...like everywhere else, you have to start by not passing judgement based on YOUR paradigm of "how the world oughta be".
Warning: I am french. You might think I am biased, and you'd probably be right. Technically though I have spent more than half my life living outside of france, so I consider myself pretty broad minded and open to self criticism.
Now that I got that out of the way, let me share with you my own view of "les francais", hoping that it will make your trip to france (assuming you are going there) all the more enjoyable.
First myth. The french aren't just "rude" to tourists. I also experience that apparent rudeness. Here I'm not talking about stock standard rudeness - that exists the world over, and particularly in big, busy cities like Paris where a lot of people can struggle with day to day existance and being nice is low on their list of priorities.
The "rudeness" I'm talking about is what you experience at that first interaction in a cafe, a shop, on the sidewalk etc.
The best way to put it is like this. The french don't believe that they should treat you in any special way because (a) you're a tourist and (b) you are spending money in their cafe/shop/country. The notion of 'customer service' is still in its infancy back home. YOU and the cafe waiter are on equal terms. Simple. The fact that your tip contributes to his wellbeing is more or less a given, his job, that's what I'm paid to do. So he will treat you like any stranger. And in france, that often starts with a bit of distance, testing you.
I can't begin to explain how many places I've been to where after a few tense words I found the 'hook' that turned a cold face into a warm smile, a hand laid on my shoulder, good hearted banter and a firm handshake at the end of the evening. There is no recipe for the 'hook', other than treating people respectfully and politely, acknowledging that they may have very good reasons for having a bad day, and being genuinely interested in who they are, and not what they do.
So here's my tip for the day. If you want to be pampered and 'yes sir right away' then I can think of a 100 better places to go than france. If you are ready to shed your pre-conceptions, take the rough with the smooth and treat people as equals even when they don't return the favour, I think you will experience a people that can surprise you, interest you, and treat you with a real kindness that will make your trip memorable.
Ypres & the Somme We travelled over to Paris Beauvais by Ryanair on Saturday 24th - the flight is at 7:15 so we arrived at Watsons Ayr Park just after 5:30 and were slightly miffed to just miss a bus due to "processing". However, the check in queues were minimal and we reached Beauvais uneventfully to find a very long queue to collect the car from Hertz, it took almost an hour to collect a pre-booked hire car ! Next time we go this way, I will book with National/Citer - they have an office there and have always been OK in the UK. Not sure why, but I need to check why the Hertz hire in Spring, from Poitiers, cost £259 versus last week, from Beauvais, which was about £150. The rental this time was a very boxy Opel Meriva - basically a Corsa pretending to be an MPV - I would rather have had the Corsa.The journey from Beauvais to Ypres was relatively easy - although via Michelin instructions were wrong, recommending the wrong turning in Armentiers (we did not see the Mademoiselle !! ) - but after a stop for lunch in a very average pub, we thoroughly enjoyed the Flanders museum. When I addressed the landlady in the pub in my best French, she asked if I was British - quite interesting, usually they ask if we are English although I also recall being asked if we were Irish during this week.Back to the Flanders Museum, in the Cloth Hall which is the very centre of Ypres. This hall was qualified as the largest non-religious Gothic building in Europe !! My generation expects to go to a museum and look at a lot of artefacts in glass cases. I am way out of date. This one was very interactive, lots of PCs with slide shows, lots of video, music, noise, poetry being read & so on - it was excellent, very professional especially the way everything was presented in 4 languages. The Ariane hotel was pleasant - would have liked to stay there more than one night.Walking over to the Menin Gate - actually R insisted that we drive part of the way - and came across a pipe band from Leyton who all seemed to have SE.UK accents. They were due to perform the 8pm ceremony at Menin Gate which was excellent, though they do need a bit more practice, especially of Amazing Grace. That particular rendition reminded us again of the shot of L. at her wedding when the piper was “playing”.At Menin Gate, every night at 8:00 the last post is played. On that night, there was a huge crowd, a number of wreaths were layed, the pipers played and the last post was done on trumpets. The atmosphere was sombre but amicable.The Menin Gate is a British (or Commonwealth) memorial so there was a focus on GB, but it was spoiled a bit when some jingoistic idiot (this editor needs a thesaurus !! ) started God Save the Queen. This is fine if you are English (I presume they like it), but if you are Scottish and, particularly from a Catholic background it is actually very offensive because it is used as an offensive weapon in Glasgow and other parts of Scotland by militant Protestants and Orangeman in a forcefully anti Catholic manner. That said, it was an interesting ceremony, very well attended with lots of youngsters. The Great War was over 90 years ago; becoming ancient history and difficult to imagine now.We ate at a small pizza restaurant nearby and tried Hoogarden beer - delicious. All the locals seem to speak excellent English. Although I am officially off the beer - too much Guinness too often when I was working in Dublin and do need to lose some girth & weight - I enjoyed 3 bottles and must try to get some for the party time at Xmas & see if the others like it as much. BTW, S. does not know where in Belgium James is now living !I liked the ramparts at Ypres, apparently you could walk from the Menin Gate to the Lille Gate around the ramparts.(Ypres or Ieper is actually in Belgium !)
As this is my first post and as I have noticed that France has yet to be blogged, I must begin at the beginning. Yes, it is old. Yes, it is popular to hate it now. Yes, your parents went there ( or if not, they dreamed of it, as it is a generational thing ) There are reasons for this. If you, ( and frankly how could you) leave out the history of Europe...Art, Architecture, language, food, music...you are still left with terroir. It is a romantic ideal, yes, but it is a palpable presence whether standing in the Latin Quarter, on the banks in Normandy, or sniffing anonymous t-vines in Bagnol-sur-Cez.
Do pick up some basic French, unlike Montreal, you will need it. Do not let the 'french personality' as described for you by Rush Limbaugh get in the way of a relaxed time or cause trepidation. Gallic pride never supercedes Gallic hospitality. Straight forward...no simpy smiles...no customer is always right....and do not get upset if your check is not delivered to your table. The check will never be delivered to your table. The time is yours no matter what you spend. You must ask for the check as they would NEVER, for the sake of turning over a table, pressure you to finish. If you want specifics...where....when.....why not.... you can email me...I'll tell you all. Here is a small sample:
1. Jewish or otherwise...NEVER eat at Jo Goldenbergs in the Marais. The food is hideous. It is an overpriced tourist trap filled with poor sucker NJ assistant professors and their clueless charges. Try the light, fresh, falafel stands nearby instead...cheap...tasty.