to God they did it- and led me there.
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  18. I so agree…the French have a reputation that is unfair. We got on the wrong train to Versailles. When we realized we were heading intothe countryside we jumped off at the next stop. What we didnt realize was that a local woman had seen us and gotten off with us to help us understand the map and find our way. We had not seen her before. It was such a kind gesture and we will never forget her…now, on the other hand, at the Louvre…we all know the Mona Lisa is a very small painting…as we all crowded around to see it, a German woman busted her way through the crowd. Many of us just looked at her in amazement. She didnt care what anyone thought…even to the point of shoving a man with his young son on his shoulders…now we are German through our ancestry…and wow, was i embarrassed for her. But she didnt care one bit to wait her turn or let the precious child see the painting. Bitch is the word that still comes to mind when i remember that day.
    On the flip side, i too with my southern drawl try my hardest to speak the language of the country. Oh and the bakeries are so awesome there…the day i asked for my pastry to be ‘choate’ she gave me the biggest smile…i may not have spelled that correctly but you know it means hot. The lady in the grocery, however, wasnt so kind when she wanted me to at with more concise change…i opened my hand to say “this is all i have”. She was probably very tired after a long day on her feet. I love Paris, too! And y’all ❤

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    • Oh don’t get me started on the Mona Lisa. LOL Yeah, she’d fit my definition of bitch as well.

      I give extra credit to those with jobs that must be very challenging, such as the immigration people who have to stamp hundreds of passports a day, grocery store cashiers, etc.

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