Since returning from Europe, I’ve heard countless horror stories and anecdotal recounts of what I’m dubbing the “Cold-shouldered Parisian Encounters.” I am simultaneously puzzled and fascinated by the emotional scarring my friends have received while visiting this romantic city (it is the city of love, after all). For a city so filled with sweet delights and romantic music, the reviews on the hospitality of its people have not been as positive as I would have imagined.
I have been contacted by many fellow travelers asking why I didn’t receive the snubs, snide comments, and snobbish ‘tudes that they did while in France. Maybe I simply lucked out on my journey, but after comparing notes I think I’ve determined a few key differences that put me in favor with the locals (leave it to me to analyze the psychology of the situation). Thus I bring you…
Five Steps to Avoiding Faux Pas Made by Tourists in Paris
1. Smile and be gracious. I realize this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a big one. The locals do not owe you anything. France is the most popular travel destination in the world. According to the Paris Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, they receive approximately 70 million tourists a year. You are literally one of a million, so when you find a local who is willing to be of helpful service, be thankful. And speaking as someone who lives in the entertainment capital of the world, I’m much more likely to help or direct someone who is nice and friendly than one who thinks I work as a tour guide. Just because I call Las Vegas home does not mean I want to be giving away all the local hangouts or drawing maps on the quickest way to get you to Studio 54. Be nice. Parisians are happy to point you in the right direction if you treat them with respect.
2. Don’t dress like a slob. Parisians value self-care and appearance. While you won’t necessarily find people walking around in bow-ties and top hats (although it is a possibility), you will see a dramatic difference between American casual and Parisian casual. Respect their culture by pulling up your pants, putting on a belt, and donning a shirt that isn’t wrinkled. You’re more likely to talk to someone who doesn’t look homeless than someone who does (you can look up the research). Do yourself a favor and up your odds. It’ll take an extra five minutes in the morning but you’ll save two hours walking aimlessly around Monmartre looking for the no longer existent Le Chat Noir.
3. Learn some simple French or Spanish. The French are a very polite and demure society. They don’t expect you to be fluent in their native tongue but they do want to receive appropriate greetings. Anytime you enter a store or restaurant, say hello in French. Make sure you thank them when you leave even if you don’t purchase anything. Spanish is also acceptable, as most Frenchman are also fluent in Spanish. You will be amazed at the difference an attempt in speaking their language will make. One of my Parisian friends told me, “It’s not how well you say it, it’s that you tried.”
4. Get to know your waiter/hotel clerk/barista/store worker. These people are used to serving and working for tourists but they’re not used to having a foreigner take an interest in their lives. You’d be surprised at how a simple question like, “What do you do for fun,” will change their demeanor. In the afternoons that I spent in pastry shops getting to know my waiters Chris, Angela, and Maria, I was extended offers to be shown around the city and given detailed suggestions on places I should go. Extend the olive branch; you’ll get one back.
5. Don’t take it personally if a local is not nice to you. Just like any other person, they may be having a bad day. They might be distracted with their own lives or may be late to a meeting. Just because you’re on holiday does not mean that everyone else is. You are bound to run across some people that are just not interested in helping you. Don’t get offended. You should also keep in mind that Parisians are a more reserved people, so what they consider helpful and nice may sometimes come off as curt to unaware Americans. The worst thing you can do is think negatively about the people or your skills because then it’s game over. You cannot succeed once your ego is bruised. Toughen up and try again.
While I can’t guarantee this is a foolproof method, I’m certain you will see results. Your probability of making Parisian friends (and enjoying the culture) will highly increase with these simple tips. Go be kind, stay open-minded, and enjoy your trip! If it doesn’t work, I owe you a macaron.