Myth of the month: The French are rude!

Written by Diane on. Posted in France myth of the month, on life in France

French are rude

Welcome to July’s myth of the month!

Everyone has heard the stereotype that the French are rude. Snobby. Too proud. Critical. Yeah, all that. Maybe you’ve even experienced it for yourself. But is this myth of the month baseless or not? I’m taking a look at this one a bit closer after the jump.

Are the French rude? Read on!

Ahhh, the French. The wine lovers, the cheese connoisseurs and the most fashionable and RUDE among us. If there’s one stereotype about the French that everyone’s heard, it’s that the French are rude. With a capital “R.” French people really do get a bad rap for being rude, but in my experience, I can’t say I’ve come across any particularly rude French people. No more than you’d find in New York City, that is…

Are the french rude

I want you to think about the following scenario: Imagine you’re a cashier at a store in the U.S. and a customer approaches you. They do not greet you at all and begin speaking in a language you do not know and expect you to help them. What would you feel like? You think, “Why is this person speaking in another language and just expecting me to understand? This is AMERICA!” Or imagine getting interrupted on your lunch break in Times Square (this happened all the time to me) just to point tourists in the right direction. Of course, they tap you on the shoulder and ask in English, but imagine if they just started speaking in their native non-English tongue? Would you understand? Probably not. And you’d probably be a bit put off by it.

Well, that’s what happens all the time in Paris when tourists (native English speakers as well as other folks who just happen to know English and not French) approach salespeople or ask for directions. I’ve seen it all over — at bakeries, little shops, tourist attractions, etc. There’s no attempt to say bonjour or merci and the offending person just launches into whatever they want to say in English. Maybe the salesperson does know English, but it’s not a given. And surely shouldn’t be assumed.

There are a few things wrong with approaching someone this way:

1) It gives off the vibe that you think you’re the center of the universe. Well, pal, you’re not. Coming to another country and automatically speaking English is what’s rude. The assumption that everyone else should cater to you is the rudest thing ever.

2) You look like you have no common sense and are too culturally unaware to even be traveling. You do realize you’re in France, right?

3) By starting off in English, you’re making the assumption that the person speaks English. Last time I checked, English wasn’t an official language of France, so assuming that the person you’re trying to talk to speaks English is a tad presumptuous. Maybe they do but start with a friendly bonjour if you want to start the conversation off on the right foot.

When you think someone is being rude, ask yourself how you’re contributing to the situation. Be as self-aware as possible and see if what you’re giving off warrants any type of rudeness. No, no one should ever be rude in a perfect world, but believe me, if a random person walked up to me speaking a foreign language in my own country, I can’t say I’d provide service with a smile.

Now of course I get that many tourists don’t speak French or at least not well enough to interact, but whatever you do know, say it. Make the effort. And if you do end up speaking English, a “sorry” goes a long way.

Also, here’s something else to keep in mind. The French aren’t super smiley people. Americans love to smile and do so when we’re nervous, when we want something and as second-nature when asking for someone’s help. But the French? Not so much. Does this mean the French are rude because of it? Nope. It’s just a different culture.

Now I’m not saying rude French people don’t exist.

They do (as with anywhere). Just ask yourself if you’re contributing to the situation at all. Are you being loud, ethnocentric and rude yourself? Of course not, right? ;-)

And yes, the French are proud — of their culture and their language. Don’t misinterpret that for rudeness. Respect these things and they’re more likely to do the same. And if you do come across a rude Frenchman, turn on your American charm, flash a smile and make sure your attitude is better than his. Set an example for others and maybe they’ll follow suit. Be humble. Be culturally aware. And whatever you do, don’t be that loud American on the street…

Click here for more Myths of the month!

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Comments (21)

  • Edna

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    I’ve only encountered one rude Frenchman in six months in Paris (and he was a waiter at a tourist-ridden cafe so I can’t really say I blame him, I’d be agitated serving tourists all day too). The French I’ve encountered here so far have been lovely; the local butcher in my neighborhood even smiles and waves when he sees me walk past. I really do believe it’s about being a bit humble, knowing that you’re a tourist/expat in THEIR home; and making sure to say “bonjour” and “s’il vous plait”!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Absolutely, remembering you’re a visitor is key. And that s’il vous plait works like a charm!

      Reply

  • French Girl in Seattle

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    Excellent post, and a good reminder to all. I just returned from Paris, and Southern France. I watched my countrymen and was amazed at how patient they were with some tourists (English speaking or not.) I teach travel workshops on France in the Seattle area and always tell my students that they mostly need three words to survive in France but that they have to use them every time they encounter a French person:
    “Bonjour” – “S’il vous plait” and “Merci.” — I have seen French people forget to greet a shopkeeper before asking a question and being rebuffed like the average non French speaker. That ALWAYS entertains me so much! Manners are manners, wherever you are in the world. A little bit of research never hurt anyone. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks, Veronique! You’re absolutely right that manners are manners. I think that in the stress of travel or general cluelessness, people forget that!

      Reply

  • Emily

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    I think the French are more honest, down-to-earth and just don’t put up with the rubbish we do! Applies to all the French people I’ve met anyway. Try England for rudeness!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      True, yeah they probably tell it like it is more and don’t do the fake nice. I’ll have to check out English attitudes next time I have the pleasure of visiting!

      Reply

  • Kelly

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    I’ve been attempting to learn French on my own, and I’ve kept running into this idea with so much that I’ve read. When you get down to it, it’s just common sense and manners! I’ve made it a goal to visit France someday, and I plan to use whatever French I know to get around. I wouldn’t expect someone to cater to me when I’m a guest in their country, and I would have every intention to be as polite and respectful as possible. I certainly don’t want to be labelled a loud and rude American!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      You’ll love France, Kelly. I hope you make it here one day!

      Reply

  • Chasing the Donkey

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    I found the French to be so lovely – I think it was because we attempted [albeit very badly] to order in French. So many people just assume and expect they must speak English. Take me to France any day of the week.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Glad you had a good experience! Attempting is all it takes to start a conversation off right, I think.

      Reply

  • Kimberly, The Fur Mom

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    I love the part where we should consider what we’re adding to a rude experience. It’s so very true.

    I always try and be as patient with tourists as possible in our city. Seattle is popular and there are cruise ships coming through. If I see someone who looks lost or if someone approaches me, I put on a big smile and just take the time to understand. There’s nothing I’m doing that prevents me from taking the time to help someone.

    I do this, because this is how I want to be treated. And it’s easy for me, because most people who come here speak some English – I’m amazed by how many countries have English in their curriculum where other languages aren’t always a requirement in our schools.

    Seattle has a reputation of being cold. I tend to speak to everyone – which is probably a bigger reason why I help tourists – so I don’t see this cold side to Seattle. When you approach someone with a smile, they usually smile right back.

    When I visit France, I won’t know much french, but I will learn something and try to respect that I’m in someone else’s house.

    Kimberly

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Thanks for commenting, Kimberly. I like how you help tourists and do so because it’s how you’d want to be treated. I think it’s easy for people to forget that golden rule sometimes. I hope you make it to France someday soon!

      Reply

  • Jacqui

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    Hi.This is my first post here,so “Bonjour Mon Amies”.I am an Aussie who has traveled a bit (and yes to Paris a couple of times) and i adore it there (so much so we are looking to buy a place in France ).Anyway,the only time i had a rude French person experience was when i went to Chanel (my pilgrimage for my 40th birthday ) on the Rue Cambon.I was not even looked at for over an hour (despite my speaking French and being polite)and spoken to once…then never acknowledged again.I simply walked out (disappointed a bit,i had some money to spend that i had saved up for ages )kissed the door handle on the way out and went elsewhere.The rudest experience i had WAS (as Emily stated ) in London.I had JUST touched down in Heathrow after a horrowing 25 HOURS (yep,it takes that long to get to London from Sydney ).I was tired,hungry,scared (on my own,never been OS before let alone the other side of the world with no one i knew there or no idea as to where to go or how to get there )and in need of a shower.I walked around Heathrow and found an exit….when i saw a women at a desk.I asked her where the bus is that goes to central London,and she said “there isn’t one”.I knew there was (i did do research and was just told by someone else moments ago there was )so i asked if she was sure.She then glared at me and said “i told you no,don’t you speak English?” WOW.What was i just speaking,and excuse me i had just come from a 25 hr flight and never been here before.I hope she comes to Sydney one day and i will have to show the same welcome (i didn’t say that,but damn i wanted to).NOW THAT’S RUDENESS.

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Oh wow, the London experience is so incredibly rude! I can’t believe someone treated you like that. Airport employees should be even more friendly and helpful knowing that travelers are often jet lagged and out of it. I’m so sorry that happened! Definitely not what you needed after a long flight! And a Chanel employee with an attitude? Same thing in NYC! Thx for commenting!

      Reply

  • Hanlie

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    Hi, we did find the French…well French…hehe…Yes, they where offish…but that we expected. But no, we never did encounter anyone being rude to us. Now Spain is a whole other story!! Oh my goodness!! My husband does speak Spanish, so it was not an issue of imposing English on them or anything else that you mentioned above. They are just plain R.U.D.E! I was called stupid by a train conductor and physically pushed out of the way by a runner…..And then don’t even get me started on Italians…

    Reply

  • Hugo

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    This myth that the French are rude comes from the expression : “excuse my french” wich was an ironical joke in England during the 18th – 19th century. The nobles spoke french beetwen them and when this expression came to America where the average people aren’t that much influenced by foreign culture It became a stereotype. In fact, French is the language where there are the most words to say sorry or thank you. In primary school French children learn how to behave during dinners and with adults. This is one of the most stupidest ever.(even If I think that they all kind of are)

    Reply

  • Tony

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    I’m french and i can help you :). Tourist and foreigners think that French are rude. In fact french are naturally suspicious when they don’t know you. Sometimes they don’t have no time to speak cause they are in a hurry. They have a bad day, the mf boss… In general french don’t speak english very well… When they don’t understand they have weird reactions like
    ignore you and move on!
    Don’t touch a french and ask directly for informations (we are not very tactile). 1st : ‘Bonjour’ take your map and ask. Paris is a stressfull city especially if you live in.
    Beware to your pockets and bags when you are in the subway romanians and gypsies people are pickpocket pros especially KIDS! But police dressed in civilian clothes watching over you. Many shops are closed on Sunday. I think we are less rude than english. In London we have been thrown out of a shop because we laugh too hard :/

    Reply

  • Justine

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    I’m French, studying in Paris for a year (I come from a little french town, Limoges) and I always try to be nice and to help tourists but I think what annoys a lot of french people ( especially in Paris where there are lots of tourists) is that these tourists are in holidays and have free time and they act like everyone has also free time. But people in Paris aren’t tourists they live here, they work, they study. They can be tired or stressed or late for work and school. And in that situation it’s really annoying to be stopped in the street or to hear some people laughing and speaking very loud in an other language in the subway when you’d just like to be quite (yes that’s a cliche but that’s true: everyone is grumpy and quite in the Parisian subway =)). Of course I think a minority of tourists acts that way but people generalize and then they don’t try to be nice anymore and seem rude to people who will generalize too =).
    (excuse my English I’m learning it but I never live in an English speaking country… yet =D.)

    Reply

    • Diane

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      Hi Justine, I agree with your perspective. As someone who lived in NYC and was often tired and stressed on the subway, I can totally identify w/the scenario you described. There were always tourists being all kinds of loud and a lot of times they needed help, so like you, I always tried to be nice. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

      Reply

  • Rayni Peavy

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    I’m an American who has traveled to France (and other countries) several times and I always find that the most annoying people I run into abroad are other Americans! When in France my husband and I make an effort to speak French, dress more European, speak quietly, etc. We enjoy fitting in rather than coming across as obnoxious Americans. We have encountered so many kind and helpful French people, too, and always enjoy our trips to France!

    Reply

    • Diane

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      I have to say that I agree. The Americans that blend in and do what you described aren’t singled out as Americans. It’s the over-the-top tourists that disrupt everything and ruin it for the rest of us!

      Reply

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