How to not piss off Parisians (in five simple steps)

Since returning from Europe, I’ve heard countless horror stories and anecdotal recounts of what I’m dubbing the “Cold-shouldered Parisian Encounters.” I am simultaneously puzzled and fascinated by the emotional scarring my friends have received while visiting this romantic city (it is the city of love, after all). For a city so filled with sweet delights and romantic music, the reviews on the hospitality of its people have not been as positive as I would have imagined.

I have been contacted by many fellow travelers asking why I didn’t receive the snubs, snide comments, and snobbish ‘tudes that they did while in France. Maybe I simply lucked out on my journey, but after comparing notes I think I’ve determined a few key differences that put me in favor with the locals (leave it to me to analyze the psychology of the situation). Thus I bring you…

Five Steps to Avoiding Faux Pas Made by Tourists in Paris

1. Smile and be gracious. I realize this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a big one. The locals do not owe you anything. France is the most popular travel destination in the world. According to the Paris Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, they receive approximately 70 million tourists a year. You are literally one of a million, so when you find a local who is willing to be of helpful service, be thankful. And speaking as someone who lives in the entertainment capital of the world, I’m much more likely to help or direct someone who is nice and friendly than one who thinks I work as a tour guide. Just because I call Las Vegas home does not mean I want to be giving away all the local hangouts or drawing maps on the quickest way to get you to Studio 54. Be nice. Parisians are happy to point you in the right direction if you treat them with respect.

2. Don’t dress like a slob. Parisians value self-care and appearance. While you won’t necessarily find people walking around in bow-ties and top hats (although it is a possibility), you will see a dramatic difference between American casual and Parisian casual. Respect their culture by pulling up your pants, putting on a belt, and donning a shirt that isn’t wrinkled. You’re more likely to talk to someone who doesn’t look homeless than someone who does (you can look up the research). Do yourself a favor and up your odds. It’ll take an extra five minutes in the morning but you’ll save two hours walking aimlessly around Monmartre looking for the no longer existent Le Chat Noir.

3. Learn some simple French or Spanish. The French are a very polite and demure society. They don’t expect you to be fluent in their native tongue but they do want to receive appropriate greetings. Anytime you enter a store or restaurant, say hello in French. Make sure you thank them when you leave even if you don’t purchase anything. Spanish is also acceptable, as most Frenchman are also fluent in Spanish. You will be amazed at the difference an attempt in speaking their language will make. One of my Parisian friends told me, “It’s not how well you say it, it’s that you tried.”

4. Get to know your waiter/hotel clerk/barista/store worker. These people are used to serving and working for tourists but they’re not used to having a foreigner take an interest in their lives. You’d be surprised at how a simple question like, “What do you do for fun,” will change their demeanor. In the afternoons that I spent in pastry shops getting to know my waiters Chris, Angela, and Maria, I was extended offers to be shown around the city and given detailed suggestions on places I should go. Extend the olive branch; you’ll get one back.

5. Don’t take it personally if a local is not nice to you. Just like any other person, they may be having a bad day. They might be distracted with their own lives or may be late to a meeting. Just because you’re on holiday does not mean that everyone else is. You are bound to run across some people that are just not interested in helping you. Don’t get offended. You should also keep in mind that Parisians are a more reserved people, so what they consider helpful and nice may sometimes come off as curt to unaware Americans. The worst thing you can do is think negatively about the people or your skills because then it’s game over. You cannot succeed once your ego is bruised. Toughen up and try again.

While I can’t guarantee this is a foolproof method, I’m certain you will see results. Your probability of making Parisian friends (and enjoying the culture) will highly increase with these simple tips. Go be kind, stay open-minded, and enjoy your trip! If it doesn’t work, I owe you a macaron.


79 thoughts on “How to not piss off Parisians (in five simple steps)

  1. How to not piss off Parisians (in five simple steps) | The Nomad Grad Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

  2. Hey there!
    I am from Belgium (a reeaaally small country next to France) and I love your article! I wanted to comment the advice about the clothing: it is really smart of you! 🙂 I think that what makes French people (and I think Europeans in general) always pay attention to what they are wearing is the “you never know” factor. What I mean is we are always thinking “I never know, maybe I will meet the love of my life, or see old friends, or get a job opportunity…”. With that in mind we rarely get out of the house without make up, well done hair and not-slappy clothes! And we sometimes do take it as lack of respect if people aren’t well dressed… When I was an exchange student in the US it shocked me in the beginning to see people in sports clothing go to the mall or the super market! But now I know it just is the American way 😉
    Anyway, thank for the great post!

    • Hi there! I’m SO glad to hear you liked it! When I wrote it I was really worried I might offend some Europeans, which definitely wasn’t the point. I really wanted to try to enlighten other silly Americans (like myself) who like you said, are just used to running to the mall in a track suit. But I absolutely think your theory is right! The local Parisians I stayed with very much had that, “You never know what will happen” attitude and I LOVE that!

      Where in the US did you visit? Know that you have a tour guide waiting for you in Vegas if you ever make it back this way =).

  3. I am struggling to know what to pack to wear in Paris for mid-April. I read your scarf thing, so I have that covered, but I want to make sure my other fashion is up to par. Suggestions???

  4. Great analysis! Personally, I think that your actions illustrate how we should all act towards one another. It is good to read about someone else who feels this way! Also, I love your photos. Paris is beautiful! 🙂

  5. Great tips =] To add a little bit from “the other side,” I think part of the reason many Parisians are rude to tourists (especially Americans) is because they have encountered many who were rude to them… so they figured it wasn’t worth it XD Not nice, but hey it happens!

    • I think you are absolutely right, Anne! The golden rule always applies and I’m sure many Americans forget to utilize this in their travels.

      Thank you so much for stopping by to comment! Have you ever had a chance to head to our homeland? Do you have a favorite spot in Paris?

      Keep writing!

  6. Pingback: Surviving Paris | Say Gudday

  7. We were in Paris for a week a couple of years ago and I must say, all the people we met were very helpful and nice. We did not receive or notice any cold shoulders.
    Plus, I know a handful of French phrases which I used everywhere, rather fearlessly, with my wonderful Indian-French accent. lol. They were probably too busy being amused or trying to figure out what the heck I was saying to think of being rude. 😀
    No. We really had a wonderful experience. The people, the places, the food…everything was tres bien!

  8. I agree with your tips an would like to add my own…..Please don’t act like an idiot when you’re in a foreign country. Don’t “assume” that because Paris is a big city everything ought to be modern and up-to-date. Just. Like. At. Home. If you wanted things to be like they are at home, stay there! And there’s nothing wrong with that. Just realize that we will never live in a peaceful world until we can drop our judgments, ignorance and pre-conceptions,,,,all that stuff that keeps us afraid and unwilling to work together.My best advice to travelers: embrace whatever culture you are in. Read about it, learn about it. After all, YOU are visiting THEIR home. Be respectful. Don’t make unreasonable or irrational requests. And don’t compare everything you find in the US with the variety of the local markets and restaurants. Be fully present to the surrounding splendors wherever you are. Focus on the good. That should solve just about everything. (I hope)

    • I absolutely agree with you, Claire! Embracing different cultures is half the fun of traveling! I love when I come home with weird toothpaste brands or have to eat shrimp flavored potato chips instead of barbecue. It makes the experience worthwhile. =)

      Thank you so much for commenting and giving your two cents! I can’t wait to see what other pieces of sage advice you have for us newbie travelers!

  9. Great tips for anyone visiting Paris! I, too, have never encountered rude Parisians, so I am sometimes taken aback when others tell me how badly they’ve been treated.

    A smile definitely goes a long way; and I agree with being able to speak the few basic words/phrases. Even being able to ask “Parlez-vous anglais?” usually breaks the ice much faster and more easily.

  10. Love this – for us, it was the ability to speak French that made a definite impression. They could tell we were making an effort for them so they made an effort for us. We had the chance to eat at Michel Bras’s restaurant (once in a lifetime experience) and when we met him in the kitchen, he said we were the FIRST Americans to ever attempt to speak French to him there. It warmed everyone up much more quickly.

    Your travels sound like they’ve been amazing. I’m a little envious…we’d like to move to France after our experience there…

    • Hi Dominique!

      Thank you so much for commenting! It sounds like you had quite an amazing experience as well!

      Where are you located now? Do you have any plans to travel this year? A very happy new year to you!

  11. I was in France earlier this year and had few problems. We were there for a month, travelled around the countryside as well as Paris and only had rudeness twice, once from a woman behind the counter at a railway station and the other a clerk behind the desk at an hotel. Other than that we had some really amusing experiences, often on restaurants in small towns where they don’t get many tourists and spoke no English. Pointing, mime and my restaurant-level frnech mostly got us through and they seemed to find it as amusing as we did! I suspect being Australian also helps – we still have some small amount of novelty value, and enjoy a certain level of goodwill. Thanks for the posting – you’ve encouraged me to post more of my photos!

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed your visit! It sounds like it was definitely a memorable time.

      And I’m glad I could encourage and inspire you to continue to post. I love looking at your photos and seeing your travels. Keep posting!

      Thanks for commenting!

  12. Love your blog and completely agree with the point you made about making the effort with their language. I always try to make the effort, in Venice I picked up a small bit of Italian and the waiters always seemed to like that I made the effort (although one did start a conversation with me in Italian, that was embarrassing haha)

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    • Hi Cynthia!

      Thank you so much for stopping by my blog! I’m glad that you like it so much to bookmark it!

      Your site is extremely informative! I will be sure to pass it along to my sister who is always looking for new ways to connect with her toddler via play. Keep writing!

  14. Paris was my favorite city in Europe to visit. I couldn’t go anywhere without feeling good. The higher standards of self-upkeep and demeanor (especially compared to the U.S.) were comforting! All of your points are good. It’s not a town to be a tourist in. It’s a town that calls for you to at least try to get on its level, which actually made me feel somewhat included. It was a fun town to drink in too…Pernod- my newest friend. Good chat.

    • I am so happy to hear that you had such a positive experience! And I completely agree; it’s a city that calls for a higher standard.

      Have you visited anywhere else in Europe? How long were you in Paris? Keep writing!

      • I was there in 1988 Hilary, but hitch-hiked and slept rough to get there from the UK, and also did the latter while there (one night on the banks of the Seine and one outside the Louvre), so I probably wasn’t in line with your advice to be well presented!

        I can’t remember any negativity though, and the hitching was great in France, so I have good memories of it. Paris was the first big city on my Euro trek and the sun was shining after lots of rain on the way there.

        Cheers, and have a great weekend!

  15. I was in Paris for a very short time, many moons ago, and did have a bit of a frustrating encounter there, even speaking the language. However, as soon as I left the city and got into the French country-side it was AMAZING and the service and friendliness went way up.
    I think some of that reputation (the French are a!@holes) must come from landing in a big scary airport, completely jet lagged and getting an annoyed information booth lady who just doesn’t want to tell another person where the bus transfer stand is. It’s hard to shake a bad first impression. 🙂
    However, I think your tips would work in ANY country. Be nice, be patient, try to speak the language, and don’t take things too seriously. You’re on vacation, you have time, and truly, most people are good at heart and will help those in need if they can.
    France is a lovely country – can’t wait to go back!
    (Thanks for visiting my blog, I’m really enjoying browsing your pages here!!)

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by! I love reading your blog and hearing about your adventures.

      I agree, it’s hard to shake those bad first encounters. I’m glad you find my tips useful in other situations! How long were you in Paris? Did you visit anywhere else in Europe while you were there?

      Keep writing!

      • Unfortunately I was only there for two days, but enjoyed the extended layover on my way to Tunisia.
        An extended visit to Europe remains elusive – but it is on my bucket list and it *will* happen 🙂 And hopefully before my 40th birthday!

        I’m also looking forward to hearing more of your adventures and travel advice! And if you have any tips or secret hide-aways you’ve discovered, I’m sure we’d all love to hear about them!

        • Wow, Tunisia! That sounds like quite the exotic and mystical journey. I would love to hear more about that sometime!

          And don’t worry; I have plenty of upcoming blogs discussing my favorite travel destinations and trade secrets on having a fabulous time. I hope you’ll check back to read them! =)

          Please keep posting! I love your story. All the best!

  16. As simple as it is, I really agree with your point number one! A smile will get you incredibly far, even if you can’t string together the appropriate greetings or questions in French, smile and people generally don’t mind your ineptness so much at all.

  17. You made me laugh, but I think this applies to all travels!!! I just found your blog and first of all I love your title “nomad grad” coming up on graduating with psychology and equine science and looking to become a version of the nomad grad. I will be continuing to read, thanks for the smile!

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! How do you like the equine sciences? I grew up riding horses and showing hunter/jumper. I think that’s one thing that the UNLV programs are missing. I think you will make a fantastic nomad grad! Keep writing!

  18. Spent a day and a night in Paris a while ago.
    Had a blast – really good time…

    If anyone needs it, I also know how to piss off a Parisian in 1 simple step.
    But really, I have no reason to do it, and was surprised at how warm the people were, despite the same stories you heard. I would love to go back.

    • Uh oh… dare I ask? I found that Parisians would get their feathers ruffled when Americans were overtly boisterous and obnoxious. But by that time in my travels, I was put off by that type of behavior as well. I never realized how big our personalities were until I spent time with more reserved people. What was your observation?

      • I actually went over on the spur-of-the-moment several years ago, on Halloween. did the work I was sent for, and had Steak Tartare on the Champs D’Elysee, then strolled along and stopped in a bar for a beer.
        It really was a good day. I found the people to be social, inviting, really what we hope all people to be, and I couldn’t have felt more welcome.

        As far as pissing them off in 1 step, hell, that’s just a natural talent.

  19. I with you in that I had a positive experience with Parisians. In fact, I found that they are more like us Americans that we are willing to admit… in my experience, I learned two things – 1) just because they aren’t overly friendly or the service doesn’t bend over backwards for you, like in the states, doesn’t mean they are rude or being mean. and 2) they generally treat you the way you treat them.

    My advice is to just be respectful and don’t waste their time when asking them anything

  20. Great entry! I have to agree with many of the points, except the one about speaking Spanish (trust me, we tried, it’s out mother tongue). Anyways, long story short, when hon and I visited Paris in the summer of 2007, we were treated with respect and courtesy. I have to say that I was ready to snap back at whoever treated me in a rude manner, but instead we got a lot of help, smiles and courtesy from pretty much anyone we asked for directions. I’m french-impaired (seriously, I can’t say anything in French for the life of me, I can’t, it’s like my mouth refuses). I’d have to say that the customer service in Paris was amazing. We didn’t dress like slobs either, so that might have helped. We did try speaking Spanish and got nowhere, so we had to stick to English, broken French and hand gestures.

    When I told some of our stories to some friends they were surprised about how we didn’t experience the cold shoulders or looks from Parisians. And now that I live in the City, I certainly understand how Parisians must feel when they get millions of people, all over the city, butchering their language, or imposing English. We found that it was more or less easy to move about the city, except that when going around with our American-size pieces of luggage, a couple of the Metro doors closed too fast for us to pass and that got us a couple of nasty looks.

    All in all I enjoyed Paris more than I though I would, but the language barrier was a big one for me. Thanks for sharing your tips! They’re super useful.

    Au revoir!

    • Thank you so much for commenting! It sounds like you had quite the trip! I lucked out with my travels and had some Parisian friends to assist me with the language barrier. I’m glad to hear that someone else had a pleasant experience. I am also happy to hear someone else had the luggage issue. I’ve found that’s a challenge for most places I travel. Did you have a favorite spot in Paris? How long were you there?

      Keep writing! I love reading your blog!

      • That is so sweet of you! It was an awesome trip indeed. I really didn’t appreciate the fact that I’d just been in the cCity of Lights until I came back. The baguettes, the … chocolate, the everything. Mmmm food. The luggage issue was a PITA, but we made it, somehow, ha! I loved many things about Paris, it’s a very beautiful city. The Pantheon was pretty cool, and it’s incredible to see the tombs of people you’ve studied … it was humbling in a way. Les Invalides was amazing too, and The Louvre! Hon and I kissed in front of La Gioconda … we found out she’s smiling because she saw us kissing (*giggles*). Walking around Montmartre and Champs Elysees was very interesting (and the stores, oh the darn stores). But out of everything, I think walking into Notre Dame and visiting La Conciergerie were probably my two favourite spots. Seeing all the candles and hearing the mass was a bit out of this world. We also went to Versailles, and had a super time there.

        I’m enjoying your blog quite a lot! Keep writing, I like it 🙂

        • It sounds like we enjoyed a lot of similar spots! I’m glad to hear someone else fell in love with the experience as much as I did!

          And thank you so much for your kind words! I will be sure to do so =)

  21. This is interesting! I’ve heard that about Parisians many times as well, but I didn’t really notice the one time I visited either. I think the right attitude probably helps – your tips are probably right on there.

  22. I feel like #2 should apply everywhere, even in the U.S. After reading The Sartorialist for my own fashionable benefit, I have attempted more to look somewhat decent when I step out of my house.

    Also, I am happy to hear that I can put my 3 years of high school Spanish to good use in a place other than Spain or Mexico and not look so out of place. 😛

  23. Another one: Don’t be brown (or at least not confusable with Arabs). That makes for quite an unpleasant experience in Paris.

    That aside, now that I have had a chance to compare two countries where I didn’t speak the native language, I think the Parisians have an inherent coldness vs. the Mexican warmth.
    To be fair, though, I have friends who’ve had much better experiences in Paris than I have.

      • I traveled to Mexico City for a week and it was the best vacation I’ve ever had!
        I don’t currently have plans (this trip was booked at 10 days notice as well), but Mexico City served as quite an appetizer. Definitely hope to explore more of Mexico and Central/South America over the next year.

        • That’s great to hear that you enjoyed Mexico City so much! I haven’t been there yet, but one day. I have a lot of friends who are fond of the 10 day or less travel planning method. It’s a little too extreme for me at the moment, but I hope to one day be that adventurous! Any particular place you want to go in Central/South America?

      • It wasn’t so much the ’10 day or less travel plan’, more an experiment with the ‘planless travel’ method and I’m a huge fan.
        Peru is top of the list. What about you? Any upcoming travel?

  24. You forgot my number one rule… If someone is “immediately rude to you” be “immediately rude to them” (within reason… i.e. exactly their level minus say 10%) then they will not take you as one of the idiot tourists and revert to their normal selves (maybe they will actually laugh, that happened to me once in a sushi place)… The fact that there are SOOOOOOO many tourists is such a decision factor on how they interact with everyone… I used to HATE dealing with Parisians, now, I really enjoy Paris in general and this that I have said is like, the ultimate number one reason why!

    • Dee,

      In my experience, I never had to be rude back to someone, but I will keep this in mind for future visits! I absolutely adore spending time with Parisians as well. Thanks for commenting!

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