Are French People Rude? Episode 9

Category: French Culture

This episode features our frequent and very popular guest Elyse Rivin. If you enjoy her episodes, please consider supporting her on Patreon.

 Are French People Rude?

In episode 9 of the Join Us in France Travel Podcast we ask the BIG question: Are French People Rude? Wait... wait! Could it be they're just unfriendly? Or maybe they just have a bad reputation?

You need to know because there are ways to handle situations for which you are prepared. What we argue in this episode of the podcast is that French people are not particularly rude, but they are sticklers for niceties that English-speaking people have not cared about for 30 years.

Once you learn the magic word and use them in France, you will see French store clerks smile at you with a twinkle of delight in their eyes instead of a scowl. AND it’s easier than you think!

Are French People Rude or Is It Something Else?

Generally speaking, you can count on Americans to smile at strangers. Most French people are not raised to smile at strangers.

What French people are trained to do from a young age is say "bonjour" to anybody before they utter another word. If you don't say "bonjour" before you ask for your baguette as a child, your mother will scold you. If you don't say "bonjour" to your teacher before you ask to sit, she will not put up with that either.

So, is it any wonder that Americans go up to the hotel counter to check in with a big smile on their face saying "I'm so and so and I've reserved a room". The French person across the desk is probably thinking "what are you smiling at?" and why can't you say "hello" like a normal person?

You see what I'm getting at? French people and Americans do not care about the same niceties. Americans want to see a smiling face and French people want someone who greets them with the proper greeting.

So now that you know, indulge French people, say "bonjour", we teach you how in the episode. You'll see, everything will go so much better!

Do Not Miss: First Time in Paris



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If you enjoyed this episode, you should also listen to related episode(s):

Angry man at the theatre; are french people rude?
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Show Notes 

Category: French Culture

27 Replies to “Are French People Rude? Episode 9”

  1. Bonjour Ladies,

    I hate to admit that I learned so much from this podcast given that I’ve been living here a long time now:-) Oops…

    So I’ll try to be a little more polite but there is one issue you didn’t address exactly and I’ve often wondered about it. I don’t normally find French people to be rude in speech BUT I find them really rude when it comes to walking on sidewalks. It’s always like playing chicken it seems. And I always end up diverting to the street or whatever as it seems quite clear that they will not leave any room for me when we meet. They will actually just walk right into me. And on the same subject, they do this along the Canal du Midi also….they walk as though there is no one else on the path and they don’t try to stay on right or left like we do when driving. So it’s just all random motion as though no one else even exists.

    OK there’s my rant and now I’ll try to be more polite in french terms myself.

    Great program….thanks so much.


  2. Hello Bobbi,

    Thank you for your comment! I hadn’t thought of sidewalks, but you are completely right. There are no generally accepted ways to share sidewalks in France. I never know if the person is going to go left or right–or not swerve at all as you said, which is rude no matter how you look at it. I’m going to pay more attention to that and see if there’s a pattern or not. Thank you for bringing it up!


    1. Ha Ha,

      I bet you aren’t so often confronted by the challenges of sidewalks right? Living in the center makes it a daily issue for me. And I accidentally saw Scarlett Johanssen on a US talk show and she said she couldn’t understand why people can walk on busy city sidewalks in New York but not in Paris! tee hee

      Unfortunately for me, I learned that my usual Excusez-moi opener (without the bonjour) is rude…thanks for telling me. I thought I was being quite polite all these years.

      1. Honestly I can’t think of any good reason why saying “bonjour” first is so important, but it really is. In order to assuage the tender feelings of those who work with the public in France, saying “bonjour” first seems to be vital. Why? No idea.

        Bobbi, upon you saying “excusez-moi” first, didn’t you have store workers turn to you looking annoyed saying an exaggerated “bonjour” back to you? Something like saying an obnoxious “please” to a child who forgot to say please? It’s happened to me and always took me aback. Simply for not saying “bonjour” first? Why?!

        If you’re in a Louis Vuitton store they will be charming to you no matter how you approach them, no matter how you’re dressed, no matter how you come across. They are trained to be extremely professional. I wish all stores would train their employees to do the same, but they don’t. This is definitely something where French people could learn a thing or two from Americans.

        1. Bonjour,
          great podcast! I could touch on so many of your ideas taken up here – I especially enjoyed the distinction between friendliness and politeness, that certainly helped me put my finger on it!

          About the bonjour and retail:

          A French friend of mine who worked in a clothing store told me they were trained to only assist the customer asking for help if they treated them like a human by addressing them as such with a proper ‘Bonjour’- if they didn’t, they were to ‘stand their ground’ and remind the customer of said human status by first saying ‘Bonjour’. It seems to be more of a defense mechanism and way of protecting their humanity (if you wanna get philosophical about it!)
          On that aspect, I can only observe that in North America most people have worked in retail part time as students, in between other jobs or just simply work their way up, it’s not unusual or ‘beneath’ most people (thank the American dream ) but I have observed large and tangible class distinctions in France, and retail workers don’t benefit from the same class ‘blindness’.

          I can’t really contribute any observations to the lack of queueing etiquette, I am still recovering from the trauma of my student exchange bus experience in Germany!

          Thanks again, I look forward to reading the other posts and hearing the podcasts!
          Au revoir!

          1. Hello Michelle and welcome to Join Us in France! Thank you for sharing that, it helps explain why store clerks in France demand their “bonjour” first. If that’s the way they were trained, and the fact that so many French people take small things so personally, it makes sense. It’s startling to visitors who don’t see the link between saying “bonjour” and trampling one’s humanity. Yes, we are an overly dramatic bunch, especially when it comes to working conditions.

          2. Just a further comment on the class distinctions between France and the US in regards to greetings and all. In fact, it is true that saying “hello” is a sesame to open all doors, and in the states we often say “hi” in stores, supermarkets, and small shops. Here it is indeed a way for “lower” jobs to have some dignity: the other thing is that in France being a salesperson is usually after a training, either a Bac pro (a vocational high school diploma) or more – just like with waiters and waitresses here, it is not for students or out of work actors, but is considered to be a profession. More proof that there really are cultural differences to understand – life is so much easier, even as a visitor, when we do.

  3. Bonjour, Annie et Elyse! What an enlightening conversation! Not understanding or appreciating cultural differences has likely been the cause of many a war! People across the world speak and behave so differently.

    I lived in the Republic of China (Taipei) for a year teaching English. I found the people to be very polite and friendly. The Chinese especially revere and honor teachers, so I felt most welcome! Yet on occasion, I did not know how to react when hearing things like, “You look fat today!” I was wearing a boxy blouse, but you wouldn’t get away with that in the States. Or when someone is speaking to you and burp, then go right along speaking without saying, “Excuse me.” Again, very rude in the US.

    As with the French, there is no need for a line! I remember while getting on a bus in Mainland China, I was pushed, shoved and elbowed by the crowd trying to get on the bus. I remember feeling so accosted that I shouted in the best Mandarin I could summon, “Excuse me! This is not good!” A Chinese gentleman got up and gave me his seat, then apologized for the Chinese mob. He was aware that we line up in the States. I was likely the one being rude in that situation.

    I was also taught early on that it was impolite for me to say that I did not speak Mandarin rather than I could not speak the language. “Do not speak” is interpreted to mean “I can speak your language, but I refuse!” Major faux-pas!

    It is interesting to me that the French are polite and follow protocol in language, but don’t line up! I now understand why most Americans think the French are rude. You got it right when you said it’s because we think they are not friendly. My French neighbor tells me frequently (when I say hello to strangers) that in France that is just not done. I think she is a bit embarrassed for me and is trying to teach me proper etiquette. But I still say hello to almost all I meet, which is just my way of saying, Bonjour!

    Au revoir! Merci beau coup! This has been a great cultural lesson for me. I now feel more prepared for enjoying a visit to France! Can you believe I’ve not traveled there? Mais, non!

    1. Thank you for your comment Nancy. I know nothing about China, but I’m not surprised that customs are different there also. And yes, you should come to France, we’re here to inspire you to do so!

  4. Bonjour, Annie et Elyse! Most interesting and amusing podcast so far in your series! Perhaps this one should have been #1!! I’m working on my reluctant husband to learn the 4 key French phrases and hoping that I won’t be too shy to try my high school on our visit this summer!

  5. Bonjour Mesdames, Another great podcast. To underscore the importance of “bonjouring”, so to speak, when we lived in Paris, I listened to a morning “drive time ” radio show. You know, traffic, news ,weather etc. Each time a new broadcaster came on the air she/he said “Bonjour a tous” (sorry I can’t make the accents work).
    Love the podcasts which so make me want to live in France again,
    Ron W

  6. Merci, Annie et Elyse! I love your programs. I am planning a trip to Paris and learning so much. Can you please tell me where the photo of the Eiffel Tower was taken from? What street?

    1. Hello Joan and welcome to Join Us in France! If you’re learning you’re doing it right 🙂 Which photo of the Eiffel Tower do you mean?

  7. At the top of this page – the Are French People Rude page. There is a street with a Brasserie on the right corner and the Tower in the background. It is a nice picture and I would love to explore that area. You have some lovely pictures on your website and it would be useful to know where they were taken…… Keep up the good work!
    Thank you.

      1. I’m trying to get the “French people rude” thing on this computer, but nothing happens. Please note that I don’t do podcasts or anything else on my pocket phone except make phone calls. Nor do I do anything fancy or complicated on my desk computer. All I want to do is click on something to get the presentation. How do I get to watch/listen to it on my desk computer without downloading something else or starting to use something like podcast that I don’t understand (and do not wish to, frankly)?

  8. Pingback: on being “rude” like the french | fakefrenchgirl
    1. Hello Fake French Girl and welcome to Join Us in France! You’ve put your finger on it I think 🙂 May I ask how you found the show? Thanks!

  9. I love your podcast and recommend it to my friends who are headed to France. I also like the short pieces you have recorded that Laura Lawless puts on her site, Annie. I wish I had had the podcasts with me when I went to France. Thank you.

    1. Hello Mary and welcome to Join Us in France! Thank you for recommending us, and I hope you get to come back to France soon!

  10. I’ve only spent a few weeks in France, many years ago, but think that I may go soon, now that I have retired. I would like to catch up with all your lessons before going, later in the year. I found you through a Quora (question and answer blog) response. My question, since I will also be going to the north of Spain is, “Do the customs and manners vary a great deal when one goes to the Basque country or to Barcelona? Are the customs very similar, or does the language carry a very different culture?

    1. Hello Susan and welcome to Join Us in France! I can’t really answer questions about Spain, especially not the Spanish Basque Country where I’ve only been once years ago. I go to the Barcelona area frequently, so I’ll give that it a try. They say “Hola Buon Dia” a lot. Is it a big deal if you don’t? I really don’t know. I’m so used to doing it in France, I just do it in Spain too. Spaniards are much better about stopping for pedestrians at crossings, but they’ll try to kill you in Barcelona if you don’t use crossings, so watch out. More petty theft in Spain too, it happens because the police don’t care. Really, they don’t. I don’t know any American who’s visited Spain for a week or more who didn’t get robbed at least once. Put a photocopy of your passport in your hotel and don’t carry cash. Spanish trains are never well marked and usually not on time. Everything is cheaper in Spain, and they have fruit to die for. Lovely beaches too 🙂 Spain is making a big push to encourage everyone to learn English (France should take notes in that regard), but in some places it’s not easy to find someone who will understand you. Good luck planning your trip!

  11. Bonjour! If only I had seen this before my trip to Paris it would have saved so many tense situations. I had never heard that you should make sure to say hello before anything else. I always said “excusez moi” and then asked my question. Finally one night we were at the Adidas store on the Champs Elysees and I approached two clerks folding shirts and said “excuses moi, I am looking for the France national football jersey” they both rolled their eyes. My son came up and told me that the jersey for 2014 was sold by Adidas and I apologized. I thought that is why they were offended until one of them said in a very sarcastic tone “May I ask you a question? In YOUR country do you say hello before you ask for something” I said “No, not in a store, I say excuse me and tell them what I am trying to find, I wouldn’t waste their time with small talk” I think in the states most sales clerks are busy and just want you to get to the point without a lot of chit chat. After that encounter I always said Bonjour to everyone I came in contact with and it made such a difference. I really don’t think people mean to be rude, just a simple misunderstanding of cultural practices. By the way, we went to Barcelona following Paris and they don’t place the same importance on Buon Dia. Thanks for the great podcast!

    1. Hello Lisa and welcome to Join Us in France! Thank you for sharing your experience and the kind words. I can only say amen and we’ll keep preaching about saying Bonjour first. It’s so true about American clerks wanting you to get to the point quickly. Not the same in France. In France, if you want outstanding service, you greet the person with “bonjour”, you could even say “excusez-moi de vous déranger” (but that’s really kissing up!), then you explain that you need this ingredient for a special recipe you’re making for your sister’s birthday, and how old she’s turning, how difficult it has been to find, that you went to three stores already, and then you say the name of the ingredient and they either rush off finding it for you or give you a blank stare and say “ça n’existe pas” (because of course, if they don’t know about it, it doesn’t exist!) We’re a funny bunch really!

  12. I would like to know the name and location of the jewelry store you mentioned in this podcast.