Saturday, March 12, 2011

Are the French Really Rude?

In my view, no.  Yes, they maintain a certain distance when relating to strangers, a coolness that an outgoing American can find off putting.  And yes, they are insistent on adhering to a set of formalized manners.  And true, they have a concept of personal space that can make you feel uncomfortable if you are used to a world in which the 15 inches surrounding your body are inviolable. 

But rude in the sense that they lack consideration for others? Not at all.  On the other hand, it seems to me that maintaining a certain level of decorum in interpersonal relationships requires a pretty much constant stream of reminders about what's proper.  This notice, with its tut tut tut instructions to treat the bus driver with respect, is part of a campaign to keep bus riders in line.  Other notices in the series admonish riders not to ask the driver to stop between stops, to give up their seats to persons who are older or infirm, to fold up their strollers,  and to keep their voices down.  There's even a series of borderline ridiculous YouTube videos to reinforce the messages.

Has this campaign made any difference?  As you might guess, I'm skeptical.  But I don't mind the intent.  And I'll try to model the proper behavior the next time I'm on the bus.


Mary Kay said...

I’ve been chastising myself for forgetting to say “Bonjour” to the bus driver like all of the other passengers entering the bus yesterday. My only excuse is that I was busy trying to figure out where my Navigo pass was in my purse and forgot about protocol for a minute. I did get a pointed “Bonjour, Madame” from the bus driver as a reminder.

Since I was sitting near the front of the bus where the rules are posted, I now know that I’m also supposed to give up my seat for veterans wounded in the war, people accompanying children under 4 years old (might be difficult to know their ages!), and a relatively long list of other people. So far, I’ve been impressed (and surprised) by how polite everyone is on the bus.

I wish that I would have taken a photo of the sign on the metro reminding passengers that washing their hands should be a daily task.

Shelli said...

Anne, I must have taken 4 photos of that notice, none of which came out well enough to post, but I too was struck by the campaign and its good humor. This was in contrast to the sign I saw posted on a London bus stop bench that admonished riders not to physically assault bus drivers. Now THEY've apparently got a real problem!

Starman said...

In all my years of visiting Paris, I've never encountered a rude Parisian. I've found them to be friendly and eager to help a lost tourist. I'm fond of telling this story: one night while searching for a taxi stand, we encountered a young Parisian couple. They not only listened to our problem, they hailed a taxi and told the driver where to take us. If that's rude, I'll take it any day.

Eli said...

Personally I find most French people polite -unlike where I live in London (although today my mother and I discovered many polite people!)

I find the greeting of bus drivers/shop assistants etc in Paris totally charming and I still get on the bus in London and greet the bus driver politely - mostly met with a shocked expression!

In all my years of travelling to Paris (and other French speaking European countries) I have yet to meet an impolite person -as long as I observe the niceties of 'Bonjour' etc.

A UK friend made the mistake of getting into a taxi in Paris and barking out the address she wanted to go to - to be met with the driver insisting that she say 'bonsoir' before he would even consider taking her to where she wanted to go!

My spoken French is pretty appalling (although I read and understand spoken French pretty well) and I usually find that if I attempt to speak with an apology that most people will speak slowly and clearly or switch to English!

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