21 August 2013

Parisians Now ‘Much Too Polite,’ Tourists Say

Foreign visitors at a Parisian café.

PARIS -- Just a few weeks after another campaign by Paris’ board of tourism designed to sensitize service-industry workers to the needs and preferences of visitors, Paris has become “much too polite” for many tourists.

“We could have been in Muncie,” complained Margaret Velveetinson, of Indianapolis, after a recent trip to the French capital. “Nobody sneered at my accent or the fact that I wanted to eat breakfast at 10 in the morning. Nobody snubbed me. Where’s my authentic Parisian experience?”

Her husband, George Velveetinson, agreed. “I had only one year of French in high school, and that was 40 years ago,” he said. “I thought for sure somebody would make fun of me. But nobody did! Even when I asked them to speak English, they weren’t rude. I want my money back.”

This sudden wave of considerate behavior on the part of Paris’ waiters and hotel clerks is due in large part to the phenomenal response to “Do You Speak Touriste?,” a guide distributed by the board of tourism. It describes the goals and concerns of foreign visitors, and suggests ways that French workers can make a visit more enjoyable for everyone.

These include such helpful hints as serving water with meals when asked to do so, using first names when addressing strangers, keeping wait times to a minimum, and not muttering obscenities in French as soon as one turns one’s back on a tourist.

The cover of the popular guide.

“Before reading this essential brochure, I never understood what a Big Mac or a Coca-Cola can represent to a person who is far from home and seeks the comfort of the familiar,” admitted Jacques Froideur, a waiter at the Café Impertinence, off the Champs-Elysées. “While I understand that, in a café that serves only French cuisine at outrageous prices, I cannot give a tourist precisely what he wants, I now feel a need to be as cheerful and helpful as the counter staff at any fast-food restaurant in the American heartland.

“After all,” Froideur added, “the Americans saved our — how do you say? Asses? Two world wars! And have we ever thanked them properly? It is my duty as a man of honor to make things right in any way I can.”

Previous efforts by the tourism board and other entities have met with limited success. No one expected Parisians to take “Do You Speak Touriste?” to heart — least of all the tourists. An informal survey of visitors from eleven countries found bewilderment and even resentment: Paris is not living up to its reputation. That a city renowned for its art, food, and monuments also be friendly strikes many visitors as unfair.

“What am I supposed to tell the neighbors?” said Jolene Rollerboard, of Little Rock. “That I went to Paris and had a nice time?”

“Next year, we’re going to New York,” said her friend, Mae Belle Samsonite. “I hear they’re really rude there.”


RogueElephant said...


Anne said...

" ... Where’s my authentic Parisian experience?”
....I want my money back!

Hilarious !

oh and your West Side Story /Shakespeare send up was laugh out loud funny.

Anonymous said...

"Jacques Froideur," huh? I got a chuckle out of that. It's pretty funny, about on par with John Hawkes calling one of his characters, the mistress of a whorehouse, "Madame Fromage."

-- Rick

William V. Madison said...

Jack Hawkes taught me at Brown -- and HATED me. I'm not sure he'd be pleased by your comparison!

Anonymous said...

I am stunned to learn that you had one of the great modernist American writers as a professor. Why didn't you say so sooner?

-- Rick

William V. Madison said...

Ha! I thought I had mentioned Jack somewhere on this blog, but I see that you're right. Maybe I'm still smarting because he liked Rick Moody so much better than he liked me. I'm sure I'll get around to writing about him -- and anyway, Scheherezade can't tell all her stories in one night!

Anonymous said...

You're quite right, Scheherezade can't tell all her stories in one night, but this could have taken precedence over the James Franco jokes. Well, I'll wait eagerly for the post.

-- Rick