Mention to someone that you’re planning to visit France and you could provoke a comment about the supposed rudeness of the French people and maybe even some anger that you are visiting this beautiful country. You might even hear this from people who haven’t actually visited France, but who heard bad things from someone whose cousin’s girlfriend’s sister went there one summer and no would talk to her. Or worse, they’re repeating things they heard on an AM radio show.
Truth is, you will really enjoy France if you can remember two important things about visiting this independent, sovereign nation:
1. The French are just as proud as Americans of their culture and language. That means you make an attempt to speak a little bit of French with the people you meet there before resorting to English.
2. You are in their country as a guest. Take the time to enjoy this unique opportunity for what it is and resist comparing anything there to the US.
When in France, Speak a Little French
Although many French people can speak English (and often a third language), they really appreciate the effort when visitors attempt to speak français.
That means greeting everyone with whom you might interact with a respectful “bonjour!” This includes salespeople in those nice shops and boutiques, tour guides, restaurant hosts and waiters, taxi drivers, and hotel staff. It’s easy to do and you will be greeted in return and maybe even get a smile. (Unlike Americans, the French aren’t quite so smiley, which may account for the reputation for rudeness.)
Pick up a phrasebook, or better yet, a DVD, a few weeks before you leave and try to memorize a few basic sentences. You can get them from the public library. If you’re absolutely helpless with languages, at least memorize these key words:
· Bonjour (Hello)
· Merci (Thank you)
· Au revoir (Goodbye)
· Je m’appelle [your name] (My name is)
· D’accord (OK)
· Où est (Where is)
· Oui (yes)
· Non (no)
Work on your pronunciation; there are a lot of silent letters in French. It’s worth it the effort.
The French are absolutely charmed by visitors who speak French, even if it’s pretty bad French. Your effort not only speaks well of you personally, but also elevates the United States a bit, and frankly, we can use some positive PR. Here is what can happen when you try out your French:
Restaurant service will go up a few notches. Your waiter may even bring out some desserts on the house. (Just don’t ask for a to-go container or ‘doggy bag’).
Shopkeepers will discount your purchases or at least wrap them very carefully.
People giving you directions will give them in English after you attempt to repeat them a few times.
Your tour guide will become much more enthusiastic and fun.
Dress a Bit Nicer Than Usual in France
Europeans in general dress business casual. You won’t see many shirts emblazoned with brands, team logos, or clever/not-so-clever comments. They wear shoes much more often than sneakers. They don’t wear jeans all the time and rarely wear shorts. They carry umbrellas.
Leave your San Diego Raiders or UNLV shirts and caps at home and pack something a little quieter, maybe a nice sweater, blouse, or polo with fewer than three colors. Include a pair or two of slacks over “dressy” Levi’s. Buy a good pair of walking shoes or at least sneakers that are in one solid color (preferably not orange).
It’s fun when it’s not so obvious that you’re a tourist. Between your fledgling language skills and stepped-up dress, you might even get asked for directions!
Jill Smith is a writer with a vast array of subject matter expertise. Along with publishing articles fo