What is it about Paris that incites such strong feelings? With the exception of New York, no other city seems to have such an effect on people. Sharing the fact that I live in Paris tends to invite strong opinions. They range from those who have spent a considerable amount of time in France’s capital to those who have never set foot on French soil. People offer their impression on what Paris is, or specifically what the average French person is like.

Some of the theories presented are well founded. Such as the acknowledgement that the French love their bread, a trait I admit has rubbed off on me, shedding me once and for all of my low-carb ways. However, others are a bit outdated, like the French never exercise. These ideas, mostly sketched from film, media, or perhaps rang true once upon a time, are in essence harmless. However, the one that they have not been able to truly escape is the popular perception of French rudeness.

a group of people walking around a courtyard in Paris.
photo by Adrian Kusznirewicz

Paris is a city that thrives on its tourism industry. Over 30 million travelers each year choose it for their vacation destination. It should be noted that national officials are more interested in welcoming visitors than the city gets credit for. In fact, several years ago, France’s Foreign Minister launched a campaign to improve the reputation of French people.

They encouraged local people to be warmer to tourists in daily interactions. It was to be a “national priority” with initiatives to improve communication in hotels, restaurants, and kiosks, and to provide multi-lingual directions to airports.

And during the heated Love Lock debate almost a decade ago, while other cities worldwide were forbidding their landmarks to be defaced with the notion of “love” by way of an industrial padlock, Paris treaded lightly before finalizing their decision to ban the fad in fear of fueling the idea that they were unwelcoming to tourists.

So why can’t the French shed their reputation for being rude?

Admittedly, before moving to Paris, I also wondered about the alleged rudeness of French people. I worried if my time spent in this foreign country would be stifled by the indignant attitude that the French were portrayed to have. But I learned that what could be construed as rude actually just comes down to simple cultural differences and a lack of understanding.

Rude Service?

It would be impossible for me to say that I have never had unpleasant encounters or slow service in French restaurants. Of course I’ve happened upon the occasional grouchy Parisian waiters (French or not). But they are not the only rude people in the world. I’ve had similar experiences in other countries as well.

It is common practice that French servers don’t check up on tables every ten minutes to see if everything is “okay.” Icy water refills are not issued like a drought has just ended. Servers don’t add that personal touch with small talk. It is just not part of the dining culture. Servers think it is rude to interrupt the diners’ experience with their continuous presence.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but it should also be acknowledged that the saccharine service and big smiles we are accustomed to in the United States are purchased in the form of a 20% tip. In Paris it is considered acceptable practice to leave a euro or two on the table. Wages in service professions are not dependent on tips.

a man standing on the side of a road
photo by Pascal Bernardon

The French Don’t Fear Silence

Something I learned about myself from living in France is my instinctual tendency to fill space with words. I was unaware I did this in social interactions before. The French don’t fear what we consider “uncomfortable silence”. They don’t feel the need to avoid it with small talk or nervous laughter as many English speakers do.

This sometimes made for awkward first dates as I was laughing at nothing in particular with some French guy staring blankly at me. They’re not cold. Sometimes there’s just nothing to say.

HiP Paris blog, Rude French, Parisian buildings architecture

Responding in English Isn’t an Insult

A chief complaint is that visitors feel insulted when they attempt to speak the French language and are responded to in English. I admit that this used to vex me. Then I realized that perhaps my French was not strong enough and my attempts were putting a strain on communication.

Making an attempt in French is of course welcomed and can go a long way. But once the conversation gets more complicated, such as getting directions (something that still stumps me – Gauche? Droite? Tout droite? Oh, forget it! ), it’s okay to switch to English if possible. If not, have fun with it; the effort will be appreciated nonetheless.

The French Sometimes Think We’re Rude

You know how you meet someone at a cocktail party and animatedly leave things off with “we should get lunch sometime soon”? Normally that lunch happens, but sometimes it just doesn’t for whatever reason. Well, I burnt some bridges with Parisiennes due to a major cultural misunderstanding when I first moved here. This was because I did not honor what they then regarded as an empty promise, because of my natural impulse to agree for the sake of conversation or an innate need to people please. The French may get flak for their honesty, but when they cannot commit to something, they say so.

Bicyclist in crosswalk in Paris on a summer day.

Taxi Drivers Don’t Necessarily Represent All French People

I will be the first to admit that I loathe taking a Taxi Parisien, which is necessary at times since the metro does not run all night. Some drivers expect to be paid in cash, drive carelessly while talking on the phone, or flat out will refuse you if they don’t like the destination. I wholeheartedly understand the frustration tourists may have when trying to use this as a method of transport, but know that they do not necessarily represent the French, and sometimes, they are just having a bad day. Luckily there are other cab options sweeping through the city.

A little understanding of the French culture and that one rude person or unsavory experience should not represent an entire country will hopefully lend to the belief that the French are greatly misunderstood. Accepting French etiquette and cultural differences, broadening our thinking, and appreciating a place by way of different perspectives… isn’t that the reason why we travel in the first place?

grayscale photo of woman hailing a taxi in Paris.
photo by Venus Major

French Etiquette – A Few Things to Know

What is considered rude in France?

French people value privacy so unless with very close friends, they avoid asking questions about personal information such as age, sexual orientation, and family. French people tend to avoid talking about money as well. 

Is it rude to not speak French in France?

While some French people understandably are reluctant to speak English (often due to their own self consciousness) many, despite the most common stereotypes, are willing to and do not consider visitors who do not speak French to be rude, though it is much appreciated if before launching into English you politely use a few polite French phrases and ask ‘parlez-vous anglais?’.

Is it rude to not say hello in France?

Yes! Very basic etiquette in France dictates you must you must say ‘bonjour’ whenever you encounter another person (including shop assistants or when entering a room or elevator) or the equivalent upon leaving ‘bonne journée’. Failing to do so is considered a show of lack of respect.

Written by Lisa Czarina Michaud for HIP Paris. Looking to travel? Photos by Isabel Miller Bottome except where indicated. Check out Plum Guide and our Marketplace for fabulous vacation rentals in Paris, France or Italy. Looking to rent long or short term, or buy in France? Ask us! We can connect you to our trusted providers for amazing service and rates or click here. Looking to bring France home to you or to learn online or in person? Check out our marketplace shop and experiences


Lisa Czarina Michaud

Lisa Czarina Michaud is a native New Yorker who followed her calling for wine, cheese and beards when she moved to Paris on a whim. She is a novelist and translator. Her work has been published in Marie Claire UK, xoJane, Huffington Post Travel, HIP Paris and France Passion Magazine. She currently lives in France with her husband, son, and cat, Le Tigre.

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