For the vast majority of us we embark upon adventure and travel with a positive mindset, and rightly so. For the optimistic at heart, we choose to focus on the wonderful and exciting things that we’ve booked and planned, without entertaining ideas on the perils that may await us.
Whilst I am an advocate of such thinking, it is not without limitations. Thoughts of death, planes crashing, being kidnapped or held hostage are concerns we hear about in the media, and may pollute our thoughts for a moment (particularly as parents), until banishing them to the deep recesses of our mind, otherwise labelled as the “Too-hard-basket”. Deliberately moving on, we choose to focus on the positive, on the people we will meet, the sights to see, stories to tell and delicacies to indulge in.
Whilst planning to embark on a solo journey to Paris the previously described scenario played out in my mind. Several times in fact. So, being quite akin to research I decided to consult ‘King Google’ (no plug intended, just happen to love information at my fingertips). Endeavouring to decipher whether my concerns about solo travel to Paris were merely a paranoia or with just cause, I embarked on a “Know Before you Go” about Paris.
Mystery number one for me – I couldn’t quite reconcile what it was that led so many people to caution me, “Oh, be prepared, the French are snobby” or “Don’t be put off by the rudeness of the French”. Quite frankly, by the time the tenth person had said this upon hearing of my intended trip to Paris, I was well and truly fed up. How had such a damaging opinion managed to gain momentum and negatively influence the perceptions of people that not even stepped foot on French soil (or cobblestones, to be more precise). Speculating, I’d imagine these opinions were borne from the personal experiences and perceptions of others who had. Of travellers and visitors to Europe sharing their anecdotes that had been told and re-told, consequently circulating over the ages and growing in malignancy. But to me something seemed amiss. People aren’t just rude per se. Rude for rudeness sake logically doesn’t equate for me, and so perplexed by the mystery of how such a rumour takes hold, the words “Social Etiquette in France?” appeared in Google’s search engine, as if my fingers had a life of their own. Here is what I discovered.
Culturally within Australia and America, it is customary upon entering a premises, shop or establishment that the owner is to greet and acknowledge the customer first. In Australia, the emphasis on quality customer service has created an expectation that the customer is always right, and that the service provider (ie: retail assistants, waiters, waitresses etc) is expected to serve us (the customer). This translates into the behaviour that they greet us first, initiate first communication and offer assistance pro-actively.
However, interestingly I discovered that the social expectation within France is quite the opposite. Culturally, when we as a tourist step foot into a store or any kind of establishment we enter THEIR property. They are the owner, and consequently we are a guest on their territory. It is expected within French culture that when you enter someone else’s property, you first initiate communication with a greeting, which signifies respect via acknowledgement, and preferably in the nation’s primary language… Bonjour!
Immediately you can see how a lack of understanding of something as simple as entering a store can cause friction from the onset. The store owner is waiting for you to greet him, (which you don’t), because you are waiting for him to greet you (which he doesn’t). So, in short, when in Paris, offer the first “Bonjour” as you enter. Upon leaving, don’t forget your “Merci” (thank you) and “Au revoir” (Goodbye). If you truly want to maximise your enjoyment whilst in Paris, I suggest you make the effort to learn, “please”, “thank you”, “hello”, “goodbye”, and then use these courtesies generously at every opportunity. The French highly value manners.
Unequivocally, I can attest to the success of this nugget of travel advice. It was a quick “Bonjour Madam/Monsieur”, and a huge smile that didn’t make them my best friend, but certainly dispelled the notorious stereotype that the French are snobs. Motto of my experience, misunderstandings have the potential to lead to further misunderstandings, times infinity. Break the cycle, and research “Social Etiquette” before you travel anywhere. As cheesy as it may sound, become a proactive traveller in the concept “Know Before You Go”, you can thank me later.
Go well, and safe travels.