Lifestyle, Travel 113 comments

Are the French Rude? 5 Reasons Americans Might Think So

French-Rude

The rude Frenchman is a classic trope that sometimes makes foreigners weary of traveling in France. It’s even one of the most Googled things about Parisians!

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But some of the things foreigners find rude aren’t really personality traits – they’re simply cultural differences.

Here are five reasons you might perceive a well-meaning French person to be rude when they’re just being, well, French:

1. The French keep a distance with strangers

In America, a “neutral” face is a big smiling grin, but in France, that’s way too expressive. It’s simply not the culture to get too cozy with strangers and – as many American girls in Paris will tell you – what we consider to be a casual smile in the States is often interpreted as a sexual invitation abroad (no wonder French girls have the sexy pout down solid!).

A typical French person won’t talk to you for the first time as if you have known each other for a decade. On the flip side, a lack of pleasantries makes everything more genuine. There is almost no “Oh yeah, we should definitely have coffee… sometime!” and once you do make a French friend, they will be a loyal and true friend for life.

And what about the sense of humor? Read here.

2. Good service in France means leaving you alone

In France, the object of dining is to lay claim to a great table and take up as much time in it as possible. A waiter coming to ask you if you’d like anything else every 10 minutes makes the French feel rushed and unwanted. Good service means being left alone.

In the States, we see this as lazy service. We’re used to 45 minute lunches and tables turning, so we wonder why the waiter is seemingly ignoring us. In reality, he’s simply trying to give you your table for as much time as a French person would want it.

So instead of getting frustrated at your server for being a “jerk,” slow down and take your time. It helps you get a good physique AND allows you to experience a French custom first-hand.

3. The French speak French

So before you say, “duh,” let me tell you a little story…

A friend of mine once told me how rude her French bus driver was when she asked him if he stopped at a popular intersection. I asked her, “did you ask him in French?” “Of course not, but he’s a bus driver, he’s supposed to speak English!”

Welllll, not exactly. American bus drivers are not expected to be well versed in every foreign language, and neither are French bus drivers. The truth is that he probably did understand the English, but was likely insulted that his native language wasn’t at least attempted.

You don’t really have to be fluent to get around well in France, but just be respectful and pull out a phrase book. Try. After stumbling a few times, the French person will likely stop you and respond in English (because they actually have a low tolerance for terrible French, once you’ve proven you tried).

Of course, the other issue with my friend’s bus driver experience was…

4. It’s your vacation, it’s their day-to-day

If you’re an American in France, you’re likely on vacation (if your daily job requires you to fly back and forth to Paris, then you can stop reading anyway because I hate you, you lucky butt, and you should promptly resign so I can steal your job).

If you ARE on vacation, you have a tendency to view everything with vacation eyes. You stop seeing time tables or maybe you have an even more rigid schedule of attractions to catch. You see European cities as full of landmarks and not full of bustling commerce.

But imagine, if you will, getting out of your car in [insert any American city] and getting asked directions to local venues by 5 people before you get to your office door. Pretty frustrating, right? Try 5 days a week and you might understand why some Parisians don’t give you the time of day.

Just be respectful of the fact that you’re the only one on vacation and try to seek out help from people for whom helping you might be their job – think policemen, metro employees, tourist offices, or even your dear friend Siri (she’ll even talk to you in English, though not very well).

5. French slang makes everything negative and understated

Was your food good? A French person would say it was “not bad.” The view gorgeous? “Not intolerable.” A good looking guy? He was “not ugly.” This is simply manner of speaking in French, but translates very negatively to an American who loves speaking in hyperbole.

Almost the opposite of the French, we Americans love to make everything an extreme. The food was good? We say it was “the best.” The view is not beautiful but “inspiring” and French guys are “literally the hottest ever.”

Cursing is also way more common in spoken French than spoken English – so don’t be surprised if a French person says “f*ck” more than you’re used to. They’re just translating directly from their French.

When traveling in France, it’s important to remember that some of what we perceive to be personality traits are just different ways of speaking or cultural peculiarities. For an interesting role-reversal, read some of these translated tips French people give each other about American culture peculiarities! They’ll make you think twice about things like urinals…

What are your experiences with cultural differences when staying abroad? Let me know in the comments!

 

113 Comments

  1. i had a great time in france and only encountered one rude person … and i totally understood his attitude later when i realized i tried asking what time his restaurant opened in a mixture of french and spanish. ooops! that’s on me for taking too many foreign languages and not using any of them often- i’m surprised i didn’t throw some german in for good measure! overall, it probably helped that i can pronounce french pretty decently for an american. i always tried french first and people would usually answer me in english and it was all hunky dory.

  2. Emily Grossman

    That’s great advice, Dennis! Cool tidbit about Holland, too!

  3. The French will actually appreciate you’re trying to speak their language in France, no matter if you mix it up. So the rude person was probably just… rude. If you’re ever in Holland, just stick to English because almost everyone will understand you. And Dutch isn’t the easiest language for Americans, or other English speaking people.

  4. One of the reasons the French unpleasant

    France is the world’s leading tourist destination.
    France has welcomed 83 million visitors in 2013.
    The French population is 66 million people

    Imagine the USA (315 million inhabitants) receiving 396 million tourists! what a shock to the American people.
    Well this is what happens to the French.

    So please! when you make a request, be kind! !
    Because you may be the tenth in an hour, which is a request for information!

    and perhaps that French is not working in tourism!
    Of course he must answer politely, but it must be tiring when it is repeated everyday.

    The immense majority of Americans back good memories of their stay in France. The bad reputation of the French population resembles the “French-bashing” of some type of media (unfortunately)!

    Seriously! there is no more unpleasant people in France than in the rest of the world!

    The French would there be a different genetic code from the rest of humanity?

    If one thinks! it would be incredible that the entire French population is silly!

    If the French was so bad, there would not be so many tourists in France!

  5. That’s a great post! I mean the media continues to blow up the myth (CNN published a terrible piece about 2 month ago with lots of people commenting and agreeing on how rude/arrogant/even racisist the French are)…It pisses me off as a foreigner living in France, speaking bad French and traveling a lot around the country…and experienced NO BAD attitude towards me.

    This bus driver situation – I read hundreds of variations already. And I still can’t get why people think he is obliged to speak English?! What’s so suprising about that. Try speaking to a Russian or Indonesian bus driver in English. He won’t be much helpful either…

    Shared this post via Twitter and hope this stupid myth will finally disappears for good!

  6. Amen! I wish that more people understood this. I am tired of people coming back from France and complaining that the French are rude!

  7. I have spent a lot of time cycling in france – crossed the country about 4 times from different directions. I have accrued a reasonable amount of french and ask if they speak english in french, before speaking to them in english! I find the french helpful and polite – they do not carve me up on my bicycle, they do not rip me off in hotels or cafes and they do not treat me badly because I am english – there might be a tradition of friction between the french and the english, but I am yet to find it in my travels.

    I suspect it is about respect. I am polite when I deal with them and try not to make unreasonable demands.

    I have a number of english friends who have moved to france who echo my remarks.

    I have however found some extremely brash foreign travellers in France who are very loud and very demanding – they assume that if you speak english slowly and loudly that the foreign jonnies will understand you and jump to it mighty quick – please keep them away from me, spoil things for me

    jimbo
    york uk

  8. Why expected or obliged to speak English?! because English is statistically the main business language around the world and even French cannot deny that fact. It is not my first language by the way, it is a second language to me. Not being able or doesn’t want to use English can be tolerated, but the rudeness that in 90% of situations comes with is the special thing that Parisians have.

    bus driver situation : In Russia and Indonesia even if he/she doesn’t know the language he will not treat you rudely just because you spoke in English, this is the difference !!!!!! added to that the fact that he/she most probably understood what u said which makes his/her behavior in fact extra rude compared to other non-english speaking countries

  9. “Why expected or obliged to speak English?! because English is statistically the main business language around the world”

    Yeah, we all know that but the bus driver is not a receptionist in a hostel or a vendor in a shop. In France, his only task is to drive his bus and respects an accurate schedule in the nightmare of Paris’ traffic. Remember that in France, driving in big cities can really be stressful so with a chronometer in mind, it’s horrible.
    And as it was said early by another visitor, bus driver is not a job which requires a lot of education so for most of them, they don’t know English language.

    Here in France, a lot of people are willing to help other people. Just ask politely, be nice and you can try some word in French. After all, when we go in a foreign country, it’s nice to saw that part too, trying to speak some words in that language and be understandable. It’s not a question about the overwhelming presence of English in the world, it’s about having our language not ignored. We will answer you in English as often as it’s possible.

  10. Name (required)

    Guys don’t try to excuse the French arrogancy.They are extremelly rude and don’t have any respect for your country. They are really very arrogant and i have no respect for them.

  11. I am an American living in France and find it extremely rude when people expect the French to speak English!! People even come into my shop and instead of attempting to say, ” Bonjour!” They either say nothing forcing me to say Bonjour and I get a lousy, “hello”! in return. It grates me. I see why the french are rude to Americans.

  12. Americans complain all the time about foreigners not speaking English! Why should we expect any different when visiting another country?

  13. Language difference has nothing to do with it. I have 2 french housemates and they are so arrogant and never even tries to see someone else’s point of view. They bitch about everything under the sun that’s wrong with the house or other roomates. It’s like how you would expect people to act when government has collapsed and there is anarchy; pure selfishness

  14. I am a French living in UK. I am very happy to read this article because it is what I try to tell everytime. So many English told me that they had bad experiences in France, that French were rude and didn’t make effort to speak English. But in France, most of people just almost don’t speak English. I think our education system is very bad for English and if people don’t have to opportunity to go long-time abroad, they don’t learn English. How can you blame them!?
    Then I think indeed there are some cultural differences that British and American don’t understand. French are generally less extreme in their expression but they also tend to say more what they really think. I also have this cultural problem in the other direction: I feel that British politeness is a kind of hypocrisy. Yes sometimes it is a problem for me because I am not used to say amazing for everything even when it is very basic or absolutly not amazing. But I know that is a question of education and habit so I have to get use to that and accept it. By the same way, American and British have to understand and accept that French need maybe more time to be very friendly and that they are more franc in their feelings. When you travel, you are there to discover a culture and that is a part of French culture. In one sense, if you are not able to open your mind and tolerate that British and American way to think are not the norm, why do you go abroad??

  15. French people are not only rude and arrogant, if you compare the reaction of a French man/woman to any other nationalities, French will act like psychopaths way too often. They ll scream at you in any possible situation about their rights and your rights while obviously trying to ignore your actual rights. Any sane European or American will think they’re awkward about almost everything and anyone saying the lazy arrogant angry French is just a stereotype is either one of them or lying. They’re exactly that. Look at their economical tendencies. And look at the rising number of crime, it’s because they’re both chasing all foreigners in madness with their attitude and too lazy and dumb to step up any efficient security efforts. And we could go on.

  16. Your ignorance is very strong.
    You think French look like psychopaths ? It’s funny, because I worked in many touristic places around the world, and in almost every country I lived, everyone tend to say English-speakers are very hysterical in any situation.
    But contrary to you, I’m more intelligent. I don’t spend my time writing comments about “how english-speakers look stupid”, because I know there are cultural differences in comportments.
    French are chasing foreigners ? Another proof of your ignorance. Did you know that the prime minister is a Spaniard, became French when he was 19 ? Or that the minister of culture is from Korea ? They have also minister from Germany, Canada etc. Can you tell me which other countries allows that ?

  17. Well, I think the rudness of Parisian people in general is real, because there wouldn’t be so many remarks about it if it weren’t !
    I must admit that Parisian people can sometimes be rude among themselves.

    It comes from the fact that in France unlike the in the North of Europe, efficiency and welcomeness is not highly valued. Further more, Paris concentrates too many activities compared to the other ereas of France. Also, the educational system is too academic, and is not work oriented. The french ruling class is not measuring up to its tasks, in general, and does not show the exemple neither…

    Yet if you happen to travel to other french big cities outside Paris, or at the countryside, the people tend to be much friendlier than in Paris, and will help you willingly !

    I understand the points of view of some people, and feel sorry for them ! I think it is a shame for us French people, being one of the most visited country in Europe, but I would like to recommend to come to our country, not especially only to Paris…There are numerous hidden gems everywhere throughout France (as everywhere else in Europe), especially big cities such as Lyon, Marseilles, Toulouse, Nancy, Montpellier, Bordeaux…etc…which have nothing indeed to envy to the capital city.

    I hope that the readers will understand my english…

  18. Well…. if you’re coming to France you know what to expect. You don’t like it then you don’t come. As simple as that. There are hundreds of beautiful countries you can go to. France is just one of them. The fact of beeing a rebel is part of the French culture. It’s part of the history. It’s somehow something romantic. That’s why France is respected and loved. It’s a country that lives and survives with gutts. You don’t like that. You don’t come. But then don’t venerate French clothes food and wine. France is just one country among hundreds. It has its own culture and history. Same for the French. And I’m French so I’m not bashing.

  19. Emily Grossman

    :)

  20. I mean it. I do.

  21. No, we ARE rude.

    Don’t make articles like that. I wish the worst (and genuine) possible image of French people could be given to foreigners.

    There already are too many fucking tourists visiting Paris each year. They don’t know how to dress, they always look so lost, they attract crime into the city, AND THEY WALK SO FUCKING SLOWLY !

    Do not come, we hate you.