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Very nice comparison with Japan : indeed I do the same very often. It always amazes me that japanese people have the right to be different, and the French are just arrogant...You have to keep in mind that France is the most visited country in the world,which means all sort of people visiting... Anyway, nice to read you again !!! ;)


1) If you did a survey of world travelers, I really doubt that you would find people consider Japan and France to be equally polite.

2) "Most people presumably know that as the visitor in a foreign country, the onus is on the visitor to learn what is considered proper there and to act accordingly so that one does not embarrass oneself and one's compatriots." Also applies to the French traveling in other countries, correct?


Hi, Benoit

It took me a long time, even with all my direct experience in France, to realize that France is also a highly codified "culture of politeness". Even though I have read and studied a lot about France, I didn't pick up on all the cultural differences right away. Nadeau and Barlow wrote about this disconnect between English and French-speaking cultures in their 2003 book _Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong_. I look forward to visiting your turf (Nice?) in July. :-)

Hi Frank

I agree with you absolutely that people would not consider France and Japan equally polite. But it is well-known that Japan is a culture structured by polite interactions, so foreigners go into it with the idea that they will have to inform themsleves about how the culture works and adapt to it. Since US culture is more rooted in European cultures, we would not tend to put as much effort into understanding the intricacies of polite behavior in France. It is easy for us to come off as rude without intending to if we overlook these differences. And recent cultural stereotyping about France in the US makes it even easier to assume that "since the French are rude anyway, why make a special effort to be polite while visiting France?" Based on my experience with traveling with Americans in France, our cultural programming is not always helpful in this regard.


A couple of questions:
1) When greeting or saying goodbye to someone you just met, or met only once or twice before, what is more appropriate: handshake or kiss on the cheek?
2) How well do you need to know someone in order to use the familiar "tu" instead of "vous"?


Hi Pretzel Bug

These are complicated questions and very good ones. I try to follow the lead of the French person. Some are more formal than others, so it's hard to predict. Even though the "tu" vs. "vous" issue has some general rules, it varies according to the individual and the situation, so I use "vous" with people until they start to use "tu". This is based on the notion that it's always OK to err on the side of formality, but it can be awkward if you are overly informal.


Nice summary francofile... just to add that you're safe using "tu" to all kids, with a kind of grey area that creeps in around 17/18 years old (the older you are, the more acceptable it would be for you to 'tutoyer' someone in that grey area).

The FrogBlogger


Good point, FrogBlogger. Thanks for the clarification.


I LOVE this, thank you for writing it. I try to explain this to people all the time. It's infuriating how many people have misperceptions about Parisians and the French in general. Then they come back saying "hey, they weren't rude at all!"




I love this post!! I am first generation American from a French family and I have been working in the Hospitality Industry for 38 years. The English and the Americans are without question the RUDEST people I have ever dealt with. Both the English and the Americans have little respect or concern for other cultures traditions and habits and think everyone should adapt to their way of doing things. Just examine their history!
I have travelled in France for many years and even though I speak French I have had an occasional experience where someone may have been short with me, but hey..we're all human! Overall I have had great experiences in France and it really is a polite society compared to the "Neanderthal" manners of most Americans. Every time an American says "You guys..." to me I want to slap them. I'll take Bonjour, Monsieur any day!!

janine oberg

i lived in the united states for over 40 years, americans can be very rude,you do have rude people anywhere, but when i go back to my beautiful france everyone is polite and helpful. just say merci bonsoir et bonjour. i observed americans in Europe and i was quite ashamed for them.also we do get a bad reputation from the american media example the tonight shoe with Jay Lenno. so many i heard him say oh the french are so rude he gives us a very bad name, when he is totally ignorant about our customs on politeness.All i know i am proud to be a french woman and i love my culture.


Hello Francofile,
I think there are rude and nice people in France just like anywhere else. And some people can be rude at some times and very nice at other times...Nobody's perfect.
You could have a look at this story :
(The whole website "cheztom" is great, to me:))
Kind regards.


You're totally right, American have a way less formal way to interact with people they've never met before, and that is why they think French are rude.. French in the other side, don't think necessarily to be overly friendly with people that are not their friends. We won't say "i hope to see you again" if we know we will never this person again, whereas in the US it is a polite way to say we appreciated chatting with the person. Same with "how great is it to see you again". It's not that you think this person is a total match for you (even in a friendly way), and you were really looking forward to see her...it's just a way to be nice.

For a French girl in the US i had to learn about how some sentences like that have different meanings in the US, and maybe are not signs of friendship as they are in France but just a polite way to act in public and socialize.

I appreciate both ways of socialization though. The US one is warmer and more welcoming (especially for a foreign girl. everyone was telling about how great it was to see me! =) )and cooler (i mean less formal). The French one is maybe more distant at first but then more "sincere", in the sense that they show their appreciation when they really consider you as a friend and are willing to keep in touch and build a friendship.

What do you think about that difference i observed? :)

http://medissiasworld.spaces.live.com (some writing from when i was in the US but not as much interesting as yours!)


Laetitia, I think you're right on. The problem in English is that we don't have a built-in distancing mechanism, so we have to apply one with the phrases we use. I wouldn't call the terms "insincere" because they aren't meant to be insincere. It's just that that's the customary way to talk with casual acquaintances.

As for rudeness, I was really shocked and distraught at the rudeness in England when I moved there from America. I found this to be a daily trauma. Once I moved to France, I was pleasantly surprised by the politeness. This isn't to say that there aren't some very nice people in England and some really rude people in France, but overall this was my experience. Sometimes my abrupt American habits prevail and I realize that I seem rude here, but it just takes time and attention to get it right. I think Americans in France can seem much more rude than the French in America (unless it involves a car accident maybe).


Well , i'm really tired about these US peoples living in Paris talking about france!

When in you dull life will you travel and live elsewhere than this nasty city Paris?

Parisians are hypocrits rude and arrogant peoples as a whole, so foreigners are right, as them i don't like Parisians, but its not the french as a whole, abroad Paris borders there is a country called france, so, aLL you are, when you are going to Paris, and your travel is closer to a rude party, don't
put all french in the same bag, personnally i hate parisians, they are superficials and arrogant, as a old movie start seing his fame vanishing!




Yes, Pololoooo I quite agree with you. I have just returned from Paris and it was horrible! I am not a novice at visiting France, this was my seventh trip and the other six trips were great. I have been to a lot of areas in France and have spent the past two holidays in Nice, but although I have passed through Paris several times have never actually visited for any length of time. I can speak French a bit however I had real problems in Paris, rude waiters who ignored me, and when my daughter and I had problems in the metro I really thought we could end up down there for ever as no one would help us. I did feel that if anything serious happened they would just ignore us too. It was a very upsetting trip and I was so glad to leave. I will never go back, ever.

It is a shame as the rest of France is not like that, I came across numerous upset Americans along the way in Paris, I am Scottish myself, and I do think that it is a shame that people visit Paris as opposed to the rest of France. I will never visit Paris again.

I will however come back to France.


I`am a PARISIAN and I`am OVERBORED of this silly ANGLOSAXON cliche,The rude parisian.Sometimes,i ask myself if ANGLOSAXONS as a whole are a bunch of normal or abnormal persons.Paris is a big metropolis and above all a CITY, NOT A THEME PARK.And like all the big cities around the world, you can meet all kinds of people,bad and good like everywhere. Are all Londoners or New Yorkers ANGELS? The truth is that many Anglosaxons,above all US`ians,are jealous of France and French culture,but they don`t want to ackwnoledge it.Look all these British who buy properties in France.SO, STOP ALL THESE BULLSHITS. It starts to be really exasperating. The French are a patient and polite people,but until a certain point.

budget babe

Great blog!

Americans rightfully lack pretension, and I would argue we also have a culture of politeness, and more importantly, a culture of generosity and hospitality. Perhaps it's not codified as in Japan (or France, you make a good point there), but we're also big on democracy, egalitarianism and classlessness (yeah yeah, we have our faults, but if you want to generalize about the culture as a whole, these are our espoused historical values.)

I moved from the Midwest (known for its warm, open people) to the East Coast (known for snobbery and cold demeanors) and I must say all those stereotypes have been dispelled by my countless interactions with the people here. It's remarkable how well people will respond to you--around the globe, in cities and small towns--if you simply smile and treat them kindly first.



I would like to make to remarks.

The first has allready been told by someone else, but I MUST say it again : Paris IS NOT France. It's a mad city full of stressed people that never have time for anything.

Too, I think that the fact that we (frenchs) are driven by our latin roots is an important point. This involves "more" in a lot of fields. More volume level when speaking, more questions, more comments, more rudeness, more friendship, more warmness. This is the result of a cultural process that you can't throw away easily, even if you want it (and I don't want ;-) )

There will still be some openminded people that will take a look further than culture differences. Thanks !


I am Dutch and I have noticed that the vs and tu part can be a bit confusing for english-speaking people I have noticed. The Dutch also use these words 'u' en 'jij'. However we use them fewer and fewer. It can be nice sometimes, especially in the work environment. You don't feel like having to prove yourself that much just because your younger. On the other hand I also think using vs is a sign of respect for those who are older and wiser then you are. (I can get furious at young people (16 years old) saying "tu" to a 65 year old person).
Just as you should (according to my opinion) give up your seat in the metro when there is an elderly woman standing, you should say "vous" when talking to her.

Sometimes differences exist, it doesn't make you better or worse compared to anybody else. I do feel like you should adjust to the culture of the country you are visiting or living in. However it does takes some sensitivity and grammatical skills in order to know what is appropriate to say. I think the Parisians could also take that into account when someone is seriously making an effort to speak French but makes the mistake of using tu instead of vs!

Thanks for your post, I really enjoyed reading it!

A fellow francophile parisien


I really think you understood it well
In france we dont have the habit as you do is US to be so open to a person we dont know
its a kind of respect and everybody is in his thing
and i regret it sometimes cause its true its hard to approach someone
but youll see if you go in the souhtern france that people are nicer ! i dont mean that in paris were mean but you know its our habit
Im going to show it through an exemple : what i see in tv shows as deperate housewives^^ ! they do a lot of things -kind of parties- in the neighborhood just because they're neighbors ... whereas i just saw my neighbors once cause its not in my habit ...
Well Sorry for all forigners that have the impression we're rude and i would like to apologize for the mistakes i made in english too


I've been in Paris for a month now. And i have often been treated rudely by Parisians. I am American. I lived in Italy last year, and I enjoyed it thoroughly and never had trouble with Italians. But the French!! There can be no concessions made to English speakers! The only time any one here willingly speaks English to me is to tell me how horrible my efforts at speaking French are! At least i have made an effort. I do not care for this city. It is dirty, the residents are obsessed with themselves and their piss soaked streets. I am a very open person, but France, I have found, is not compatible with friendly, open minded Americans. Such has been my experience here. I feel that in America, we are open to foreigners. We make concessions to help foreigners and immigrants function in our country (ie putting english AND spanish on signs). You would think that for an international city, the people of Paris would be more welcoming to international people. But, nothing but the French culture will do here, and that is something I guess I just have to accept. I can't wait to leave this place. Paris, you've won.


Really funny to read that US folks are open to foreigners.I remember a trip there a few years ago,where i was treated in a stupid aggressive way as a French.Like an ennemy.Really silly attitude when you know that in France US culture is eveywhere.But US ignorant rednecks dont even know it.What do US tourists expect when they go overseas? To be treated like gods? People are people.Countries are not theme parks.You have assholes everywhere,and make generalizations is pretty stupid.Many US folks have their brains full of outdated and silly cliches concerning other peoples,specially the French.They should more travel to realize that in most of the countries around the world,they are considered like nothing special,like any other nations.But you know,more and more French are not interested anymore with USA.There are many more attracting places to visit all over the world.True civilizations with roots,history and rich culture. USA are fake in comparison.


I apreciated to read your article... But I guess it's not only a matter of perception of the politness of french that foreigner would'nt get. I have the strong feeling that a lot of people in Paris especially, but some other parts of france as well, are just not dedicated to any form of politness when it comes to interact with other people french or foreigners. How many time I sat in a café having the feeling that i'm disturbing the waiter just because I'm going to order him something?!! mostly he/she is going to be antipathic as much as he/she could although he/she'dealing with a customer! No customer-care at all in our poor France. This attitude really piss me off, and you barely see that in other country (or a lot less). But this has almost nothing linked with the fact that you are french or foreigners.... I just think that, as french we are used to it and almost don't bother anymore for most of us...It can'be quite a chock for people visiting the country though...


I have been in France for about a year and I must say they are definetly the most rude people I have encountered. They believe that the world revolves around France.


Most of Anglosaxons are a bunch of dumb jerks with their brains full of grotesque and outdated cliches about the French.A bunch of uneducated rednecks.Not interesting at all.

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