Well There You Have It: The Paris Chamber of Commerce Admits that Parisians Are Rude
- Published on Tuesday, 09 July 2013 00:00
- Written by David Jaggard
It’s in Print,
So It Must Be True
Illustration by Charles Giai-Gischia. Visit his blog, Traits-Drôles, for a larger version and more drawings.
Who says Parisians are rude? Oh, wait, I do. Also the 1,200 people who responded to a recent survey by Skyscanner.net, reported on the Huffington Post, in which France ranked number one out of a field of 35 as the world’s rudest destination for tourists.
I must say, I don’t agree with Skyscanner at all. My personal choice for the rudest place on the planet would be Greece, which ranked 14th. That’s one notch nicer than Switzerland, which is such a good-natured nation they’ve never even been in a war. I suppose the invention of yodeling could be considered an act of international aggression, but overall the Swiss are very pleasant, honest (i.e., non-rude) people.
Digression alert! I’m down on Greece because Nancy and I traveled there a couple of times in the 1990s, and every hotel we booked failed to keep our reservation, even if we had wired money, at moderate expense, in advance.
And by “every” I do not mean most, nearly all, 99 or even 99.9 percent — this happened every single zeusdamn intercrural time. Then we’d get some blathering, barely comprehensible excuse that made it sound like it was our fault for not materializing in front of the reception desk with our wallets out at the very second they wanted to rent our room.
All of the clerks in question eventually found us accommodation, either in their own hotel or nearby, but our reservations weren’t worth the paper the bank-transfer receipts were printed on. And then when we left, our advance payment was never deducted from the bill unless we remembered to “remind” them. In fact, we still have two nights paid for at the Venus de Milo Arms in Athens, in case we ever want to go back and get jerked around, as it were, again.
In fairness, this happened quite a while ago, and Greece may well have become more visitor-friendly since then, at least between anti-austerity riots. But 23 words is my limit for fairness: fed up with their anything-to-fill-the-till attitude, we never went back.
Now then! Speaking of France, another answer to my opening question is: the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mindful of the importance of tourism to the municipal and national economy (Paris is the world’s most-visited city and France the most-visited country), the CCI has undertaken a campaign, reported in Reuters on June 19, to improve the city’s global image by encouraging shopkeepers, taxi drivers, hotel workers and waiters to treat their foreign customers better. Or at least smile while they short-change them, drive them needlessly halfway around the Périphérique, charge them €23 for a 23-calorie breakfast and sneeze on their vichyssoise.
This noble effort has been distilled into a 12-page brochure entitled “Do You Speak Touriste?” (which is French for “Parlez-vous Chump?”), distributed free of charge to all interested parties and available, with some extra features, on a Web site.
The brochure and site devote a page apiece to the nine most common nationalities that Parisians in the retail, transport, accommodation and food industries are likely to encounter, summing up the visitors’ expectations and offering helpful tips on how to make them happy. Or at least smile while they’re getting reamed like a stationery warehouse.
Since I’m American, by passport if not by cultural sympathy, I, of course, had to see what the Chamber of Commerce had to offer in the way of generalizations about American tourists in France. The document mentions the following points:
• Americans expect rapid, personalized service that takes their specific individual needs into account at every stage of their stay. Note to American tourists who actually expect this: be sure to let me know how that works out for you.
• Americans especially like to see the city lit up at night. The guide doesn’t mention that many Americans even more especially like to see themselves lit up at night.
• It’s good to introduce yourself to Americans by your first name. I’d love to see this tip put into action:
“Hello, my name is Hervé, and I’ll be your Métro ticket salesperson today. Our specials this morning include a slug-paced slowdown on Line 7 due to a technical failure, inhumanly hot and crowded trains on line 4 between Montparnasse and Gare du Nord, and a homeless panhandler with a substance problem and ox-stunning BO who can’t take no for an answer working Line 1 from Bastille to Concorde.”
A quick perusal of the other nationalities reveals some interesting points as well:
• Most visitors want to be able to get oral or at least written information in their own language, and no fewer than four of the nine nationalities expect “mastery of English.” Interestingly, that does not include the British but does include the Germans, who also expect “mastery of German.” Alles rechts, already, what else? I suppose next they’ll want the biggest vote in the EU.
• French tourists in Paris don’t want to be considered tourists, even though their top two sites to see are the Eiffel Tower and Disneyland. I bet a lot of them go home afterward and complain, “Don’t bother going to Disneyland any more! It’s totally ruined — nothing but tourists!”
• The top two sites for Brazilians, in partial contrast, are the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. According to the “Politeness” section of their page, Brazilians like “warm contact” and are “easily tactile.” From which I deduce that it’s very polite to have warm tactile contact with a Brazilian tourist. If anyone needs to find me this summer, I’ll be hanging out under the Arc de Triomphe.
Also, for every nationality the guide includes a micro-language lesson, showing how to say four basic things in the visitors’ language: “Hello,” “Welcome,” “Thank you” and “Goodbye.” Which pretty much sums up the tourist-to-tourism-profiteer transaction, although it leaves out one other keyword between “Welcome” and “Thank you.” But I guess “Kaching!” is the same in every language.
Then it shows how to say, “I don’t speak Portuguese [or Dutch or whatever] but I can tell you what you need to know in English.” Except, of course, on the pages for the British and the Americans, where this line is replaced by, “I don’t speak English.” Sometimes this stuff just writes itself.
The Web site also has a whole section of sample conversations in the various languages, proposing common scenarios for the various types of business. The following (no kidding) is a condensed version of the dialogue for retailers:
“Have you got this T-shirt in size 8?”
“Here you are!”
“It’s too big. Have you got a smaller one?”
“Sure. I’ll get it now.”
“Perfect! I’ll take this T-shirt.”
“Can I help you find something else?”
“No thank you.”
“One T-shirt for €34.90. Cash or credit card?”
Okay, I have a few questions here. Four, to be precise:
1) Thirty-five freaking euros for a lousy freaking T-shirt?
2) Nearly forty-five U.S. dollars at current exchange rates?
3) Is it embroidered with yttrium and fresh caviar?
4) And the Chamber of Commerce thinks that the problem in Paris is the rudeness?
The handbook mentions on the page about Americans that they “need to be reassured about prices.” Now that I can understand: “Yes, sir, a three-sip cup of coffee and semi-stale croissant really does cost €23! Isn’t that reassuring?”
Speaking of money, which was the point of the entire exercise to begin with, the guide points out that most tourists spend an average of €140 per person per day. As indicated in the accompanying pie chart, that’s €63 for lodging, €37 for food, €11 for museums and entertainment, €19 for shopping and €10 for transportation.
Or they could buy four T-shirts. And then sleep in bus shelters, walk everywhere and rummage dumpsters for food. Thirty-five euros? In any language, that’s just rude.
David Jaggard would like to thank the members of the C’est Ironique support community who responded to a recent independent poll on pricing practices in the garment industry, thus contributing to the research for this article, including David Smith, John Talbott, the very funny David Martin, Joe Makholm and Jake Dear.
Follow C’est Ironique on Facebook.
Click here to read all of this week’s new articles on the Paris Update home page.
Reader Barney Kirchhoff writes: "The French rude? Surely you jest. Just shout louder at them in English. One question: Where do you shop for T-shirts? Dior?"
Reader Helen Rogers writes: "J'adore Paris et Paris Update. I cannot recall ever being treated rudely while in Paris... or have I just not noticed? Nonetheless I find David Jaggard's article humorous and appropriate, perhaps because I would never buy a "tourist" T-shirt or shop on Rue de Rivoli (except for W.H. Smith bookstore and the marvelous Galignani). Mille mercis for keeping me updated, something you do with panache."
Reader Dolores Lilly writes: "Enjoyed this week's read. I also appreciated a good read of David Martin's articles."
Click here for more C’est Ironique! columns.
© 2013 Paris Update