It might not come as a total surprise to hear that the Parisians are known to be a little…brusque sometimes, especially towards tourists. While it’s not true that every Parisian is rude and impatient, the cliché isn’t completely unfounded.
English-speakers can find themselves taken aback by the curtness they experience when attempting communication with the locals. But don’t forget that just because we do things in a certain way at home, that other countries should too. It’s often simply a clash of cultures. Being aware of the differences between you and the Parisians will help you predict, and deal with, this kind of clash. And who knows, your ability to deflect and deal with even the iciest of stares might even win you a begrudging nod of approval…
Control Your Happy Face
Over-enthusiasm is not your friend in Paris. This doesn’t mean you should act miserable, but does mean that you should turn down the volume of your smile a little. Too much friendliness will be interpreted as insincere, unfortunately even if it’s absolutely genuine. Giving a big grin and a “Hi! How are you?!”to the ticket clerk will simply reward you with a bored stare.
The explanation for this is complicated, but this is a very good article which investigates the Parisian attitude towards “the customer” compared to an anglophone one.
Perhaps it’s the same in any major city, but Parisians can get irritated if you spend too long explaining something. This is unfortunate, especially when you’re trying out your French. The trick is to insist stubbornly. Be polite, but strong. If you want to give you order in French, just go for it, and the waiter will just have to, well, wait. Allez-y!
As a general rule with Parisians, if you apologize, you’ve lost.
Out and About
This may seem obvious, but do not stop to look at your map in the middle of a busy sidewalk. Think like a driver, and move to the side after checking over your shoulder. As a resident myself, this happens regularly, and is the source of much frustration.
Don’t feed the pigeons. Please.
In shops, a polite smile upon entering should be accompanied by a friendly “Bonjour”, and an “Au revoir” when you leave. Not verbally acknowledging the shop assistant is considered impolite, unless you’re in a large store. You might not get a smile in return, but you will move up a few notches on the approval scale.
There are many unspoken metro rules, but the three most important are, to my mind:
1. Do not push on the metro. Say “pardon“.
2. Do not bring large cases onto the metro during rush hour unless you absolutely have to.
3. Anticipate people staring at you when you speak in English. Stare back.
Remember the earlier point of hiding enthusiasm? This applies everywhere except when it comes to admiring the city. The Parisians might shake their heads with a “Oh, those silly tourists!” comment, but they’ll say it with a smile. After all, they are fiercely proud of their city, and love hearing how beautiful she is.