Paris has long been renowned for its unfriendly service. But in an effort to make the rude French waiter stereotype a thing of
the past, the Paris
Tourist Board is launching a new charm offensive.
As the world’s number one
holiday destination (with 33
million international visitors a year) and half a million people working in
tourism – that’s 9.5% of the region’s working population – Paris has good
reason to nurture its tourist industry. The etiquette
You Speak Touriste?, aimed at restaurants, hotels, shops and taxi drivers, is designed to
make travellers feel more welcome in the City of Light.
The initiative, launched in June,
includes an easy-to-use website and a printed guide
featuring tips on how to treat the 10 main nationalities that visit the capital.
For example, the guide recommends addressing Brits – the number one visitors to
Paris – by their first name in a friendly manner. Americans expect to be spoken to in
English; Germans desire cleanliness and precise information (as do the Japanese),
while Italians are described as impatient travellers who are fond of excursions. The guide also
includes helpful phrases, key statistics (such as trip length, average spend)
and general information (including preferred meal times).
But just how accurate is this country-specific advice?
“I'd agree with the points regarding friendly service but not the first
name thing – I'd find that disconcerting!” said Londoner Malcolm Monteiro while visiting Paris
for the weekend.
According to the guide, visitors from
Spain – the third most frequent visitors to the capital – expect to be spoken
to in Spanish. Pere Solé from
Barcelona, a regular visitor to the city, doesn’t agree but said more effort
could be made by waiters when foreigners try to speak French.
“I know French requires good pronunciation to be understood but come on! Croissant, café... even with the worst
Spanish accent you should be able to understand that!” he said somewhat
exasperated. “Paris is one of the top tourist destinations in the world so
anything that can help improve things in that area should be welcomed.”
Monteiro, however, was not as convinced, explaining that bad service is part of
Paris’ charm. “I'm not sure Paris needs the guide to be honest. Levels of
service are a cultural thing and don't need to be messed with.”
Kim Laidlaw is the Paris Localite for BBC Travel. She also writes www.unlockparis.com.