Hi Frugalistas! I’m off to France in the next few days. As a frequent traveller there, I’m often asked by friends and work colleagues how I get on with the French and don’t I find them difficult/intimidating/rude and every other stereotype we can all imagine!
My answer is always a resounding NO! Here’s how I travel independently and survive and thrive among the French:
1. No matter how embarrassed you are and how terrible your accent is, you must attempt some French, and speak it with a smile. If you can say bonjour (bon-zhor), s’il vous plait (sill voo play) and merci (mare-si) instead of hello, please and thank-you and do it with a smile you will be richly rewarded with smiles, English, good service and a very pleasant experience. Manage a bit more, and you will be practically adopted and awarded the Legion of Honour. For some reason, French people seem very fond of Australians (Os-trar-lee in French) so make the most of it – assuming that’s where you come from of course. Make no effort, and your trip can be a complete waste of time and money, apart from reinforcing the Paris stereotype in your mind.
2. Under no circumstances attract a waiter’s attention by clicking your fingers and/or calling garcon. Your attempt at reinforcing French stereotypes will be ignored, you will get terrible service, and you will just reinforce the stereotype some French have that English speakers are all loud oafs with bad manners.
3. Don’t expect your waiter or salesperson to become your new best friend. It just doesn’t work like that in France. If you experience it in your travels, treat it as a gift. The better your French, the better your chance of receiving it –
I once had a talk to a very handsome young French salesman, having bought a single pair of sunglasses, and was just about carried out of the shop on his shoulders to the sound of a marching band. He also went around the shop telling everyone how well Madame spoke French and generally making a terrible fuss (my French is definitely not that good!)
Experiences like that cost nothing (I had already bought the pair of glasses anyway), yet can remain lasting memories and really add to the enjoyment of your trip.
4. Look like you belong there. That means dressing the part, and not looking like a tourist. Leave the white gym shoes, shorts, fanny packs/bumbags, backpacks and all the other tourist acoutrements at home. French people dress conservatively and well. Sensible flat shoes, plain, well cut trousers and sweaters/jumpers and a jacket will see you blend in and look like you belong there. For women, this is the time to break out all the scarves, and feel free to wear as much black as you like.
I would love to hear your tips on how you get on with the French
Photo credits: All author’s own