Who started this rumor that Parisians are unfriendly? Even my father, who hasn’t met a single Parisian, let alone been to Paris, believes this to be true.I’ve always found the people of Paris to be genuine and hospitable. But yesterday, travel authority Christopher Elliott wrote in a travel article posted on CNN.com, “And in a move that can only be described as utter desperation, the notoriously unfriendly Parisians, in an effort to ’show that Paris loves its tourists and knows how to welcome them,’ strapped on rollerblades and formed an enormous human smile at Place Vendome.”
Even in the darkest days of our previous presidential administration, I was welcomed by the people of Paris. And the only times I’ve been treated with rudeness in the City of Lights is by fellow Americans. So, I go back to my original question: who decided that Parisians are unfriendly? Clearly it was someone who has no recognition for those not-so-subtle cultural differences that make us all wonderfully unique. Sure, Parisians aren’t like Americans. They don’t smile gratuitously and aren’t overly effusive with strangers.
But perhaps what people like Christopher Elliott are missing is the fact that Parisians abide by a different cultural norm. Whereas some may think Parisians to be aloof toward Americans, they’re actually being polite. A shopkeeper won’t jump all over you the minute you walk into their store. They won’t ask you what you’re looking for and follow you around, just waiting to pounce on a possible sale. No, the Parisian salesperson offers a cordial “bonjour” and gives you space to explore on your own. They’re respecting your space, but they’ll gladly and fully engage with you once you ask for help.
French waiters also get an unfairly bad rap, mostly because they hang back and leave you alone while you eat. Perhaps Americans have become accustomed to being rushed through a meal, but in France, people are expected and invited to linger. French waiters aren’t thinking about turning over tables to get in more tips and will rarely bring you the check before you ask for it. They’re not ignoring you. They’re being polite.
Finally, Parisians don’t hate Americans. Au contraire, mes amis. They actually like us and our culture, even when they dislike the policies of our government. Victor Orsenne, the owner of the Hotel Valadon, and his son flew to Chicago last November specifically to witness the American elections. When they arrived, the man at Passport Control asked the reason for their visit. “I want to meet your new boss,” Victor replied.
I’m always delighted when Parisians do something fun (like forming rollerblade smiley faces) to show that they’re a friendly bunch. But it makes me more than a little frightened that their ill-gotten reputation will put a crimp in their own unique style and force them to give up their own social norms to become more like us Americans.