France Admits It's Rude To Tourists, Wants A Do-Over

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Now that they're having to deal with France's lagging tourism, French authorities have gone ahead and admitted it: One stereotype about the French — that they're rude to tourists — may be true. Commerce Minister Fleur Pellerin and Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius addressed this at a recent national conference, reminding French citizens that it literally pays to be nice. "Too often we mistake service for servility," Pellerin said. The country needed to "recover a sense of hospitality," he added.

In fact, the country depends on it. With its fragile economy and unemployment at a record high, France relies on its cash cow, Paris, to bring home the bacon with its tourism business.

While many in the crowd presumably weren't too happy about the idea of being forced to politely welcome loud, khaki-wearing Americans from South Dakota into their corner café, Pellerin emphasized that hospitality is serious business: "Tourism is not an amusing or a secondary matter... The stakes are the same as exports."

In the last two years, Paris has seen a decline in its tourism as its biggest rival, London, creeps up in popularity. London even claims to have toppled the City of Light as the most popular city for tourists. While the numbers are still debated by both sides, Paris's deputy mayor, Anne Hidalgo, conceded to CNN that "we could be a bit more amiable.... I often tell people they must smile more. It costs nothing."

At the conference, Fabius said that the government's goal is to attract 100 million tourists to France per year — which is a pretty significant jump from 2012's 83 million. And in order to reach that goal, French businesses, and people in general, need to be nicer.

"The logic is simple," Fabius said. "An unhappy tourist is a tourist who never comes back."

Some tactics that the government has implemented so far include hiring "smile ambassadors" to greet tourists at hotspots and passing out "charm manuals" that detail how to treat visitors based on their ethnicity and culture.

And it looks like foreigners aren't the only ones who think the French can be rude. A survey by Paris transport operator RATP found that 97 percent of Parisians think that their fellow citizens are "ill-mannered and lacked civility."

As someone who visited Paris last September and lives in New York City, I am of the firm belief that Parisians have nothing on us. I've worked at two locations in the Financial District, one right next to the Staten Island ferry and another right next to the New York Stock Exchange, both places rife with tourists. It's a good thing that most tourists don't speak English, because the comments I hear from New Yorkers' mouths would scare them away forever.

Just to give you a little glimpse into my own personal experience, here's why I don't think the French are that bad.

In Paris

The bartenders did not judge me when I started drinking at 11 a.m. because we had time to kill before we could check into our hotel.

In New York

I watched in horror as a group of teenagers threw garbage at the helpless passengers atop of a doubledecker sightseeing bus stuck in traffic.

In Paris

I took — not exaggerating — over 1,000 photos in four days. Nobody walked through any of them, and anyone we asked to help us take a pic was happy to oblige.

In New York

I, and everyone around me, routinely walked through tourists' shots every day to and from work. Just what is so fascinating with the NYSE's side entrance anyway?

In Paris

Hosts, servers, and shopkeepers all over Paris politely indulged me when I would ask, "Table for two," "May I have the check?" and "How much is this?" in my choppy French.

In New York

When my mom visited a few years ago, we got into a cab, whose driver got into a fight with a pedestrian, who then spit on said cab driver, who then tried to mow the guy down on the sidewalk — all with my mom and I in the backseat.

Image: Moyan Brenn/Flickr