Paris is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and yet its people have a peculiar reputation. During my recent time in Paris, I mostly met sweet, caring people, and so I started to wonder how Parisians have acquired their bad name. A few French girls joined the conversation, to help me solve the riddle.
According to the Global Destination Cities Index, Paris is the 3rd most visited city in the world, with 16.6 million tourists, just in 2015. But in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower lurk the Parisians. Certainly, you’ve heard at least one tale of the horrible ways they supposedly treat tourists.
Perhaps some waiter was firmly set on ignoring your best friend, while the poor guy desperately struggled to order a meal in a restaurant. Or maybe your favorite, sweet aunt was brutally left to wonder the urban jungle, as anyone she asked for help pretended not to understand a single word in another language.
Because I had heard my fair share of similar stories, I set off to Paris heavily armed with prejudice. I was warned that I shouldn’t even try to stammer out a few words in French, as I’d receive nothing but mockery and disdain in return.
The reality, however, made my jaw drop all the way down to the floor, like in a classic animated movie.
Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the Paris airport at dawn, and the passport control officer smiled at me sweetly, his eyes still crusty. “He must be a foreigner”, I thought bullheadedly.
The shock became real when we were met by the charming, unpretentious, yet uber chic owner of our vacation rental. Then, the first neighbor we saw, asked us to join a neighborhood wine party.
So far I’ve only mastered a few extremely basic phrases in French, which I probably pronounce ridiculously, yet no Parisian ever frowned or mocked me. In fact, most locals I talked to, turned out to be friendly, cheerful people, who were excited to see that I was trying to use their language.
My silly prejudices were shattered!
But then, why have Parisians acquired the reputation of tourist-haters? To put the pieces together, I asked some of the most worldly and broad-minded ladies for help – the members of the Facebook group “Travelettes. My questions were addressed specifically at the French girls since I needed an insider’s perspective.
The general consensus was that Parisians are probably not the friendliest French. The girls talked about the special bond that Parisians have with time and its absence, “We never have time, always rushing, frowning, angry at the traffic, the crowds, the weather.” However, the Travelettes also pointed out that this is common to many people who live in large cities.
Still, as we add to the mix how expensive it is to live in Paris, and sprinkle some French candor on top, tourists are often served with an unfamiliar, and perhaps a bit intimidating combination.
Speaking of serving, “You eat snails and frogs”, “All French ride bicycles and love baguettes”, “You are so posh”, “The French smell”, “They are lazy”, are only a fraction of the rude phrases that understandably annoy Parisians and all other French.
And when it comes to the misconception that the French and chauvinists, who speak no other languages, the Travelettes shared, “it’s true that we don’t speak enough English”, “we are just too attached to our own language and it’s hard to let go” and also that “Parisians are fed up with tourists slowly shouting at them in other languages. A little effort goes a long way”.
The girls also shared that loud groups of tourists, who have no respect for French culture and no interest in getting to know the French people, can be quite vexing.
It seems that together, we were able to reveal a valuable answer. It’s not that Parisians hate tourists – it’s just that they don’t always know how to approach us. If we, as guests, make an effort to understand their culture and way of life, then the French are also happy to take a step towards us, and we can meet halfway.
What is your experience with Paris and the rest of France?
* I have withheld the names of the Travelettes who contributed to this article, in order to keep their privacy.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column]
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