Let’s face it, there are stereotypes for most nationalities. Tanzanians have told me how nice the Ugandans are. Americans are loud and pushy. Italians are fiery. And the French? Well, the French, and particularly Parisians have the rap that they’re cold, aloof, and rude. True? No stereotype is universally true, but all have some basis in fact. When I lived in France, I knew plenty of warm, well-meaning people. Their image of Americans was that we smile without meaning it, and pretend to be friendly: “Let’s get together sometime!” meaning, “If the circumstance ever arrives where we’re in the same room at the same time, let’s say hello.” So don’t wait by your phone for that friendly American to call.
Still, I remember my astonishment when, after living for a while in France, I crossed the channel and walked into a restaurant in London and the waitress, in the kindest of voices, addressed me as "luv.” Luv? I felt like hugging her. Sure, it was nothing more than when a waitress in a U.S. diner calls you "hon," but in France, clients are intruders. I'm sorry for walking into your restaurant, your shop, etc. Here in London, I instantly felt more relaxed than I ever did in France.
Recently I saw that tourism and commerce officials in Paris have launched another (yes, this has been an ongoing issue) campaign to get locals to put on a happy face for tourists. They’ve put out a 6-page brochure, “Do you speak tourist?” that gives tips on how to be friendly. (Read article) It addresses the small details that can change a tourist's perception of culture. Afterall, we're talking about perceptions, and not necessarily reality. A Parisian knows how to interpret another Parisian, but a tourist might be left in the dark.
By Kevin O'Neill