Before my solo trip to the capital of France, I worried that the rumored infamous rudeness of its citizens would ruin my experience. I feared that an intimidating wait staff would sneer at my poor attempts at French, sweep my plate away as soon as I swallowed my last bite and practically chase me out of their restaurants. Or, that the locals, even in passing, would somehow shrink my ego and ironically make me feel like a nobody in the City of Love. Of course, there is a great deal of variation amongst the city’s many inhabitants, but all in all - Parisians really aren’t so bad.
Parisians in the Service Industry
During my city break, Parisians in the service industry treated me quite nicely. A dashing dark-haired waiter with deep blue eyes, quite possibly a model in his spare time, attentively served my table and offered a bit of chit-chat. Most gallantly, he pretended not to see the duck gravy I dribbled on my white sweater as I hastily covered it with my scarf. Another waiter directed me to a place I could buy sausage to bring home as an edible souvenir. The baker amusedly watched me fall in love with his croissant – gently cradling it in my hands before biting into its crispy, flaky, buttery perfection. Even the female sales assistant spoke kindly to me in French, though she must have detected I was a foreigner when she spotted my sneakers and outdoorsy (read: unfashionable) jacket tied around my waist.
Exception: The Metro Workers
The Metro workers were undoubtedly the worst locals I met on my trip. While working out how to buy a carnet, a discounted bundle of 10 tickets, I noticed that the machine only took coins. I approached the dismal worker seated behind the glass window and was greeted by a facial expression that read: “Why are you disturbing me?” She refused to give me change, insisted the machine took bills and impatiently gestured for me to return to the ticket machines. Though she did not properly do her job, a couple directed me to a separate set of machines that did take bills.
The most unfriendly Parisian I met also worked in a metro station. When I realized my tickets had become demagnetized, I hesitantly approached the help booth. The squat woman stared at me like I was an idiot before I even uttered a word. After my explanation, she inspected my ticket, handed it back to me and said “Go.” Vague much? I hesitated, so she insistently shooed me away with her hand. (They must learn that gesture during their job training.) A buzz indicated that she had opened the gate for me, so I jogged through - but she released the button early to let the metal gates hit me on the way out. Though jaded metro employees won’t ruin your vacation, if possible, do not approach them.
Parisians Out & About
Heart thumping at the thought of my first French attempt, I barely managed to eek, “Excusez-moi.” But the young man holding a small cloth grocery bag turned, so I tested, “Où est Montmartre?” He mimed the route, like so many other random passersby that politely obliged my requests for directions. Additional assistance from locals occurred when a fellow market-goer played interpreter between myself and a cheese vendor, and when a magazine stand owner asked if I needed help when he noticed me fiddling around on my phone for a few minutes. Although Parisians lack the zealous friendliness of many Americans, the Paris locals were all around helpful. Only the elderly inhabitants seemed suspicious of me and refused to speak with me, but I don’t blame them, because there are all sorts of swindlers in Paris.
Pickpockets, Thieves and Scammers - Oh My!
As with most large cities, tourism in Paris attracts thieves. Before departure, I was coached to immediately shut down the women in the Gare du Nord that rush towards passengers fresh off the Eurostar, asking “Do you speak English?” I tied up my backpack securely and stashed my valuables in interior jacket pockets. Alone, I sprinted past hawkers with “friendship” bracelets on the way up to Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, until a tall man inserted himself in front of me. I interrupted his pitch with a “no” and continued climbing stairs, but he followed me angrily through the crowded park, shouting “Listen!” I kept my eyes fixated forward and my awareness behind me, to sense his movements until he eventually stalked off to find easier prey. Luckily, scammers seem to operate during high tourist traffic hours. So, either you will not be bothered or you will be surrounded by other targets and potential witnesses.
Do not let an irrational fear of Parisians scare you away from this romantic city. Set your expectations low, and your interactions with the locals will exceed your expectations. After all, you do not want to suffer the disillusionment of Paris Syndrome. And, once you go, you may find you prefer Parisians to the silly tourists that tromp along their streets.
Alison Roberts-Tse, a London-based freelance travel writer, has been haphazardly scribbling in journals since she was a small-town small fry in Wisconsin. Her work has been featured on We Said Go Travel, Travel Dudes and BonAppetour among other travel sites. You can find useful travel tips, transparent reviews and outlandish tales from more than 20 countries on her award-winning blog, Up&AtEm Travel. email@example.com