The alleged rudeness of French people is undoubtedly one of their most enduring stereotypes, but is there any truth to it or is it just a cliché? It’s worth remembering France is a Latin country, with quite a different culture from Great Britain or the United States. What is considered impolite in one place may be a common, acceptable practice in another. So, rather than holding onto the belief that all French people are rude, a more constructive approach may be to consider their own rules for social interactions and play along.
- Are French people mean in the way they talk?
- French arrogance or simply a matter of reserve?
- Excuse my French: the dilemma between speaking French or English in France
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Are French people mean in the way they talk?
Compared to Anglo-Saxon culture, French people are rather direct. So don’t expect so many niceties and white lies to soften a negative statement. When criticizing something, they may not take as many precautions to protect your feelings and be much blunter instead. By the same token, if something is not to their liking, they will not hesitate to complain or express frustration.
If anything else, big smiles, chitchats and over-the-top compliments may sound fake and overly exaggerated to a French person. When everything may be awesome to an American person, a French person is more likely simply to mention that this is pas mal (not bad) and reserve such adjectives as extraordinaire (extraordinary) and merveilleux (wonderful) for the truly exceptional.
This is true even in customer service situations, such as in a French restaurant or brasserie. In general, there’s less of a “customer is king” approach in France. It’s worth remembering French waiters don’t rely on tips, as, by law, the service charge is automatically added to restaurant bills. So while such interactions will be pleasant, they may not include the same level of cheerful attitude as in the USA.
Such directness is also noticeable in how relatively common it is to interrupt someone, especially to add a point or give a counterargument. French people may cut each other off without always feeling the need to apologize for it. In fact, you may need to follow suit if you want to be able to make your point at all!
French arrogance or simply a matter of reserve?
Alongside rudeness, French people often have a reputation for being arrogant and standoffish. However, as we already mentioned, France doesn’t have the same culture of small talk, especially not with strangers. Generally speaking, French people don’t mingle as much and tend to mind their own business. They prefer to keep their personal information private and take more time before opening up. Oversharing may then come across as an invasion of privacy.
Daily interactions in France follow other etiquette rules, the first of which is always to start by saying hello, even to shop assistants. Not doing so will be seen not only as rude but also as a lack of respect. Even if you’re a customer in a shop, the person serving you will expect to hear you say bonjour (hello) before starting to help you. The same goes if you take a taxi or arrive at a hotel.
Excuse my French: The dilemma between speaking French or English in France
As a beginner in French, you may find that when you try to use your French in France, your interlocutors switch directly to English. Don’t be offended! They probably only mean to be helpful. In addition, people in tourist-heavy places like Paris or the south of France are used to speaking with non-French speakers in English. Some may even appreciate the opportunity to practice their English, in the same way you are with French!
Alternatively, if you speak French, they may start correcting your mistakes. Once again, the intention here is good. They probably want to help you in your effort. Even with the English invasion into their vocabulary, French people are very attached to their mother tongue and are appreciative of anybody keen on learning it. They often see it as their mission to contribute and promote the French language.
Fight the stereotypes about French people
The reputation of French people being rude is often due to cultural differences. French people tend to be more direct and less overly cheerful in their daily interactions. Instead, they are generally more private and less prone to chit-chat and have their own rules. Even their language choice towards you, be it reverting to English or correcting your French, is meant well, in order to be helpful.