My American friends often ask me about Parisians and their reputation for rudeness. Is it merited? In general, I’d say no. I’ve only had a couple of bad experiences with rude Parisian waiters (please avoid Café Central on rue Cler at all costs), and the average Parisian isn’t going to bite your head off for asking what time it is. There are definitely some cultutral differences, though, that cause foreigners to believe that everyone in France hates them. For example:
1. Parisians aren’t afraid to be direct.
Americans (southerners especially) are used to a kind of fake politeness that simply doesn’t exist in France. If a Parisian isn’t happy with the way you’re acting, he’ll most likely let you know. Too loud at a restaurant? Smelly food on the métro? Standing in the way? You’ll probably hear about it, and it’s true that it might not be in the nicest words possible. I’m still not sure if this is rudeness or not. On one hand, it’s refreshing to not be surrounded by hypocrites who act like your best friend and then silently curse you for speaking too loud on your cell phone. On the other hand, though, there’s a way to be tactful about that kind of thing, and not every Parisian I’ve seen takes much care to be considerate.
2. Parisians aren’t bubbly.
As Americans, we often expect everyone to smile at us, say hello and ask if we caught the big game last weekend. Parisians don’t do this, but it doesn’t mean they hate you. The large proportion of weirdos to the general population in Paris means that unfortunately it’s usually best to keep to yourself. I definitely prefer the outgoing, friendly Alabama culture (or even the non-Parisian French culture), but I understand why Parisians aren’t so eager to start a conversation with someone they don’t know.
3. Parisians see a lot of foreigners.
In Alabama, whenever someone detects a slightly non-southern accent, they immediately want to know where you’re from and what you’re doing there. In Paris though, people don’t care so much. That’s not to say that no one will ask or be interested in a foreigner’s background, but when there are as just as many foreigners (or more) walking the streets of Paris as French people, tourists are just another face in the crowd. Americans often expect to be treated as “special” for being visitors in a foreign country, but there are just too many of us for our Americanness to make us exotic.
However, like all stereotypes, the rude Parisian myth has some basis in reality. In the past 20 months in Paris, I’ve been spit on, lectured, sworn at, mugged at knifepoint, and pickpocketed. Every day in the métro there’s bound to be some 30 year old suited businessman pushing me out of the way so he can have the best seat, and the lady at the préfecture will tell me I’m stupid when I say I don’t understand the French tax system.
But then again, there was the time when my boyfriend accidentally left my LAPTOP on a seat in the métro. I was sure I’d never see my MacBook again but, surprisingly, not only was it not stolen or destroyed as a “colis suspect,” but a young couple happened to find it, search through my contacts, call my boyfriend, and meet us to return it. They didn’t even accept the money we offered as a reward.
Also, in places like my gym, the neighborhood bakery, or the local park, there’s a much greater sense of community and people tend to be friendlier. It all depends on the environment.
So, are all Parisians rude? No…but Andy Griffith isn’t going to appear to shake your hand and wish you a good afternoon.