The French Get a Bad Rap

Written by admin on July 17, 2009 – 2:17 pm -

There a times when I get tired of defending the French.  People who travel extensively overseas expect to encounter rude people no matter where they go.  Call it a lack of language skills, cultural differences, or not knowing how to behave in a new (and strange) environment.

In addition, any group of tourists who travel en masse tends to feel superior. Have you noticed how butchers, bakers and Indian chiefs behave at professional conventions?  It’s as if they rule the world and certainly the area within a two-block radius of where they’re meeting.

The French have just been dubbed the world’s worst tourists. My guess is they’ve inherited this reputation because they tend to travel frequently and often take package tours. With 5+ weeks of vacation annually, they get up and go because they have the time in addition to enormous curiosity.

What they don’t know and should is that tipping isn’t included on U.S. restaurant bills.  Most waiters hate waiting on Europeans because they suspect they’re going to be stiffed. Some restaurateurs note at the bottom of their menus that tips aren’t included and many automatically add a tip for groups of six people or more.

In these economically distressed times, tourism in France is down by 17% since January, compared with the same time period in 2008. The French government wants people back and is going all out to try to seduce them to return.

Airfares are at an all-time low (if you’re flexible and adept at surfing the Internet). There are so many hotel and package deals to be had that if you’re interested in visiting France that this is the ideal time—if you have the time, the money, and the patience to figure it out.

The government has lowered the value added tax to 5.5% from 19.6%. This will make a dramatic difference on the bottom line when it comes to dining out.

In a survey conductor by TripAdvisor.com in May, the findings were that France is the most overrated country in Europe and the second-most expensive. In addition, the French were perceived as being unfriendly.

Trust me, the French aren’t. They’re simply more reserved and you’re not going to be their immediate best friend just because you happened to come to their country. They are more aloof and distant than Americans and don’t think they need to jump when you walk into their store. It didn’t take me long to learn that one says, “Bonjour” and “s’il vous plait” before barking orders or handling the merchandise.

To counter the slump and boost revenues, French tourism officials have set up stands manned by teams of “smile ambassadors” to welcome tourists at some of Paris’s most popular spots. Hundreds of roller-skaters gathered at Place Vendome and formed a giant smile.

Two holiday rental groups, Pierre et Vacances and FranceLoc are even offering weather insurance if there are four days of rain during a one-week rental period. That might be an excellent investment since France’s weather can be uncertain especially in these days of climate change.

Herv Kayser, who conceived the insurance, idea told Le Figaro that in a trial run last year, 10% of the people who bought the insurance policy received rebates because of rain.

But back to the smiles.  This isn’t the first program of its sort. Tourism officials launched a program approximately fifteen years ago that encouraged people working in the hospitality industry to smile and learn English. Perhaps the downturn in business has caused people to be grumpy and they needed to be reminded.

Paul Roll, Director of Tourism, said, “If we want tourism, which has generated more than two million jobs, to remain a leading sector in the French economy, everyone has to make visitors feel welcome including professionals, elected representatives as well the French public.”

As much as I fear asking this question, have you found the French rude? Any more than if you were a foreigner going to New York or another U.S. city where people didn’t speak your language and they didn’t speak English?


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Posted in Paris |