Are French People Rude…Or Is it Us?

I had a major “a-HA!” moment while listening to a Rick Steves podcast the other day ~ & it helped explain something that I’ve long wondered about: why is there such a stereotype about the French being rude, particularly to foreigners?  During my own travels in France, I’d never particularly found this to be true (to be fair, I do speak a bit of French).  While Rick interviewed a French tour guide, a few things became abundantly clear to me, & they highlight the extreme differences between French & American culture.  So before you visit France, READ this article to better understand: are French people rude….or is it us?!

Are French People Rude? Girl Who Travels the World

Are French people rude? Or is there something else at play here…

Are French People Rude…Or Is it Us?

While listening to the podcast, I took away two very important distinctions:

1) French culture & language is highly FORMAL, while American culture can be highly INFORMAL ~ & this culture clash can create major misunderstandings; &

2) No conversation in France begins without saying, “Bonjour!” (“Good day!”).  If you ask a question without first saying a simple “hello,” the French consider this very rude.  Contrasted with American society, where often times we jump right into conversation with no introduction. 

Practical Examples 

But what does this mean in real life?  Let’s say you’re at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, & you plop down at a table, immediately asking: “Hey ~ do you have Wi-Fi?”  To an American, this may be quite a normal thing to do: ask a question without first saying hello.  But, from the French perspective, this is extremely rude ~ because their culture emphasizes first acknowledging someone, before launching into conversation. 

Quite a simple thing, really ~ but you can see how it could ruffle feathers on both sides.  The waiter in the example above may respond rudely, but in his defense: he thinks YOU were the one being rude first!  It’s quite funny, in a way. 

And luckily, the solution is VERY simple. 

Takeaway: As an American visiting France, simply say “Bonjour!” every time you enter a restaurant, shop, or establishment.  That signals to the French that you are ready to engage in conversation.

Are French People Rude…Or Is it Us?

Taking this concept a step further, think about the way we dress.  Typical Parisian attire includes slacks, chignons, sports coats, & it’s all oozing C-H-I-C.  Then take the typical American woman’s wardrobe: i.e. yoga pants & track suits.  Simply by looking at how we dress, you can see how one culture lends itself to formality ~ whereas the other epitomizes “casual.” 

These differences, of course, extend to the people themselves.  And we wonder why we just don’t understand each other?? 

Are French People Rude? Girl Who Travels the World

This is how a typical French woman dresses, the height of chicness. American women? Not so much…

The Difference in Dining 

One final thing to note, with regards to differences between cultures, is the way we eat.  It’s quite typical in France to be seated ~ & then not greeted by a waiter for about 15-20 minutes.  In France, this is totally normal.  In America, we consider this the height of rudeness!!  My family owns restaurants, & if one of our waiters failed to acknowledge a table within 20 minutes, they’d probably get fired! 

Again, it comes down to cultural difference, & what we value.  In America, we want things done quickly!  Efficiently!  We want to get in & out!  In France, it’s completely the opposite: they want to savor their meal, their companions, & typically, they’ll take 2-3X longer than us to eat.  Call it crazy, but it is what it is.  If you go to France expecting American service standards (& times), you’ll be highly annoyed. 

So, before a trip to France, adjust your expectations: plan to linger over your meal, delight in the wine, while enjoying lively conversation with your mates.  

That, is truly getting into French culture….

Are French People Rude? Girl Who Travels the World

It would be a shame to let subtle differences in culture ruin a trip to France…

Are French People Rude…Or Is it Us?

To listen to Rick Steves’ exchange with his friend & Paris tour guide about the major differences between American & French culture, scroll ahead to the 14-minute mark.

The Bottom Line

So…are French people rude?  Have we fully answered this question?  In general, Parisians will be a bit more brusque & to-the-point than people you meet in the French countryside ~ in the same way that New Yorkers are more direct than people from the Midwest.  Does it mean they’re rude?  Not exactly.  It just means they live in a busy, fast-paced city, that’s often inundated with tourists, & they probably hear the same questions & witness the same “faux pas,” over & over again. 

That would get a little tiring, don’t you think? 

From my personal travels, Parisians aren’t the warmest, kindest people I’ve ever met.  But some French people ARE.  So much of it has to do with what YOU bring to the table.  Which is really, the point of this article.

Are French People Rude…Or Is it Us??

I hope this has helped to illuminate some of the fascinating ways that American culture is vastly different than French culture, & how it can cause everything from hurt feelings to major misunderstandings.  The bottom line: say hello!  Bon jour!  Learn a few words in French, like “Merci” (thank you), & “Au Revoir” (good-bye).

In stark contrast to the “rude French” stereotype ~ my friend Mike & I met a woman named Saida, while traveling in the South of France years ago, & she still keeps in touch, checking in on our birthdays & special occasions.  She’s one of the warmest, kindest “strangers” I’ve met anywhere.  There are countless lovely French people ~ & by knowing just a few things about their culture, it can make all the difference in how much you enjoy your trip to France.

xoxo Noelia

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