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Alliance Francaise, Paris—the language factory for foreigners, located on Boulevard Raspail (left bank).


Do The French Really Dislike Tourists?

After a year in France we had to face up to the questions of our friends in America. How do the French feel about themselves and how do they treat one another? First of all, you have to understand that the French are very smart and extremely fast. They are accustomed to expressing themselves quickly in the minimum number of words and then going on to another subject. Obviously, this does not lend itself to good communication or understanding, particularly with strangers. In another vein, they are slow to become intimate, but they are capable of very special and close friendships.

Secondly, there are some special French traits to consider. In his Lettres Persanes published in 1721, Montesquieu wrote that after one month in Paris he noticed no one walking. They all sped by and jostled him on the streets. His experience could have been written today. It is still a game to maneuver for position at a check-out counter. And jostling a stranger on the street is not considered impolite. If you accidentally collide in a crowd and you hear the word Pardon, you can be sure you didn’t collide with a French person.

Once we were walking on one little street where the pedestrians were particularly determined. They would stride purposefully down the narrow sidewalk, assuming everyone in the path would jump into the street or somehow disappear ahead of them. Out of self-preservation, I learned how to stride that way myself. It really works—but I did have one precipitous collision with a French person who was also striding purposefully. I accidentally let slip a pardon and immediately felt foolish.
Automobiles are something else. Few of the cars give turn indications. To do so would be to reveal ahead of time their traffic game plan and give other cars plenty of time to dart in front or to pass on the “turn” side.
We did find an undercurrent of resentment against America in general. The French understandably resent rock and roll music and the absence of French music on the radio.

A final explanation to tourists: Each French person is different. The French are not intentionally rude to tourists; the truth is they can be worse to one another. And rudeness is not considered impolite if done with style.


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