Recently, I spent a couple of days in Paris. This also happened to be my maiden visit to Europe. Before leaving, I had heard several horror stories about the rudeness of the French.. They told me the terror would start at the French Consulate itself while applying for a Visa. I had people telling me how their applications were either rejected or unnecessarily delayed. The normal processing time is around 2 weeks and based on what other people had to say, I was prepared for 4.
And 4 was right. Days.
On my first day in France, after walking around the city the entire day, I’m far too exhausted to manage a walk back and I just want to crash. It’s 10 P.M and the sun is just about setting and my hostel is 3 miles away. I decide to take the metro instead This being my first time on the metro, I can’t seem to figure out which line to take and where to. There’s nobody around and I’m wondering if, not when, I’ll get back tonight. Enter French guy in his mid 40s. With no other option but to approach him, I do so. He spends the next few minutes explaining how to navigate the metro system. He also adds that I cannot buy a ticket at this particular station. He pulls one out and thrusts it in my hand.
‘Combien?’ (‘How much?’), I ask. He smiles and walks away.
It so happened that a friend of mine was also in the city for the weekend along with her brother. We planned to meet at a certain underground jazz club at 10:15 P.M. I was there on time and waited for nearly 45 minutes with no sign of the two. I was unable to call them since I did not have a local mobile connection at the time and there weren’t any payphones around. I spot a guy at the cafe across the street. I walk over, explain my situation and tell him I’d be more than happy to pay him if I could make just one call. He agreed to let me use his phone but refused to take money.
This one is very special. While trying to find my way to the Pantheon, I happened to spot two lovebirds on a bike. The girl was seated on the handlebar facing him. This was the kind of thing I’d probably never see back home and being the hopeless romantic that I was, I ran and stopped them at the nearest traffic light, half prepared to add a couple of French swear words to my vocabulary. I pointed to my camera. They seemed more excited than I was.
The following incident is what convinced me to write this. On my last day, I’d bought a shuttle ticket to Orly airport for €11. I flashed the ticket to cross the turnstile simultaneously wondering whether I should write about the most common French stereotype. In the process, I didn’t pay attention to the sign board and entered the wrong gate. I exited and tried to get to the other side hoping the ticket would still work. It didn’t. I went back to the Information Desk and spoke to the lady there (she had earlier helped me operate the ticketing kiosk). When I explained how I ended up taking the wrong gate, she laughed and issued a new ticket, which I didn’t have to pay for.
Things could have gone a lot differently, especially in the cases where money (or money’s worth) was involved. But they didn’t. In my personal view, accusing the French of being rude is a massive generalization. Come on, if you had foreigners walk up to you all the time, asking for directions to the Eiffel tower or what not, without making even an attempt to speak the local language, would you still be as polite and patient as you imagine yourself to be? Granted, there’s always going to be a bunch of people around, but hey! Isn’t that true for every place?
What do you guys think? Do let me know in the comments below.