From Linda Walsh: When visiting another country it’s quite common to get the impression that the locals are being rude to tourists, but is this a fair stereotype to assign an entire country? Did you ever stop to think that maybe the tourist is the one being rude? Etiquette is not a universal code, and it changes quite drastically among cultures. For example, if you want to enjoy a trip to Paris without experiencing the “unfriendliness” you have been hearing about, you must understand that what’s polite in the US is not necessarily considered good etiquette in Paris. Hostelworld.com recommends avoiding these common mistakes made by tourists in Paris:

Failing to properly ask a question
When asking questions about anything (directions, where the restrooms are located, etc.) tourists should always begin with the following phrase: “Excusez-moi de vous déranger.“  If the French language doesn’t come naturally to you, tourists can say “Excusez-moi, Madame/Monsieur.” With these simple phrases, the French will consider you polite and worthy of their assistance. However, if you fail to address the stranger correctly, you may be ignored or even given a look of disgust.

Not sharing
Unlike in the US, reading over someone’s shoulder on the Metro in France is not considered uncouth. In fact, it’s considered impolite if you show hesitance to their interest in your reading material. All literature on the train is considered fair game, so share and have your share of reading!

Loud Conversations
The French do not tolerate loud conversationalists. It is considered rude if your conversation can be heard beyond your personal space. Tourists can avoid being known as the loud, discourteous group simply by keeping their voices down when in public areas.

Eating like Americans eat
In both American and French cultures, it is considered rude to keep your elbows on the table while eating. However, what many people do not realize is that hiding your hands in any way while dining is considered rude in France. While Americans find it completely acceptable to keep your hands on your lap during a meal at a restaurant, the French consider this questionable behavior. Tourists should keep their hands visible, especially when dining with a Parisian.

Another common eating mistake Americans make in France is eating on the go. Americans will not question someone eating a snack on the bus or drinking a coffee on the way to work. However, the French believe in eating and drinking at a table with friends and family and that eating or drinking anywhere else is simply disgusting. Try to keep eating on the go to a minimum or you may encounter some sarcastic comments.

Man-Handling the Merchandise
This is a tough one, because it varies from shop to shop. In America, it is perfectly normal to see people touching and holding the fruits and vegetables in the produce isle. In fact, Americans are encouraged to do this if they want the perfect piece! However, in many French markets, if you touch the fruit, you buy the fruit. Tourists may be scolded if they touch the produce without buying it. The best way to avoid this mistake is to do as others do and only touch if others touch.

Smiling at Strangers on the Street
In France, smiling at a stranger on the street is a direct invitation to a date. If you smile at the opposite sex, he or she is free to assume that you are romantically interested and will either ignore or pursue you. While this is not considered rude, it could possibly get tourists wrapped up in some serious miscommunication.

Neglecting to Greet the Shopkeeper
In France, when someone walks into a small business and does not greet the shopkeeper with, “Bonjour Madame/Monsieur,” the tourist will immediately be considered offensive. The shopkeeper will be unhelpful and may even ignore the customer until he/she leaves. When shopping during your vacation, make sure to greet, thank, and say goodbye to the shopkeeper.

When traveling to France, it is important to remember that while the French strongly believe in their culture, traditions and etiquette, it is possible to get by as a tourist without completely embarrassing yourself as long as you remember to be polite.

Making your Euro go further
Once you know how to behave and fit in like a Parisian, here are a few insider tips to get the most out of your vacation and your dollar:

  • Free bikes to travel around. There are more than 1000 “stations” where visitors can pick up a bike and ride then drop it off.
  • Free Admission to the Louvre on first Sunday of every month.
  • The Quartier Latin (metro St Michel) is a very popular cheap place to grab a bite to eat with.

If you have questions about how to refrain from disgusting others with your awful manners, or even if you’re interested in writing a story about this, contact Linda Walsh at lwalsh@thecastlegrp.com or call 617-337-9516. Just be sure to say hello, thank you and good-bye!


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