To see or not to see…

The question is why do people  come to Paris? Tourists, I mean. I started pondering this question after an encounter at the Westin hotel bar in Paris’ 1st arrondissement. I stopped in there with a friend for a “nightcap” because I love the setting and décor which is cozy, warm and intimate. We are two Americans who have known Paris intimately both as tourists and as residents, and we both have a great appreciation for this city and the French culture, and do our best to integrate into the culture and adapt the the country. This obviously does not mean that we try to be French. That would be silly. We are not French. But we can modify our behavior, customs, norms, to better adapt to the society in which we live out of respect for this host culture, and in order to grow as world citizens.

This is what I feel is an appropriate mentality when visiting any culture foreign to your own.

Imagine, that you are invited to someone’s house for dinner. You wouldn’t have them make you a separate dish for dinner because you don’t like green beans and baked sole fish would you? You wouldn’t refuse to take off your shoes at the door if that was their custom, would you? You wouldn’t insist on playing a game of Monopoly after dinner if they wanted to play Trivial Pursuit, would you?

Well it’s a similar mentality when you are a tourist GUEST in another country. This doesn’t mean you have to stop being yourself, but you should try to accommodate your hosts in a polite, and gracious manner.

SO, back to the bar at the Westin. We stepped into the red velvet and dark wooden bar/club area, which was full of a group of men, business looking men all anglophone yapping away like a bunch of hens. We chose a cozy table far away from them after signaling our presence at the bar. We could still hear their loud conversations, but were better able to ignore the noise tucked in the back of the lounge area. But honestly those guys were not what drove me to write this post.

As we sat sipping our drinks and having a quiet conversation, we were brutally interrupted by a loud obnoxious voice saying in our direction : “Aw yeah, English speakers! Thank god! We’ve heard nothing all day but French.” My back was to them. I slowly turned around, with a smoldering gleam in my eye, looked that person up and down, he was dressed from head to toe in ignorance, and I said to him : “Well you just happen to be in France where French is the national language”.  And I turned back away. I heard his girlfriend chime in in a thick accent : “Well peeeple have just been so mean tuh us awwll day“. I had to be stopped from contributing to the “mean” people she had encounter all day. The party of four un-tourists proceeded to blabber on about how they just couldn’t get what the problem was. I tried to ignore them. It was hard. They were loud. they were conspicious, and gravely lacking in cultural awareness. The waiter went over and handed them menus. the menus at this place had both English and french on them, and listed all the things that were offered to drink and eat at the establsihment. Regardless of that convenience, one of the women piped up up to ask the (very patient) waiter : “Do y’all got any fewwwd here?” He affirmed that and pointed out several items on the menu to which she giggled and then gasped in delight when she saw written on the menu ‘Pizza USA’. I cringed. “Oh it saaays USA pizza, look! USA pizza! Isn’t that wonderful! Whuht’s on thaayt?

I wanted to tell these people what their problem was and why they thought people were so mean to them, but they would not have understood. But, why on earth, do these kinds of people travel to foreign places? They are not there to discover a foreign culture, obviously by their lack of interest in the language and the food of the culture that they were visiting. These are just the most basic and simple ways to experience a different culture, and they couldn’t even take part in those!

What ARE they here to see? They spent the rest of their evening chumming it up with some other compatriots that they overheard on the otherside of their table. So they have probably not encountered many of the “natives” other than those who serve them in restaurants or wait on them in boutiques. Those people who either must retain a certain level of customer service politeness, or probably just flat out ignore these types of people. Paris isn’t historically know to be overly warm in customer service situations, in fact Parisians are stereotyped as rude. Now, this doesn’t apply to all Parisians, because a stereotype is a generalization and cannot be slapped on every individual, but I don’t find it difficult to see why they may be rude to such a type of “tourist” as those that were polluting our conversation space.

I guess in a perfect world, people would travel with a real interest in seeing, understanding and learning from a foreign culture, and not just for the pictures that they can then post onto facebook to make their friends think they are so cool. But then the world is not perfect, and neither are humans… If we could all just at least travel with a little more grace, it might make a slight difference.

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65 thoughts on “To see or not to see…

  1. Americans come to Australia and are just as rude over here. I tried my best to speack French when in paris and the parisiens were nothing but lovely and polite to me becuase they liked the fact that i had tried . “When in Rome do as the Romans do”!

  2. I agree with the prior comment. My French is not exactly fluent, but I use it when in France. And I have to say that I never had a problem with anyone French being rude. In fact, I found Parisians to be far more helpful to me as a traveler than residents of large American cities I’ve visited.

  3. Although I’m in Paris more for the city than its people, the two are almost inseparable, and I always find this sort of situation incomprehensible. I’ve never found the French to be this stereotypical ‘rude’ – never. If anything it’s the other way around, as perfectly illustrated above. Deep breaths, deep breaths Melissa! 😀

  4. I’m frustrated on a daily basis in Paris by ignorant tourists who apparently just visit this city to take a picture in front of the Eiffel Tower and complain about the French and France. It’s so unfortunate that all travelers can’t embrace a cosmopolitan mindset when they visit new places. The whole point of traveling is exposure to the unfamiliar!

    Another great article as always. Keep up the wonderful work 🙂

    Hugs,

    Camille @ Paris in Pink

  5. I am traveling to Paris for the first time in April and I have been listening to audiobooks to learn some French while there. I can’t wait to try it out. This is why I am going, to experience the culture, and to bring a little back with me. I can’t understand why people travel to a country and expect the people to welcome them with open arms just cause they are American.

  6. It’s funny reading this blog because I’m a US student currently studying here in Paris, and I’ve only been here a month to the day and I notice a considerable difference in how I felt when I arrived and how i feel now.

    When I arrived, it’s probably an american thing, but I expected people to bend over backwards as I was an american, I mean come on, everyone speaks English right? Well in truth that is often a fact, however it is certainly not the rule, nor should it be. To this day i still miss big crappy coffees and dark porter beer, but over all you adapt, and that’s the point right? A glass of wine at dinner vs. a beer, vinaigrette and olive oil instead of creamy ranch.

    Why I found this blog, and the comments afterwards funny is because only 2 nights ago I was riding my usual metro, sans map, I still don’t know a lick of French, but I am no longer that obvious American college student with his Maroon UMass sweatshirt, blue jeans and sneakers. I was wearing a newly purchased vest, skinny tie, shirt, black slim jeans and dress shoes. That’s when it hit me, while I am still ignorant to the language and clearly stand out when I speak, (I speak obnoxiously loud even for American standards), it was a culture shock, more so then when I got here, to actually feel acclimated. I knew how to act, to a point, I knew how and why things were happening the way they were and it didn’t even feel that strange.I knew where I was going, I didn’t expect the bars, people or restaurant to cater to me, I was neither the loudest nor drunkest on the metro, I “felt like” Parisian. Not to mention I was mistaken for one later that night…until I spoke.

  7. I adore this and it should be required reading for all would-be tourists! My first trip to Paris was a few years ago, when I was an American exchange student going to school in London, and I went to Paris for fall break determined to ease right into the flow of the city. Was my French perfect? Non! In fact my grammar was really a bit dreadful at the time. But every single person I encountered was incredibly nice, polite, and welcoming, and they really appreciated the fact that I was doing my very best to respect their language and culture. Paris is amazing–people should immerse themselves in it as much as possible!

  8. Ugh Thanks, totally agree. I mean why spend 2k$ if you’re just going to complain about all the FRENCH being spoken around you and order Pizza US-fucking-A!!!

    My guess: they just want to look at the Eiffel Tower & brag back home about how they went to Paris on vacation (and secretly hated its residents).

    I am always amazed when I encounter these specimens, and of course, very annoyed… yet I say nothing. What good would it do?

    • That’s what I thought…what good would it do???? They are not going to suddenly get a clue and begin trying to understand the foreign culture they are visiting now are they, just because I point it out to them.

  9. So true… I can’t help but find myself trying to pretend I’m French to avoid such encounters. I think you nailed it on the head – these are the kinds of tourists who feel obligated to see certain cities of the world and do so not due to a genuine interest and desire to expose themselves to an unfamiliar environment and culture but to be able to cross it off their list (and subsequently post photos on Facebook!). I feel like there should be some kind of screening process at the airport to prevent these people from boarding the plane!

    • L, completely agree with you and with Melissa! Really – why were they in Paris? It certainly wasn’t to experience the lovely city I know, where the people have always been so good to me….

  10. I am mortified by the way some Americans act abroad…I am heading back to Paris for a short trip in about 2 weeks (yay!!) after going there on my honeymoon last spring and have also been brushing up on my French to try to make an effort for our trip. I am saddened by those who don’t even try to make an effort. I mean, who wouldn’t want to try to pretend they’re French?? 🙂

  11. Hahaha this is hilarious… I just last night was on the bus and watched as two American women were trying to figure out how to get somewhere. They immediately started talking to the bus driver in English, not even making the slightest attempt to speak in French, and were actually getting frustrated b/c the bus driver wouldn’t respond in English. I mean, seriously? Sometimes I’m embarrassed to call myself American. Lol.

  12. I’m an american girl and i think the first trip in Paris is the same for the first trip in New York for the french people

  13. I think you have some valid points here. But I think the post it self suffers from the same ignorance you are accusing these people of having towards the country they are visiting.

    You honestly do not what their day had been like. You cannot say without a doubt that there weren’t honestly rude people they encountered. Yes it doesn’t sound like they were educated on French customs but sometimes traveling comes up out the blue. Maybe Paris is a two day stop on a larger trip or got last minute tickets but never had time to study up on the country. When I first came to France it was unexpected but I stayed for 3 months getting away from a divorce. I didn’t know a lick about the language, customs, or the people. But now I have a Carte de Resident. I just felt put off by this post.

    Now I’ve read your blog a lot and don’t plan on stopping I just felt this need to point out that when they said, “People have been mean to us all day” maybe those people who were being rude were others like us. Other expats making judgments on visitors and reacting harshly to them. You go on to say it’s the French who are stereotyped to being rude but I’m starting to wonder if we aren’t the real culprits.

    Just my two cents.

  14. I agree with Christina, I can’t believe no one else has pointed out the hypocrisy of this public stoning. You all seem to think these tourists have no excuse for being “rude”, yet that gives the author the right to treat them rudely? At least the tourists are being inappropriate because they don’t know any better (and probably would have benefited from a few tips from a fellow English speaker who knows it all); the author was intentionally, inexcusably rude to their faces, and is now publicly mocking them. I have met the author and she seems like a nice person, so I hope she’ll “get it” if, instead of putting her down with a gleam in my eye, I give her a bit of friendly advice on how to be a gracious expat. If others are unwittingly behaving badly and they reach out to you, try and treat them with kindness and compassion; you would want to be treated the same, non?

    PS: I think Bryan Pirolli’s response article is worth reading: http://www.bryanpirolli.com/2011/03/in-defense-of-tourists.html

    • Heather, for some reason your comment got spammed… I approved it nonetheless, because I like the fact that my blog sparks debate, and believe that everyone is entitled to an opinion (including myself… hence one of the reasons I blog, and if you don’t like it don’t read it.) The link you included refers to my post as “tawdry and self-important” and as he is also entitled to his own opinion… May I reply to those accusations coming from him, you and Christina? Thank you, I will :

      I am certainly not against having tourists come here, au contraire, I am very glad that people are able to come see this most magnificent city. What I don’t appreciate, and what I was pointing out in this post, is my dislike of those tourists who come here without any effort to at least try to understand the culture or at least participate in it in small ways, no effort to use even a word of greeting in the native language, no interest in those things MOST SIMPLE when it comes to learning/accepting/integrating a foreign culture (food and language). I am not by any means criticizing all tourists as you all seem to be accusing me, and this is very far from being a “public stoning”… I make a great effort to understand and adapt to this culture, and I try to do so of any culture I visit. I wish all tourists would do as much…

    • I will give you no excuse for my following behavior because I do not find excuses acceptable. Therefore, you will have to tolerate my blunt nature as I have tolerated your ignorance of the situation. (Note: I am not saying that you are ignorant, I am saying that you are ignorant of the situation. Those are completely different.) I also will start by saying that ignorance is not a valid excuse. For example, you cannot avoid liability by claiming that you were ignorant of the law if you break the law. I am sure that you are familiar with the cliché phrase, “ignorance is no excuse.”… (Here is a reference, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignorantia_juris_non_excusat)
      To give you a better picture of the reality of this situation, let’s turn the roles for a moment. Say someone does something that hurts you, or does something that you don’t approve of, let’s say that they park across the street right in front of your driveway making it almost impossible for you to back out of your driveway. So if they give you the excuse that they “didn’t know that they would be impeding your ability to exit your driveway.” Does that somehow make their behavior okay? Does it provide a good explanation of why they behaved that way? Will you accept “I didn’t know” as closure to the situation? I would hope not.
      I will take your words and show you why your arguments are wrong, and I invite you to do the same to mine if you like. I love a good debate. 
      1. Calling this blog post a “public stoning” is a bit much vitriol don’t you think? Frankly, I haven’t seen any stones flying past my head. (hopefully you will catch my sarcasm here)
      2. “You all seem to think these tourists have no excuse for being “rude”, yet that gives the author the right to treat them rudely? At least the tourists are being inappropriate because they don’t know any better”
      – There IS no excuse for being rude to someone that has not yet been rude to you first because they did nothing to deserve it. (key word “first”) … but if they are rude to you first, then don’t hesitate to stand your ground and join in on the rudeness. – With that being said, you may take my sarcasm as rude, in which case I expect you to do the same to me in return. (Note: I’m not giving you an excuse for my rude behavior, I am asking you to return the rude behavior that I have bestowed upon you.)
      – And if in Paris it is culturally rude to be loud and obnoxious in public places, then the author reserves the right to reciprocate the rude behavior. … I don’t think I need to extrapolate on why not “knowing any better” is a valid excuse.
      3. “the author was intentionally, inexcusably rude to their faces, and is now publicly mocking them.” – SO WHAT IF SHE IS MOCKING THEM? That doesn’t mean anything. (Insert ignorant, redneck voice for humor) –> Here in Amercuh we reserve the rite to publicly mock are feller citizens for their stoopid behavyurs. We like to call it tha BillO’rgihts. (End humor.) … People are allowed to be mocked just as much as they are allowed to be ignorant. Often times, people are mocked for their ignorance just to show others that being ignorant is not acceptable. Take The Daily Show or The Colbert Report for example. Alors, what would happen if people were not mocked for their unacceptable behavior? History tells us that public humiliation is a fast way to learn from your mistakes if you care anything about social graces.
      4. “If others are unwittingly behaving badly and they reach out to you, try and treat them with kindness and compassion”
      – I don’t know if you read this blog post or not, but these tourists didn’t “reach out” they obnoxiously made their presence known to everyone around them. When they saw others who also spoke English, they ignorantly claimed “we’ve heard nothing all day but French.” … Well that shouldn’t be such a surprise now should it? What a dumb thing to say!
      I hope you see some of the immaturity in your arguments. Specifically, I mean that when you say “at least the tourists are being inappropriate because they didn’t know any better,” you sound like a defiant 16 year old, or an immature 20 year old at best. In the real/grown-up world, you don’t get excused for your behaviors, you get consequences (punishment or reward) regardless of the cause.

      • in the time that it took you to write that reply, you could have been doing something useful with your life. haha i love how a harmless, yet insightful, online blog can frustrate and embarrass you to this degree!! haha

        tip for the future: if you have to justify EVERY point you make, they’re probably not good points.

        good luck!

    • Heather
      I find your response here rather hypocritical in itself. Who are you to leave a pretentious comment with a lecture on the author’s etiquette and her “public stoning” of total strangers who will probably never read this blog? You post a link to a blog post with a “public stoning” and mockery of the author. I also noticed among the other comments a lack of blogging grace with your cutting “whatever ignorance looks like these days” comment. I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion without any need for a lesson on compassion. Perhaps if the author had made this “public stoning” about people she knew and added links to other blogs with crass posts about these people, she would be out of line, and need that compassion lesson.. Though she merely said her piece about some loud mouth American tourists whom we ALL have been annoyed by at one point in our lives.

      Now, not to be a hypocrite myself, but I think this article on Blogger Etiquette is worth reading: http://www.blogher.com/blogger-etiquette-101-guide-manners

      Non?

    • wow, honey, you’ve got a littttle too much time on your hands… youre twisting her words to (unsuccessfully) make a point. but its cute that youre trying to make sense! 🙂

      ps i think you may just need to get LAID.. you seem crabby.. good luck!

    • Hi. I want to join in the debate even though it’s causing it looks like, a lot of emotion! I have been living on both side of the Atlantic ocean, and well, you know tourists are rude everywhere. It doesn’t actually matter what nationality they are. There are also nice people everywhere as well. Of this we can be glad!

      I notice some problems with these counter arguments :

      1. If you all read this blog post with some more attention, you can notice that this author did never say that they were “american”. That fact come out of assumption from the pizza they ordered.

      2. In another comment from Heather, she’s writing this : “you made huge assumptions about these people.(…) How do you know they haven’t spent all day making an effort?” But this comment and a few others ARE ALSO making “huge” assumptions about these people! How do you know that they have not been impolite all day??? And it’s funny because you weren’t even there to encounter those tourists, you are just reading about it on a blog. Of course the author doesn’t know what the rest of the day had been like, she was making an hypothesized guess based upon their behavior that she observes. Did you observe their behavior? No. So maybe you should ask for more details if there are any, instead of attacking someone for something that you never saw!

      3. It looks like they (Heather and Bryan) are having a tag-team attack against this author. If you go to the blog of Bryan,you can see on the right hand side a link titled “My Lovely Internship Director” and it goes to the site of Heather. So they obviously know each other and are making this attack together (because that’s what Bryan’s post does do, attack this author directly.)

      4. Why are you all so mad about this author posting her opinion after encountering tourists? Are you perfect? All she said to them was that in France we speak French. This cannot be defined as “public stoning”!!! Public stoning? That’s very very harsh, and not accurate. From Heather’s site it seems she is working with tourists to give them walking tours in Paris. Here’s some friendly advice to her : Maybe she should take on this responsibility to educate the tourists she works for, and show them how to be more polite when they travel.

      5 and last item…promise! This expression that many of you have talked about “dressed from head to toe in ignorance” seems to me to be well that, and expression. I don’t think the author is referring to actual clothing.

      To conclude : Don’t attack someone directly if you are going to accuse them of attacking someone else. You are just making yourself look really bad.

  15. I’m going to have to come down on the negative side here too. I think the statement that “this kind of people” shouldn’t be allowed to travel is preposterous. While I am lucky to have an immediate family that is supportive of my living abroad, my extended family is baffled as to why I wouldn’t want to stay in america. they are the right-wing obese southern-accented Kentuckyans who voted for Rand Paul, and I think it would do them a world of good to travel. If they come here and hate it, fine, at least they tried. Some people just have a hard time stepping out of their comfort zone, and it if it means they have to go to pizza hut and macdo during their stay, then fine. Just getting on the plane means they’ve taken a step outside of their comfort zone– and you have no idea what changed ideas they’ll return with.

    They may think all of the people they’d met that day were rude–how do you know ? maybe they were ? But maybe they’ll encounter someone in the street and ask for directions, and that person will accompany them to their destination. They’ll go home saying “everyone was rude, except for this one guy”. That person doesn’t even have to be French–that person could have been YOU. “We met all of these rude people, except for this one girl. she’s american but she’s lived here for years, and she speaks french and everything. she was just so nice.”

    Yes, as another american in france, it can be embarrassing when confronted with the sweeping generalizations made about our culture. I’ve had people respond “Oh, I’m sorry” when I said I was american. What are you sorry for ?

    I think, living here, I’ve discovered another group of americans–the americans that think they are BETTER because they are not tourists. They are better because they don’t have accents, and they don’t get lost, and they’ve tried escargots, and they don’t wear fanny packs. They are better because they are more cultured–but don’t they realize that these people have made an effort ? However minimal it may seem to be ? Weren’t we all just bumbling americans a couple of years ago–speaking a little too loud, having to revert to english from time to time, needing help from someone who’d been here longer, knew more ?

    • I like your comment Caroline… even though you say it’s on the negative side. It’s very hopeful of you to think that they would go back with changed ideas. I guess I would not be so optimistic. But I am far from Anti-American, and am in NO WAY ashamed of my origins LET THAT BE CLEAR. And I don’t think that I am better than tourists. My point again was that the kinds of tourists who come here EXPECTING everyone to speak English, and EXPECTING to find their comfort zone from back home, are just preposterous. The word foreign (as in foreign country, foreign land, language culture) means DIFFERENT. Those who are not open to different, and who would be unable to accept that which is different WHILE VISITING A FOREIGN LAND are just ridiculous and RUDE and it should be spoken about. Like I said, you wouldn’t complain as a guest at someone’s house for dinner, if they served beans instead of salad for example! It’s called manners.

      • The point is that you had a choice. You had a choice to either make a snarky comment to them, and then go home and write a snarkier post about them. Or you could have spoken with them. Helped them. Explained to them that a simple “bon jour”, or a bit of effort goes along way. Said all of these things to them, because they obviously didn’t know.

        Instead of trying to ease the problem, you went home and wrote a very condescending blog post about them, and they went home dressed in the same ignorance they apparently arrived in. No one is the wiser.

        And for the record, I never accused you of being anti-american or or ashamed of your origins.

      • See I just have a hard time believing that any “advice” from me would have enlightened these people. People who aren’t open to the basics of another culture, certainly aren’t going to be open to someone stranger’s advice.

      • That may be true. But the point is you didn’t even try, and going home and complaining about it doesn’t do anyone any good. And it is especially unfair to do it in a place where they can’t defend themselves.

        You stated that you wish these kinds of people would learn how to travel with grace. The problem is, they have no idea they aren’t doing just that…

      • This comment is accurate. You’re right. No one is contesting that. Nor are we questioning your patriotism.

        But this isn’t what happened in your post. As you wrote it, the people didn’t demand that English be spoken nor did they shun the foreign culture. Did something else happen that you didn’t write about?

        They simply said it was nice to hear English after hearing French all day…which is like finding water in the desert for an amateur tourist…how do you glean from that they are ignorant,rude, and “cultural unaware”?

  16. To you Heather, and also to Bryan, whose article I just read, I really think you’re being unfair to PreteMoiParis here. Sure we don’t know a thing about the kind of day these people had, and it’s also true that we have no clue as to whether or not thay had been planning their trip to Paris long enough ahead in order to learn a tip or two about how to deal with Parisians and Parisian life. However, having worked in the cooking school at the Hotel Ritz in Paris as an interpretor for over two years, of the many many nationalities I have encountered during my time there, American tourists were the ones who constantly criticized the food for not being what they were used to (I mean, you’re in a FRENCH cooking school, what did you expect????), they were the ones who complained – and I mean ALL THE TIME – about the fact that people spoke what? But French of course. They were the ones who, when they were not at the hotel, actually spent their time either in Disneyland Paris, eating at Mcdonald’s or trying to find other Americans to – and I quote – “show Parisians who the bosses were”. So when you say that tourists should be treated with a bit of compassion and understanding, I couldn’tt agree more. Except for the fact that when it comes to American tourists, I know first hand that more often than not, whether because a lot of them (not all of them of course) are rude, or because they simply don’t care about other cultures even when pretending to by travelling abroad (again, not all of them pretend to be interested), they just act as if they pretty much owned the place, and to hell with the locals, who eat weird food, speak a weird language and don’t treat Americans with the respect they’re due. Don’t misunderstand me, not all American tourists I’ve met are like this. However, when each and every time you hear tourists complaining or showing so little respect and curiosity towards French culture, they turn out to be American, well, you tend to regard them with a bit of suspicion, especially so when, in the case of PreteMoiParis, they DO end up ordering the only dish with USA in its name. I mean, having a hidden stash of peanut butter when you’re an expat and missing your country is one thing. Ordering the only type of food you could find in your own country, even when in Paris, is another. It is no wonder PreteMoiParis reacted the way she did. I would have too, and it sure would not make her, or me, the rude ones in the room.

    • Opinions are valid but facts are important, too. In reading the article, it doesn’t say they actually ordered the “USA pizza”…they just marveled at the curiosity of it.

      If you went to Japan and saw “USA roll” on a sushi menu, wouldn’t you want to know what’s in it? Does that make you rude and ignorant?

      I’d like to know, myself, what’s on this pizza since I’ve never seen it at any Ben’s or Ray’s pizzeria in New York…

  17. Hey all,
    I’m an American student that has lived for four months in Paris, this being my fifth trip back to the city that I so adore.

    I am currently doing an internship with an organization that promotes a more cohesive Europe, with citizens integrating themselves into new cultures, to learn about cultural traditions and to become truly European citizens.

    After spending so much time in Paris, seeing many similar exchanges occur, I understand why some non-Americans have a conception of Americans as a country of ignorant boors. People come to the US to tour major cities as well as small villages, not to mention the natural wonders the States have to offer. But really, do we accommodate these tourists? No. We get frustrated when we have to make an effort to understand a new accent. Americans “love,” for example, accented English; what adolescent girl HASN’T fallen in love with the British accent, for example? Yet we get frustrated when we have to give directions or explain a menu to people who might not speak English as their primary language.

    I have NEVER had someone get frustrated with me while in Paris. Sure, I’ve had people switch to English, but once they see that I am making an effort, they try to help me. I am embarrassed to be associated with tourists of my country who complain loudly in English about how “difficult” it is, or how mean people are. Well, what do you expect, venturing to a country where you do not speak the language? It’s not easy. It is something to be applauded, if you do it gracefully.

    Europeans never fail to impress me. My colleagues claim that they “absolutely cannot speak English;” however, they form beautiful, sophisticated sentences in English ALL the time. And guess what? English is maybe their third or FOURTH language! Most Americans do not even have two!

    Melissa, we’re New Englanders. We see this all the time, me in Vermont (where many Quebecois, for example, vacation), and you from the Cape (a very popular tourist destination). We see Americans get frustrated with people who make an effort to integrate themselves into our culture. We should make the effort to integrate ourselves, to se debrouiller, no matter where we are. Not to BECOME another culture, but to share it.

    Well said, truly.

  18. I think both points are valid here (Bryan & Melissa). However, I think its distasteful and tacky to outright attack another fellow blogger who is just giving their opinion/perspective/point of view. I think one’s point can be made clearly without bashing another’s blog, which I find so unnecessary and tainted with hate. I get annoyed with tourists all the time too (with their total lack of trying to immerse themselves into the culture) and having not lived in Paris in a while, its been a bit of a relief not having to deal with them. That being said, I do not believe the author of this blog has a “thing” against tourists as an expat. I met her a few years back my first year in Paris (a young American) and she never judged me for complaining a bit about France! I think its just completely wrong to also come out and say hurtful things about the author personally…that’s going too far. You may disagree completely 100% with her point of view, but don’t try to make her look like a heartless b*tch who doesn’t care about other people and who has a lot to “learn”. Please try to rebut respectfully and without saying hurtful things.

  19. Hi Melissa,
    I’m sure you intended to make a valuable point, but the way you describe the event in your post, it seems like you made huge assumptions about these people.

    “What I don’t appreciate, and what I was pointing out in this post, is my dislike of those tourists who come here without any effort to at least try to understand the culture or at least participate in it in small ways, no effort to use even a word of greeting in the native language, no interest in those things MOST SIMPLE…”

    How do you know they haven’t spent all day making an effort? They spoke to you in English because they heard you speaking English (and it sounds like there was a crowd of loud Brits next to you as well). Even if they had been saying “bonjour” all day, they sound like they were exhausted and beaten down by their day (and what they felt was rude treatment). Perhaps that’s no reason to not try and speak French to the waiter, but your article makes it look like you shunned them simply because of their accent, the way they dressed (whatever ignorance looks like these days), and the fact that they tried to bond with a fellow American. Maybe I’m more sensitive because I work in the tourism industry (like that patient waiter), but I think if we all set an example and share some tips with the newcomers, it can only help in the long term, even if some people will never “get it”.

  20. Considering that Melissa was a mentor to me when I was a young American newly in Paris, it is absolutely absurd to consider her an anti-expat elitist. Her entire philosophy is to encourage immersion in order to get the most out of an experience.

    Her frustration with the tourists above and that type of tourist is not one where she is ashamed of her American upbringing, as Bryan seemed to be snidely alluding. Rather, Melissa knows that this purposely ignorant tourist shortchanges him or herself by walking into a country with an attitude and walking out with nothing but that same anti-foreign chip. They wanted to find French people with anti-American tourist sentiment and they succeeded in finding it.

    In acting without grace in a foreign country, you deny yourself the experience that you hopefully went abroad to find.

    Bryan’s rebuttal is so off-base in terms of his attack it seems almost personal. Melissa would help any American (or person from any other country) if they needed help or were graciously interested in speaking to her and picking her brain on France and the French. The tourists described in her blog were looking to ESCAPE France by talking to her, not find out more about it. Who can blame her for being a little annoyed?

  21. I think we’re missing the point here if we’re trying to picture that these tourists should have been treated in a nicer way or helped. These people lacked manners, and it’s obvious; and people lacking manners or being rude can be found anywhere (not just in America). The issue is not how to deal with tourists or how to deal with rude people not willing to help tourists; what it is about is how obnoxious rude people can be. In this case these folks ruined the author’s evening not by being American, but by being rude and loud. To blog about this is hardly public stoning… 🙂

  22. As an American and a student of pretmoiparis’ in paris for a year, I personally know that she is very proud of being an American and promotes americans to come to France; she works for a study abroad program promoting Americans to study in paris for goodness sake! I have personally seen her stop many times to help american tourists find a museum or cafe, give them directions to the metro, and even just sit next to another american in a cafe and start conversation with them to be friendly. With that being said, I do agree with Charles. The people in the Westin obviously lacked manners and we should be more concerned about how to treat people who are rude and controlling our actions so we do not appear as “rude americans” in other places. I am positive that Pretmoiparis didn’t mean any harm to these inviduals by posting this and I hope we can come to a civilized end to this discussion so peoples feelings stop getting hurt.

  23. My problem is this: you can pretend you don’t speak English. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. But when you’re caught, you’re caught. In that situation, the correct thing to do is to respond politely, not turn towards the newcomers with a “smoldering gleam.” If you don’t want to sustain a conversation, that’s fine. Back away — politely. The rudeness in this story was overwhelming. And then to come home and BRAG about it via blog! Mind-blowing. I was mortified by your actions, not by the tourists’ ignorance.

    I understand what you were trying to get at with the ignorant American bit, really I do. But the anecdote you describe in your story is not an appropriate one to base your conclusions off of. It ALMOST is. Had you bothered to converse these people and learned that they had breakfasted at Starbucks, lunched at McDonalds, and were now going to order the USA Pizza at the hotel bar, then yes! By all means, write away.

    My editorial advice to you for the next time? Fictionalize your story. It’s better to fill in the holes with made-up information than to make judgments with no basis.

    • LOL! wait wait… so you are telling me that I have no right to have a critical opinion (different than bragging by the way), but that I should LIE! Wow. That’s mind-blowing…

  24. Hey, does anyone feel like a time-out for a while before getting back to the serious business of deciding whether American Parisian expat bloggers can and should criticise other American Parisian expat bloggers who criticise other American Parisian expat bloggers (etc.) who criticise complaining American tourists in Paris (phew!)?

    If so, here’s a little thing I’ve just done to try and blatantly borrow some of Melissa’s audience, as she obviously has far too many readers of her blog than is good for her.. ;-D

    Sab’s ‘Spot The Expat’ Quiz: http://bit.ly/fCdDia (it’s just for FUN, seriously!)

      • Hi Melissa, I just had ‘an issue’ with my quiz provider and had to change systems – now you get a percentage score, with second attempts allowed to grasp back some points, no less!
        A picture of moi in there, oh come come now, I wouldn’t do anything sneaky like that now, would I..?

  25. I’m an American, I’ve traveled abroad on my own. Try being rude in Tehran. Or Beijing. Or try being rude to Flo the waitress in ozark, ms when there’s a few of good ol’ boys at the counter. Not happening. Besides, I found some of the best “American” Chinese food in Paris, and I didn’t even have to speak French to find it. I had to make a little bit of effort, but my comfort zone was easily satisfied. Yours’ may be too if you understand that you ain’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.

  26. i think that americans who are used to living life with all their american comforts and familiar culture are struck down by a big wave of panic when they first arrive in paris, as things are not similar to the us in the slightest, and i believe that most americans have this egotistical viewpoint that the whole world wishes they could live like americans. as an american myself, i have to say i find it so disappointing that there is a percentage of american tourists live up to the stereotype of the brash, loud and obnoxious american who complains at the drop of a hat over the simplest of things. while i’m not necessarily saying that all tourists should immediately adopt all foreign mannerisms and mentalities, i do think that the reputation of an american tourist has been tarnished by certain actions.

  27. a friend told me about this post, and the curiosity finally got the better out of me and so i came to have look. i don’t read blog much, so it took me a while to get it all.
    First i’d like to say that i liked melissa’s post. she based it on something SHE had witness and was trying to share something that i believe should be commonsense. It also sounded it clear to me that she was refering to a very specific kind of tourists, tourist that are like about any other people because if these people behave like that here, the chances are it’s also how they act at every where including home. it could also not just be people who come to france, but also french going abroad.
    That’s why i don’t understand what really is the problem with heather stimm-hall and then bryan. Bryan, you speak of the tourist who actually give a damn and melissa is refering to people who don’t and toping that don’t that any manners. and even if it is true that we only have melissa’s account of what happened, such people do exist. we’ve all crossed path with some one day. i agree with her conclusion, wouldn’t the world be better if we all got a little bit more interested and respectful in and of others.
    i have been abroad quite a few times now in different countries and i have worked with many foreigners, in organisations or in my work, and the attitude of people who are interested and who try, even when not speaking the language of the country they visit, is so very different, that it was easy to understand melissa was in no way refering to those. so you’re kind of off subject here. if your or heather’s problem is personal with melissa, but really, GROW UP and deal with it some other way. if you don’t like this blog, then don’t come and read it.

  28. Wow. I`m seeing a lot of hidden tension here (from the 3-part tag-team of Bryan, Heather, and Christina). This almost seems personal to me. It`s one thing to disagree with someone`s opinions or post, and to air such disagreements on the comment boards of said post. Heck, it`s one more thing to write a contrary post, concerning your point of view on the subject. It`s a whole `nother thing to single out the person you are writing against with a post that directly references moments and phrases from that author`s original blog, and put a link on it (hers on your page, yours on hers).
    Melissa was writing, in her usual tongue-in-cheek manner, a funny little story/observance about something that struck her as amusing, while making a valid point about culture (or lack thereof). To which an obviously very select few decided to jump on and criticize, accusing her of being rude and ignorant, and basically making a big deal out of nothing.
    From what I can fathom, these people seemed to be the rude ones, wedging themselves into someone else`s conversation looking for fellow French-bashers, instead of maybe asking politely for help or even for an alternate viewpoint. She did not single anybody out by name (or link, as it were) or try to personally discredit anyone, other than a group of nameless loud obnoxious tourists for a general example. They`re not gonna read this, they`re not gonna be hurt by it, and they`re not being personally attacked. Again, it was just an observation, one I (and, apparently, several others on here) found amusing. It seems childish to bash somebody else`s blog just to add fire to yours. One could very easily have written a healthy counterpoint to this article without being so smug and sarcastic and downright personal about it. Especially because this seemed to be EXACTLY what you were accusing Melissa of being! Are we only allowed to be sarcastic when it suits OUR purposes?

  29. Thanks Melissa for writing about boring (and bored) tourists. I think I am as angry as you are to my countrymen when I travel in a foreign country, I can not believe that so many French speak a poor English and that they don’t even bother to learn the basic hello or thank you from the country. That’s a sign of ignorance and of a lack of curiosity. And that’s a shame.

  30. I agree with your commentary 100%, Melissa. Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I do my best to attempt the language. Even if all I can say is hello, please and thank you, I find those three phrases open a lot of doors. A few years back, I took an unexpected weekend trip to Paris. It had been at least 8 years since I last spoke French and I was embarrassed to speak so poorly. But I always let the person I was conversing with switch to English first and found every Parisian I interacted with to be friendly and helpful.

    I was sitting in a cafe having breakfast (after haltingly saying good morning and asking for a menu), and an American couple walked in. “Hi. Can we get a real breakfast here? I mean, not a croissant?”I cringed and instantly understood the “ugly American” stereotype. No “bonjour,” and the first thing out of their mouths is “Can we get a ‘real’ breakfast?” implying that the typical local breakfast just isn’t good enough. And they gave each other a look when the reception that earned them was less than welcoming.

    I’m embarrassed by, and always try to distance myself from, tourists who don’t attempt the language, complain about the customs and culture, and proceed to run around practically screaming “I’m an AMERICAN” (e.g., the couple sitting down the bar from us in Kinsale, Ireland (cue loud voices) “We’re from Ohio, in the United States. Do you know where that is?”). If America is so vastly superior to wherever it is you’re visiting, just stay home and look at pictures on the Web. Say what you will about that viewpoint, but like Melissa said, you wouldn’t dream of behaving that way as a guest in someone’s house, so what makes it okay as a guest in another country?

  31. First and foremost, I want to congratulate the author for sparking such a healthy debate! Socrates once wrote that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” By asking provocative questions and fostering a cyber-place for debate, she is allowing us to fulfill the above and examine life.

    The question raised here is a valid one and one we should all examine in our ourselves: mainly, how to we participate as citizens of the world? By using our American status/language/lens, are we keeping ourselves from broader encounters? Do we have a responsibility as global travelers to present ourselves and our country in the best light possible?

    Traveling is an experience which can open one’s mind, heart and soul. It is a shame for anyone to shrink that incredible opportunity, but in fact that happens all the time from fear: fear of being somewhere else, of another language, of the unknown. Clearly the author encounters many novice travelers, and comes across this fear as manifested in often rude behavior. As citizens of the world, what can we do to help decrease this fear and encourage growth in every traveler?

    I would say that the author is doing her part by writing this blog, thereby both celebrating and demystifying Paris for for English speakers everywhere.

    • Thank you D R for such an introspective comment. Your feedback is, I believe, some of the most constructive thus far. Fear DOES shrink so many people and makes smaller their own world and their vision of the world around them. The unknown, unfamiliar and that which is out of their comfort zone does so often cause people to fail to be open… to the point where they basically shun the very hosts who’s country/city/place they are in. It’s really too bad for them. They are missing out on a chance to grow and connect.
      We should all make an effort to be better guests in the places we visit.

  32. All this conversation about tourists or French people is quite amazing and amusing really. We are all tourists at one point in our lives, may that be by travelling or by being in an unexpected place at an unexpected time. Rude people are everywhere, wherever they come from. Why shouldn’t we rather talk about nice common people? they are far more interesting unless the purpose of all of us here is gossip. I wasn’t planning to write anyhthing here at first… but it’s a lovely day, the sun is shining over Notre-Dame… let’s do it the parisian way… ‘on s’en fout, on se prend pas la tête’. Com’on everyone… un peu de douceur de vivre, please!
    Anyhow I must say Lady blogger, you have apparently turned many people nuts here!
    I want to be a tourist! right now! Off to somewhere fabulous and exciting! cheers everyone!

  33. Coming back because my first comment didn’t “take”. I am sure it won’t be as good the second time around. Basically I whole-heartedly agree with the concept of travelers as guests, whether it be to another city, county, state, region or country. I hate to admit it but a good majority of them are Americans, but it is not only them. I keep thinking of the program “An Idiot Abroad” and I realize that some people are just extremely naive and uneducated when it comes to how to present oneself when they travel, but in this day and age there is so much info out there that if you just take the time to educate yourself, even just a little bit you might have a chance of not embarrassing your entire nation. Travel is supposed to (and should) open up the mind, the problem some people just never let that happen!

  34. Mel-I love you always. I know you take it personally when you feel youre attacked, but don’t worry kiddo-your views are vaild from your perspective, as evidenced by the oodles of other ex-pats with similar feelings. I can sorta see both sides of the coin. Cause you know, that woulda been me minus the southern drawl. I would love to visit Paris, and I’d be lucky to have you as a guide. If i went by myself or with a couple friends, however, I’d probably be the complete obnoxious specimen just looking for a good beer and someone who speaks some English by the end of the day. Everyone hates tourists. We grew up on Cape-cmon, we understand that. Tourists are necessary, and when we visit other places, we become what we loathe. We may strive to “not stick out like sore thumbs”, but we will unless we end up somewhere long enough to really understand the people and the place. You took offence because American tourists kinda make you look bad, lol. You understand and live in Paris, and have a huge ammount of love and respect for its people. It’s all about perspectives. I guess, the only advice I can give every single person on here is that a blog is an opinion piece. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course. But, try to remember to have a sense of humor. The author is not the enemy. If you knew her, you’d know that she’d give the shirt off her back to a stranger. So, everyone, take a deep breath, try to have a good laugh, and remember we have all felt like Melissa, and we have all felt like the tourists, cause we’re all pretty similar at the end of the day.

  35. A quick chime-in: Can’t help but to side with pretemoiparis on this back-and-forth, if only due to all the detractors’ totally nonsensical “holier-than-thou” predispositions.

    “You can’t just be rude to stupid Americans, you should try to be COMPASSIONATE!” is true in spirit, but in practice, just a degree or two removed, to put it delicately. People react poorly to stupid people. It’s life; it happens. Are we really going to debate whether being annoyed by stupidity is acceptable?

    “You shouldn’t find them annoying! You should tell them where Macdonalds is, so they feel at home!” I mean, that argument has so little to do with actually being a living human-being, that it’s pointless to debate it. Pretmoiparis isn’t saying that those people ARE stupid; she doesn’t know them, so how could she. She’s saying that they came off stupid. In what universe do the detractors here live in, where sizing up first-encounters with other human-beings must be an exercise of charity? Have you people never exchanged words with someone who’s come off stupid? If you found yourself faced with one, and subsequently didn’t feel compelled to continue conversing with them, would you then give yourselves a good self-lashing later that night, for your lack of good faith and “dirty thoughts”?

    To all who’re conveniently serving up a “love-thy-neighborhood” to pooh-pooh this blog, my advice is, read less blogs. They tend to be written by (guess) real human-beings, and the intrigue of reading them tends to be reading (guess) the opinions of real human-beings.

    I’ll take pretmoiparis’s post a step or two further. Frankly-speaking, American tourists who give off stupidity—whether they’re stupid or not—are ENORMOUSLY annoying, because, as an American, they embarrass those of us who make the conscious effort to conduct ourselves with the discretion, introspection and respect that should innately come with being a guest. They also reinforce the general sentiment that Americans are stupid. I mean, do I have to point this out, or is this not obvious to everyone?

    But feel free to go all ad hominem on me and call me “unimpassioned” or just a jerk.

    I promise my heart will bleed?

  36. Wow, interesting debate. Took me a while to read all the comments but glad I did. Not going to take sides as some have done but as a british expat with a french wife, would like to make a few points:

    – With regards to the notion that Americans are loud, having met lots of tourists around Paris of all nationalities I have to say that I find the Italians just as noisy, if not more so, as Americans, especially on the metro and the bus. Is it annoying? To me, yes it is. It’s just not very British to be so loud! However, I also find buskers annoying, especially on a long journey while trying to read a book. At the end of the day, loud people (and buskers) are a small annoyance and quickly forgotten.

    – I haven’t found Parisians to be particluarly rude apart from two categories of people, waiters and taxi drivers. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, but my god I have never met so many rude taxi drivers and waiters in any other city I have been. My wife would also agree and she is french! It is nothing to do with being a tourist, they are rude to French people as well!

  37. @PreteMoiParis – Loved your post. Couldn’t care less about the comments and opinions since I feel like the post on it’s own is a delight to read for an expat living in Paris who identifies with what you write about and this why your blog is most probably valued and viewed in the first place.

    As a relaxed Australian/French I guess I just don’t understand why people have to have such a dig at what’s been said and can’t just sit back, read/browse with a bit of an open mind. I’m on a blog not a forum right?!

    Laura

  38. I’m going to Paris in 271 days from today for three months (Spring in Paris) and have been listening to Rocket French on my iPod while I garden so I can get off the plane and say bonjour or salut, comment sa va, je suis tres bien! YA … every day I add another note to my ‘book’ of things that will be helpful when I arrive … this blog and these comments have been. We can run – but we cannot hide!

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