The 'Rude French' Myth

Are French people rude, or misconstrued?

A snooty sommelier in a bowtie and horn-rimmed glasses smells a glass of wine
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It's hard to think of a more common stereotype about the French than the one about how rude they are. Even people who have never set foot in France take it upon themselves to warn potential visitors about the "rude French." The fact is that there are polite people and there are rude people in every country, city, and street on Earth. No matter where you go, no matter who you talk to, if you are rude, they will be rude back. That's just a given, and France is no exception. However, there is no universal definition of rudeness. Something rude in your culture may not be rude in another, and vice versa. This is key when understanding the two issues behind the "rude French" myth.

Politeness and Respect

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do" are words to live by. In France, make an effort to speak some French. No one expects you to be fluent, but knowing a few key phrases goes a long way. If nothing else, know how to say bonjour and merci, and as many polite terms as possible. Don't go to France expecting to be able to speak English to everyone. Don't tap someone on the shoulder and say "Hey, where's the Louvre?" You wouldn't want a tourist to tap you on the shoulder and start jabbering away in Spanish or Japanese, right? In any case, English may be the international language, but it is far from the only language, and the French, in particular, expect visitors to know this. In cities, you will be able to get by with English, but you should use whatever French you can first, even if it's just Bonjour Monsieur, parlez-vous Anglais?

Related to this is the "ugly American" syndrome; you know, the tourist who goes around yelling at everyone in English, denouncing everyone and everything French, and eating only at McDonald's? Showing respect for another culture means enjoying what it has to offer, rather than searching for signs of one's own home. The French are very proud of their language, culture, and country. If you are respectful of the French and their heritage, they will respond in kind.

French Personality

The other aspect of the "rude French" myth is based on a misunderstanding of the French personality. People from many cultures smile upon meeting new people, and Americans in particular smile a lot to be friendly. The French, however, don't smile unless they mean it, and they don't smile when talking to a perfect stranger. Therefore, when an American smiles at a French person whose face remains impassive, the former tends to feel that the latter is unfriendly. "How hard is it to smile back?" the American might wonder. "How rude!" What you need to understand is that it's not meant to be rude, but is simply the French way.

The Rude French?

If you make an effort to be polite by speaking a bit of French, asking rather than demanding that people speak English, showing respect for French culture, and don't take it personally when your smile isn't returned, you'll have a hard time finding a rude French person. You'll be pleasantly surprised to discover how very friendly and helpful the natives are.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "The 'Rude French' Myth." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Team, ThoughtCo. (2021, December 6). The 'Rude French' Myth. Retrieved from Team, ThoughtCo. "The 'Rude French' Myth." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).

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