Are French People Rude?  Breaking French Cultural Stereotypes

Are French People Rude? Breaking French Cultural Stereotypes

***This post contains affiliate links. Please see my full disclosure policy here for more information.

Are French people rude?  Why are the French so pretentious?  French people get a bad rap (particularly those who live in Paris).


If you enjoy my writing, please check out some other pieces that I have written about France and travel:

Are French people rude? My experience with french people has been friendly and warm. Why I love French people and why you will, too!

Nearly everybody that I have talked to that has been to France tells me that they found the French people rude, short or stuck up with them.

My sampling pool for these opinions include rookie travelers as well as veteran travelers, so the amount of experience that you have navigating the cultures of the world seems to make little difference in this judgement.  Are French people rude?

A typical Paris street scene

Are French People Rude?

In our travels in France, not one single time did find the French people rude with me or anybody in our party.  In fact, the people that we did encounter went out of their way to help us in any way that they could.

Come on, what’s not to love about french people?  They have that cool pointy tower, amazing food and they do that cheek kiss thing that I think is so cool!

I think that the number one reason that my experience differs from so many other people who have been to France is because we made an effort to fit in.

Now, this seems like it should be an obvious thing that you would try to fit in when in a foreign country, but this is not always (or even often) the case when it comes to many American travelers that we see in other countries.

Language Barriers

Language is a big part of this strategy.  I feel like it is important no matter where you travel that you learn some basic words in the local language.  It helps you to tear down the walls and build bridges between you and the locals.  This is particularly true in France.

French people are very proud of their language (and they should be, it is a beautiful language that oozes romance from every syllable).  The French pride in language seems to go beyond just their language, but extends to their ability to speak other languages as well.

French people tend to be perfectionists at language.  If they can’t do it 100% right, they are hesitant to try.  I asked many French people on our trip, “Parlez Vous Anglais? (Do you speak English?)”

Most of the time, I got a timid “Un Peu (a little)” as a response.  I then discovered that most of them spoke and understood a good amount of English (or at least enough for them to figure out what I needed and for them to communicate a reply.)

Now, the French don’t extend this expectation of perfectionism on those from other countries, but they do want you to fumble with a little French first before they feel comfortable pulling out their fumbling English.  You are in their country, so this is a completely appropriate expectation for them to have, in my opinion.

Once you embarrass yourself a little first (even if all you can say is “Bonjour.  Parlez Vous Anglais?”), they will pull out their English which in most cases is much better than they think it is (that perfectionism thing again) and you will meet somewhere in the middle of the the street labeled communication (which is a two way street, by the way).

From the stairs in front of Sacre Couer

 

Most of the French people that I met were just so happy that I was even trying to speak their language that this instantly made them warm and helpful and willing to treat me more like a friend and less like a tourist (and I often got help with my pronunciation and with words that I didn’t know in the process.)

Unrealistic Cultural Expectations

The other issue that I think many people have with their view of the French people has to do with an expectation that we are placing on our interactions with them that is based on the type of warmth and greetings that we expect out of our interactions here in the United States (which is not necessarily the way that things work in France.)  In the United States, it is normal for us to smile at strangers as we walk down the street and to be super friendly and warm to people that we do not know.

As far as I can tell from my travels and books that I have read, French people reserve this type of warmth for close acquaintances, friends and family (I am not sure if this is true, but I have been told that French people thing Americans are somewhat silly walking around with a huge grin on our faces all the time.)

In many countries in the world, walking around with a big, happy American style grin on your face can get you into more trouble than just a cold welcome.

The French just reserve their smiles for people and things that make them really happy (and further,  in France if you smile at a stranger of the opposite sex, it means that you are flirting with them and they will interpret it as such and react accordingly!)

So, when you meet a French person on the street, try viewing your interaction through a different lens.  Just because they are not smiling and SEEM slightly short with you does not mean that they dislike you in any personal sort of way.  They do not know you.  They are probably happy to help you, but don’t expect the same kind of smiles and warmth that you would in America.

Cut the Small Talk!

I find the attitude of the French refreshing.  In many ways, this attitude makes them more real an authentic to me.  We spend so much time and energy here in the United States looking happy, smiling, making small talk with people that we don’t really know because that is the polite thing to do (particularly here in the Minnesota where the “Minnesota Nice” thing goes a little overboard sometimes.  I mean, come on, how much idle chatter about the weather can we really do?)

The nice benefit to this lack of small talk (and another reason why Americans often don’t fit in in France) is that public spaces in France (trains, malls, buses, etc) are generally remarkably quiet, which is also quite refreshing.

When I was able to crack the cultural barriers with people by being a respectful tourist and meeting in the middle with that language thing, I had all of that warmth that had been previously lacking in out interaction returned to me ten fold.

BTW: I have it on good authority that if you are invited into a French person’s house, you are generally considered a friend (French people tend to be very private about their personal lives).

Are French People Rude?  Should You Travel to France?

If you have been thinking about a trip to France but have been turned off because of the stereotypes that you have heard about the people in France, I hope that this post helps to change your mind.  The people in France are warm and welcoming (even in Paris) if you give them a chance to be.

Shanna Schultz

We are Shanna and Aaron + kiddos. We are a travel addicted family of four who love to escape at every possible opportunity. When we travel, we love to focus on creating meaningful travel experiences that help us all learn about the world together and bring us closer as a family. Shanna also writes about travel in the Midwestern part of the United States at her blog A Midwest Travel Companion

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Pingback: I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to Paris! | There and Back Again:

  2. I noticed that especially people from the US perceive the French as being rude. Europeans in general are more “rude” in public than in US. Having stayed in the US for an extended amount of time myself, I understand now. When I came back to the Netherlands, everybody seemed very rude in public. They don’t excuse themselves for bumping into you, cut you off waiting in line without saying a word, and only stare without greeting. But then again, I just noticed it more after coming back from the US. Of course, a lot of nice people go unnoticed in the crowd.
    🙂 When I got to the US, I really had to get used to hugging instead of giving three kisses (dutch) on the cheeks. Hugging feels still a little strange to me, but is also nice.

    1. Funny, the cheek kisses feel really odd to me, a little invasive, though I think I could get used to it.

      I actually like the “rudeness” in Europe a little bit…it lets me off the hook if I am not feeling super friendly and sociable that day 🙂

  3. All what you said is true

    I’m happy that you liked us french people
    But, I can also say that most waiters are rude and won’t treat any foreign people badly. The reason why they are that cold and distant is because they are uneducated and that they are ashamed not to be able to speak any other langue than theirs.
    If you want to find kind people, you have to look for educated people, those who speak english without any problem (6th district, 17th district, 9th district, 8th district, 16 district)
    The youger and most educated people you’ll meeet, the more kind and amusing they will be.
    I wish you the best travel possible
    You are welcomed here whenever you want

    1. Thanks for the insight and good tips! I am sure I will be back in France sometime soon…it always feels like a home away from home to me.

  4. I don’t mean to be insulting to Americans but at fist I found their greetings a bit phoney. In Australia it is normal to say hey to strangers and treat everyone as a mate, but when i was in the US, particularly in the South people would be so syrupy, sometimes it was nice but other times it came across as condescending or fake.I often enjoyed how over enthusiastic Americans were, and I loved almost every one that I met! But I’m just making the point that just as French culture can be perceived as rude, American culture can come across as phoney. So remember that it’s all about framing it in cultural perspective, once I understood that Americans just love being enthusiastic I was able to understand where they were coming from and realised they were genuine!

  5. I don’t mean to be insulting to Americans but at fist I found their greetings a bit phoney. In Australia it is normal to say hey to strangers and treat everyone as a mate, but when i was in the US, particularly in the South people would be so syrupy, sometimes it was nice but other times it came across as condescending or fake.I often enjoyed how over enthusiastic Americans were, and I loved almost every one that I met! But I’m just making the point that just as French culture can be perceived as rude, American culture can come across as phoney. So remember that it’s all about framing it in cultural perspective, once I understood that Americans just love being enthusiastic I was able to understand where they were coming from and realised they were genuine!

    1. I can definitely see how one might get a “phony” impression about some Americans, I feel much the same way about many people 🙂

Leave a Reply

Close Menu