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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Are Parisians Rude?

Both in and out of Paris, Parisians do not have the best reputation. On my tours, I am asked all of the time: "What do you think of the people here? I always heard that the French are rude." In the eye of most tourists, the French and the Parisians are clumped into one category, which is about the American equivalent of saying that one will find the same kinds of people in Nebraska as they will in Boston or New York City. One is more likely to find someone pushy, arrogant, and hurried in the big city than they will in the countryside, and this is the same in France as it is all over the world. So to begin, the terms Parisian and French are not synonyms.

The distrust of the Parisian is not just a common sentiment amongst foreigners. French people from outside of the city seem to have an equal dislike, if not misunderstanding of the average citizen of this city. Last spring, I attended Julie's cousin's wedding in Normandy, near Fleury-La-Forét. We stayed in a gite (bed and breakfast) that Julie, her Mom, and I shared with another gentleman. At breakfast the day after the wedding, I found myself outside in the garden, discussing trivial things with the other guy, who came from Provence. I remember telling him across the table that I live in Paris, and his facial expression immediately changed. He went from a jovial disposition to somber and reflective within a matter of seconds. "Oh. Paris," he said. "The sky is always grey there. People knock each other over to get onto the métro. They step over the homeless people without saying hello or giving change. Everyone wears black." Julie's mother came outside and joined the discussion, nodding in agreement as this man continued to recount the atmosphere in Paris as if he was talking about a recently deceased lover.

I have to say, I actually did agree with most of the things he said. The sky is often overcast in Paris. It rains a lot here. A lot of people do wear black here, more so than anywhere else I've ever seen. People would trample over their grandmother to board the métro, even though most lines operate every 2-3 minutes during rush hour. I even find myself sprinting to the métro, even though I'm usually not in a hurry to get anywhere. I just feel satisfied knowing that I saved two minutes of my day.

The homeless people do receive attention here, but the thing is that many of them are faking it to prey on gullible tourists, so a lot of times they are ignored. But there are enough people in the city that people will find them a coffee or a bite to eat, and the police do go around asking the homeless to come with them to a shelter if it happens to be very cold outside.

To be able to address my question, one needs to be able to define what constitutes a Parisian. This is not an easy task.

First, I have only met a couple of people who happen to be born and raised in Paris. Even then, everyone claims to be from somewhere else. Julie occasionally claims she is Auvergnat, even though she was born in Paris and raised an hour to the east in Seine-et-Marne. According to her, too many people think that Seine-et-Marne is essentially Paris (the western half could be considered suburban Paris), so Auvergne (where her father is from) might give her more credibility. The family I lived with last year were Breton in origin. A lot of my other French friends in Paris are also from Brittany, Burgundy, Normandy, and the like. Not many people from the provinces want to be considered a true Parisian, thus perhaps a true Parisian is one that admits that he or she is, in fact, Parisian.

So back to the question: Are Parisians rude? Yes and No.

First of all, I think that the concept of the rude Parisian is blown completely out of proportion. The biggest shock for most tourists is the fact that many people will go out of their way to help someone enjoy the city. Waiters and waitresses in cafés are usually extremely patient and hospitable, and many love taking the opportunity to practice their foreign languages on their clients. I often see residents help those in need of directions by showing them where to go on a map, or occasionally, just take the person to the site itself. Usually the only people I see that believe from experience that the Parisians are unfriendly and rude are those that are rude and unfriendly themselves. If this is the kind of person you are, then trust me, most Parisians are equally good at giving you shit.

However, like most urban environments, there are some individualists who think of themselves as a gift to Paris that everyone should respect and obey, no matter their whims or demands. I have seen many times where people will make the extra effort to let someone know that they are upset. I've seen people in grocery lines complain to the cashier that the communists probably had shorter lines to wait for food, even though there is nothing the cashier could do about it. I've seen people yell at someone on a bike for passing through a yellow light, even if they weren't crossing the street themselves. I've seen French people correct other French people when they make a mistake in speaking, whether it is the conjugation of a word or word order. I had a neighbor who introduced himself to me by coming to my door and complaining that I walk too loudly in my apartment. The first issue which made his complaint absurd was that I was asleep. Secondly, he often hosted parties which ran until 6 or 7am, in the middle of the week, and when Julie or I complained, he threatened to beat us up, or worse.

In conclusion, most people in Paris are well mannered, polite, and helpful. Every now and then, one will come across an irritable and self-centered individual. When I happened to encounter persons like these, this is when I happen to think to myself, "There is a real Parisian."

If you are traveling to Paris and looking to see (and eat) what French people really eat and take a walk around some cool neighborhoods of Paris, look into my tours at

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I am a french girl and I found it very interesting as I was looking for the rumours about french/french clichés and the differences between this and the truth, etc. I think Parisians are too much complicated, even for me! They hate themselves but they couldn't live out of this city that they secretly love so much. They always criticize the other parisians but act in the same way:)

    By the way, maybe Parisians are quite calm and reserved in the everyday life (compared with many other cultures, especially for a Latin country) and it can be considered as snotty instead of polite.

    Anyway, thank you very much for your 'témoignage' (and sorry for my english)!
    I would appreciate to meet an American in Paris et get friends.

    Kind regards (or cheers!)