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!
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!