Are you close-minded? How I finally learned how to get along with Parisians

Are you close-minded? How I finally learned how to get along with Parisians

Benny

If you ask someone the question “Are you close-minded?” the answer will almost certainly be a no. I don’t think anyone in the world sees themselves as closed minded. They are always sceptical or simply convinced that the other guy is wrong.

The description closed minded is one we tend to reserve for someone else. I’m tempted to mention some people I think personify this description perfectly, but using a blog as a platform to be negative about things one doesn’t like has already been done to death.

Of course, I like to put a positive spin on things, so I’m going to give you an example by exposing my own realisation that despite being exposed to so many people and cultures, I have been carrying a closed-mindedness about something important that I have finally been able to let go of: my bad blood with the Parisians.

9 months in Paris

Back in 2005, I was ready to take on French for the first time, so since I prefer cities it just seemed logical to move to Paris to do this.

I had only been on the road for a year and a half back then so I was still quite bright eyed and had dreams of meeting my own Amélie Poulain, running into amazing new people every day in la ville lumière, and speaking flawless French in a short matter of months.

To say that I was disappointed wouldn’t do what I felt justice – despite trying hard to get along, I found the Parisians arrogant, unfriendly, rude and plain old mean. I really dislike promoting stereotypes (the hundreds or thousands of times I’ve heard “You’re Irish and you don’t drink??” has never seemed to lessen how annoying it is), and I really tried to see their good side, but after 9 months, I had given up.

It’s the only place I’ve ever lived in, where my attempts to speak the language were met with disgusted grimaces and where I never received any form of encouragement from locals. I would dream of the day when a Parisian would call my French pas mal.

Despite all that, I stayed committed for the entire 9 months and did finally start speaking French. Things improved hugely when I moved down south to Toulouse (so I actually liked the French in general quite a lot), and some time later to Quebec, but in the earlier stages it was one of the hardest languages I’ve learned – not because of grammar, exceptions or any of that (which all languages have), but simply because the Parisians were extremely unhelpful and discouraging.

My newfound devotion to not speaking English had backfired (luckily that’s the only place it’s ever happened) because it basically meant that I had little options to socialise at all; there were plenty of English speakers around, but I was committed to speaking French no matter what. (Of course, there were actually plenty of options right under my nose; I should have just hung out with other learners, but I was still a long way off improving my learning and socialising methods back then). Since I hadn’t really figured out yet how to practise a language away from its home country, I was also quickly losing my Spanish and Italian.

After work, I tended to just retreat back home and watch TV or study, which wasn’t helping much. My long-term goal to be a polyglot was seeming more and more impossible and the experience was a lonely and frustrating time for me. Paris is not a time I look back on nostalgically.

5 years of stubbornness

And this is where the closed-mindedness comes in. I had 9 months of “proof” in terms of my memories, that Paris was hell on earth and Parisians were the devil’s minions. And I was not shy to tell anyone who would (or wouldn’t) care to hear it.

Of course, people would argue. Plenty of people love Paris and would tell me how nice Parisians were. This made no difference to my convictions.

I could argue away their case with any twists of logic I could find. If it was a pretty girl, then a sexist comment about how that’s why she was treated nice would come up. If it was someone on a language programme, then it was because the Parisians were paid to be nice to them and endure their French. And of course if someone was there as a tourist or for a few months mostly speaking English, then it’s because they simply weren’t immersed enough to see the real truth.

I would dismiss the counter-proofs as irrelevant and embrace anyone else with a similar opinion to be flawnted as my comrade against evil. It’s something I’ve seen time and again from narrow minded people, but I was blind how to how I was doing the very same myself.

This opinion may have continued with me if it wasn’t for this blog and a general quest to try to rid my life of unnecessary negativity.

Being public about these missions and suggesting unconventional language hacks has lead to disagreements and arguments with people. I was initially surprised about this, but I should have expected it; if you challenge anyone’s long held beliefs that they have never questioned before, you are going to hear all about it.

When someone has such a long-term investment of years in a belief (languages take decades to learn, only the rich can travel, luck governs all, or in my case Parisians are aresholes), then they will passionately defend that belief, no matter what the benefits to being a little open minded may be.

Starting with a clean slate and opening your mind

Since my French has gradually and continually improved despite not being in France/Quebec any more, especially through hosting Couchsurfers, I’ve had the pleasure to meet some really nice Parisians. I had continued to mark them as the exceptions, since as travellers they were “bound to be” more open minded.

But in Bangkok, I realised that I had been carrying this weight for too long. It was time to get over myself and have an open mind about my opinion even if I “knew” it was true. I resolved to spend 3 days in Paris with the mission to leave with a positive impression of Parisians.

I actually succeeded within hours.

All it took was to really try and to challenge my own opinions and expectations. In those first 9 months I was waiting for them to prove themselves to me, and I never really analysed why they were treating me like that. “They’re shitheads” is an easy dismissive response of course, but it’s simply not true. Let me tell you the experience that changed it for me:

I had just arrived from a 13 hour flight from Bangkok at 6am with no sleep. Usually I tend to sleep at Couchsurfers’ houses, but I wanted to my own space this time and to just chill out by myself for a few days before going home. So I had booked the absolute cheapest hotel I could find (€35/night for an unimpressive roof over your head; far from the luxury I was getting in Thailand), but I was pleased to see when reserving that it also came with in-room wifi.

So when I got there, I really just wanted to check my e-mails and then collapse. After checking in, I asked for the wifi password and the receptionist said that the wifi is down, has been for weeks and won’t be repaired until the end of the month. I needed to check work e-mails, I didn’t need this problem in my exhausted state; I said that it’s false advertising and he shrugged and said (in French) that frankly, it wasn’t his problem.

Then it happened – I realised at that very second how I was reacting over my entire 9 month period. I was constantly fighting with Parisians and judging them by my standards of how people should act. In Ireland or other countries, a hotel (even a cheap hotel) receptionist just wouldn’t say that. “The customer is always right”, and if something isn’t perfect then it’s the business’s problem to solve it.

Look at it from their perspective

But I wasn’t in Ireland or Brazil or Thailand anymore. Also, hanging out with French people way more outside of France (ironically) than in it, meant that I had gained that glimpse into the culture that I hadn’t in those 9 months.

Although I still have lots to learn about French culture, the way I see it (sorry for more stereotypes!), the worker is given more respect in France than in some other countries, which alternatively focus more on the customer. Workers in France have quite a lot of rights and laws favour them more. Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant because that’s the way it is. Judging the Parisians by my rules meant that they were going to bite back. I was doing this with workers and with potential friends.

We love blaming our problems on others. The fact that I had experienced an isolated 9 months wasn’t their fault, as I had maintained; it was mine for dismissing the “negative” aspects I didn’t like. I should have been learning from these differences, but I was too stubborn to acknowledge such a possibility.

So this time I took a different appraoch. Even though I was tired and actually did need to check e-mails, I simply changed the subject and tried to relate to the receptionist. I told him about when I worked as a youth hostel receptionist in Rome and how I hated it when I got blamed for things that were out of my control, so I understand there’s nothing he can do. I tried to get on his side and said that he probably gets a lot of arrogant and angry foreign guests at the hotel blaming him for things that aren’t his fault.

He suddenly became way more friendly and we chatted for a few minutes. Using a few other tricks that I’ve learned from more exposure to the French, you know what? I actually got a wifi password! Ridiculous, but there was a “staff only version” that he gave me for being nice. No amount of complaining or threatening to talk to the manager etc. would ever have gotten me that. That’s just not how things work there.

After a rest, I went out and had a pleasant conversation with pretty much everyone I met for the rest of my stay, both worker and random young person. Changing my filter from just seeing the negative to starting to see the positive, actually gave me a positive experience in the end. If only I had realised this sooner, I wouldn’t have been carrying around this unnecessary baggage for so long.

On my last morning, I was getting breakfast before going to the airport and chatting to the guy at the boulangerie. Just before I left he actually congratulated me on my level of French; I’m already confident about my level of French and in other parts of France and in Montréal I had been complimented before, but this was coming from a Parisian. That’s well beyond the pas mal that I had always dreamed of, and all it took was to see things from the other person’s perspective.

So, what are you close-minded about?

The whole point of sharing this story is to try to get people to step outside themselves and see if any negative feelings you have towards something or someone could be resolved by simply trying to see the other point of view? Seriously, think about it for a minute. What do you really hate, or passionately disagree with? We don’t have to abandon everything we know to be true, but some “truths” do us more harm than good. Even basic things can be challenged if you really ponder over them.

It seems so obvious, but even the most intelligent people can’t see past their own egos and admit when they’ve made a mistake. Is saving face really more important than making peace? I genuinely thought that I would never make peace with Parisians, but being open minded about being close minded has almost instantaneously neutralised a major negative aspect of my life.

If you’ve had a similar experience with Parisians, or if you changed your mind about something after years of maintaining what you knew then share it with us in the comments :)

If you ask someone the question “Are you close-minded?” the answer will almost certainly be a no. I don’t think anyone in the world sees themselves as closed minded. They are always sceptical or simply convinced that the other guy is wrong. The description closed minded is one we tend to reserve for someone else. […]

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  • Tony

    I found this problem once I left the comfort of the UK. It seems that in the UK, the attitude is that the customer is always correct and that a customer's rights exceeds that of the employees. For example, if I stay in a hotel in England and I didn't like my night's sleep, I can argue and get my money back.

    Having been brought up with this attitude, I was in for a culture shock once I left. e.g. Ordering a pizza to be delivered and then being told there is no driver for an hour, lump it or leave it. Or when complaining in a shop that nobody will help you, and then being told that if you don't like it then go away.

    I've since learnt just to look at it from their point of view, as I have been quite rightly told “I just work here, what can I do”.

    I can also relate to the Parisians. I know a little French and I have visited Paris a few times, however whenever I speak I either get a funny look or I can get answered immediately in English. I never had this problem in other parts of France and in Switzerland. This isn't just limited to French though, I've found it everywhere where there are a lot of tourists, I'm under the impression that if you want the total immersion needed to learn a language quickly, you need to keep out of the capital cities and resort to the less touristy areas. I found that people will be much more interested in you when you speak their language and you will have no shortage or people to practice with (If you're lucky, they won't even speak English).

  • bartux

    le parisien, il vaut mieux l'avoir en journal :)
    http://www.divertissonsnous.com/2007/12/06/le-p

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Tony – I haven't quite found this in other touristy cities myself. It's hard to prove yourself in places like Paris more because they have very high standards for what it means to speak French; the English are exactly the same to be frank. This expectation doesn't exist in other (even major touristy) cities, so speaking in their language will be received with appreciation.

    Glad other people have seen this English-speaking obsession with blaming the worker so much. It's good of course for the customer, but sometimes we need to see the human aspect of things.

    • Myriiam

      It’s not true!! I’ve found this in Florence!! (where I’m living now) In the very touristic center, if you’re not Italian (and my french accent betrayed me!!) you’re treated like a piece of s…!! Maybe the difference is that in Paris (I’m from Paris) also if you’re french you’re treated the same!! 

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        In the very touristy center? I’m talking about cities as a whole and trying to live there. I was treated excellently in Florence and Tuscany in general – don’t judge a place by the most crowded parts of it. I’m not talking about Paris underneath the Eiffel tower and in front of Notre Dame, but the entire city – most of my time was spent in the south not close to any tourist sites.

    • Stephanie

      I spent two weeks in a Tuscan village one summer with my family and really acquired a lot of Italian while there because the woman who owned the villa would talk to me daily. If I asked directions, she would give them to me and then make me repeat them back to her. I had progressed greatly and was excited to try my new skills when we arrived in Garda. Unfortunately, as soon as I began to speak, the hotel staff interrupted me and started to speak in English. I was a bit crushed, but I saw it as they just wanted us to get our room info and key without further delay. Again, look at where you are, the situation and try again elsewhere.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    mdr !! :D

  • eroock

    Wise words. Me as a German I also find myself struggling to accept foreign standards in the service industries. Thanks for the reminding to keep my mind open…

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy

    It might be worth considering, also, that perhaps people immediately respond in English because they recognize from your accent (or grammatical errors) that you are an English-speaker, and the opportunity for them to practice their English trumps your attempt to speak their language? :)

    • http://stephenrice.eu Stephen Rice

      That’s a good point. You need to decide on a half time point to swap over so the other guy can practice ;)

  • http://www.fluenteveryyear.com/ Randy

    Benny, this is my favorite post from you. It perfectly illustrates the importance of keeping an open mind and a positive attitude.

  • crandles

    Wonderful post! I lived in Taiwan for six years and saw many foreigners lecture cashiers on “proper cashier behaviour” and other such non-sensical ideas. They were always convinced that they were being disrespected or looked down upon because they were foreigners. If the Taiwanese had negative feelings towards these people it was because the foreigners were the ones being rude, especially when they lectured shop clerks as if they were misbehaving children.

    Maybe because I had this experience, I had no problems in Paris. I went to Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday. I'd studied French in high school and at various times had to demonstrate a reading knowledge of it for graduate school, BUT I'd never had to speak French before. Needless to say my spoken French was filled with grammatical errors but no one corrected me and no one switched to English. I found Parisians delightful–the shop clerk in the Louvre who called another bookstore across town just to see if they had a copy of a book I wanted, the teashop owner whom I chatted to about his years in China who then refused to let me pay for my lunch; the security guard at the museum who opened up closed sections of the museum just so I could see them. The list goes on. I'm not sure why my experience was different–I wasn't in a lanaguage program, nor am I a pretty young woman–I'm a paunchy middle-aged guy speaking French for my first time–perhaps it was because I took an interest in the places and people I was around.

  • Nekesu

    I once visited Japan in 2003, I was only there a week though so I only got the tourist aspect of things. The people were nice, the cities were clean, and the people liked that I was studying Japanese. I was in Japanese 2 in high school at the time, but I tried to use any words I knew. I think I was the only one on the trip that asked for directions and prices of things, etc. Nobody spoke English to me(except an exchange student from Taiwan I met at a Japanese high school), so I had plenty of chances to practice speaking. Now that I think about it a lot happen in that 7 days, I hope to go back again, hopefully next year, and stay for longer than a week.

  • TropicalMBA

    Benny, this is one of my favorite posts on your blog so far. I think dealing with the French in gernal is such and interesting issue, and its so cool to see how you can re-frame your whole experience.

    Please excuse a zero reference cultural opinion, but way back in my past when I was studying French philosophy I was exposed to some some interesting theories on the French, if anyone is interested I'm sure they can track them down and analyze– the thesis goes generally that we “eurpoeans/westerners” expect the French to be easy to relate to and more compassionate to our approach because they look like us, whereas they have a historical genealogy that separates them from other Europeans more than their looks would s suggest. Interesting ideas! Not sure if true, thought I'd put it out there. Always enjoyed the matter-of-factness of the French.

    • Stephanie

      In one of my intercultural comm classes, that the on the spectrum of high context cultures (where words are less important than body language) and low context (words are what counts more heavily), that the French are high context, like most Asian cultures whereas the Anglophones, Germans and Scandinavians are pretty much at the other end as low-context. A professor once said that The French are like the orange, where you have to get past the rough exterior to savor the sweetness beneath. I’ve found this to be fairly true as well.

  • ielanguages

    Customer service is pretty non-existent in France compared to the Anglophone world. And it is true that French workers are treated better (healthcare for all! 5 weeks of vacations!) so the customer doesn't quite have to be “king” as the saying goes in French because they are not completely dependent on commission or tips like in US. They won't put in the extra effort to help you unless you give them something in return (like commiserating about being a receptionist).

    It's a classic part of le système-D (débrouillard) that foreigners need to master before they can get anything done in France. You always have to make it seem like they would be doing you a huge favor in order for them to help you out – and of course, they'll respond that normally, they wouldn't do this for anyone, but… it may seem like ass-kissing to get what you want, but it's really just the give and take of business transactions here.

    I understand why people have those stereotypes about French people, but when you look at the other end of it, i.e. that Americans are “fake” nice to everyone because they just want your tips, it gets easier to see that it's just a different perception of how things work. Neither are right or wrong; they're just different. And if you've only been exposed to one, of course the other will seem “wrong.”

    Even after reading books on French culture before moving to France, it still took me a few years to really get used to the système here and how everything works. There's no substitute for experience in the country itself, which is exactly why people need to travel more!

  • http://vladdolezal.com/blog/ Vlad Dolezal

    You just made me think of (tangentially related) quote I wanted to share:

    “Some people are so convinced that everyone has the right to believe what they want, they argue with people who believe the opposite.”

    Great post, by the way!

  • Quokka

    You don't know people that consider themselves as close minded ? Well, then you don't know me … my friend ;-)

    Okay, I admit. I don't regard myself as completely close minded. When it comes to things I do on my very own I would call my self rather open minded. (I like discovering musical genres I haven't heard of before, cooking new recipes, learning a new language (right now unfortunately purely input based *sigh*), read about unknown subjects, varying the way I do household chores… you name it!). Although I like the idea of meeting new people and learning one or two things from them I am way too often not exposing myself to new situations in this domain. I am afraid that I have to declare myself guilty of closed-mindedness in this case.

    As far as your post is concerned, this is another very strong one. It made me realise that acting the way people would like you to act doesn't necessary mean that you are merely superficial in order to be popular by hiding your own nature. Acting the way people would like you to behave is also an attribute of being open. I also appreciated that this post is about the Frenchmen as I am learning French right now and hope to spend (hopefully during summer break) some weeks over there. I hope there is more to come on this topic!

    I absolutely love your blog. Unlike most other blogs you seem to illuminate a good deal more different interesting aspects of your subjects. I feel that most blogers paraphrase themselves over and over again just to finally sell something that includes the same (worthless & superficial) “information”.
    Please keep up your spirit :-)

    btw: thank you for recommending Wisemans “The Luck Factor”. I found out that there is a free abridged version. You can download it here: http://www.theluckfactor.com/docs/ebooklet.pdf

    The funny thing is that the conclusion he provides are exactly what I have figured out on my own by analysing people I find charming. But I was quite stupid as I didn't adapt to the things I found out as there was no proof that my way of thinking would be right. But now that I know it is (somewhat) scientifically approved I am at least developing a little more towards that direction / being more positive. But unfortunately, this book also made me realise that I build way too much on science … a lot more then I was concious about it. Again, I guess I am closed-minded …

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Well to be honest I'm a little relieved that I'll be spending the next 3 months in Germany – there are none of these games I need to play there :P

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Randy!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Dan! Glad you liked it!
    It's interesting that reading Mark Twain and so on still echoes views of modern France, so it might just be a timeless enigma within Europe!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the comment! I actually read books telling me all about the système D before moving to France, but like with most self-help type books, I kind of just nodded, thought it was clever and never actually applied it! Sometimes you really have to live these things to truly understand them. So much more exposure to the French over the last 5 years opened my eyes up to this.

    Haha, he was indeed following the script! He said “I normally don't do this, but…”
    I think Ireland is in the middle because I found American cheesy smiles and the need for tipping quite annoying, but you say it best. The one you haven't been exposed to will be “wrong”.

    This is precisely why I encourage people to get out of their shell, travel and speak with human beings. Knowing all the vocabulary, grammar, exceptions and so on, still don't prepare you for actual life in the country. My narrow-mindedness about this in Paris haunted me for years until I came to terms with that.

    It's why I try to “blend in” in missions that I go beyond fluency; emulating body language and accent isn't enough. You need to understand how the locals think, and to me that is as way more important than any grammar rule ever can be.

  • Quokka

    Whereabout in Germany ? :-)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Berlin ;) More details on http://fb.me/fluentin3months and then I'll blog it just before going

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the closed-minded confession! You certainly don't come across as even slightly closed minded in the comment though…

  • opbackpackasia

    Benny, what an impressively self-scrutinizing and candid post and experience. It was one of the things I remembered most about you from the Bangkok meet-up, how vehemently you spoke out against the Parisiens and thoroughly trounced all over that poor girl's upcoming date (for which she was about to leave in the next few minutes ;)). I've no doubt this post and your experience will stay in my mind as clearly and deeply rooted as that one; thanks…I carry no anger or prejudices at the moment, but you may have just saved me much future anger. I am glad you were able to turn your perception and thus your experiences around. I'm sure it's a much lighter load to bear now. Leaves more room for your dragging so much of your physical crap around with you in trench coat pockets? ;) That's the other thing I took from our short time in proximity at the meet-up. Lol still workin on that one…you got any posts about it on here?

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Actually I spoke out against Parisians that night, so I could get a date with her… and I did :P
    Yes, in fact I think next week I might be ready to show the video of me packing 40kg into my no-frills flight ;)

  • http://www.operationbackpackasia.com/ G @ OperationBackpackAsia.com

    lol that's funny about the date…and kinda messed up. :)

    Enjoyed the post, anyway!

  • Linda

    Comgrats! Way to take the high road and bring something positive to the table. I love the French and I agree they can be very rude, but thats also what I like about them. They have the courage to say and do things most people are normally too polite to say but are thinking. Like in Canada, we are all so polite all the time that after a while it just feels ingenuine and to be honest somtime I just want to browse without a million people asking “If they can help me”. In Paris people just live and go about their bussiness and it just feels like a city that knows how to live. I have been treated fairly good, excellent and poorly but I always enjoy any interaction with the Parisians cause even if its bad I feel connected a little bit. Its all about your outlook.
    Basically, people will behave the way they have been conditioned to behave and when they dont want to see another point of view it is their loss, and we cant change the way they look at things but we can change the way we look at them. Most often I just feel bad for those “who are always right,” because they spend so much time argueing that they are right that they often miss a change to learn something new. And gaining more knowledge is not such a bad thing, at any age!!!

  • http://travelerahoy.wordpress.com/ Alouise

    I really enjoyed reading this post. It seems when we get a negative impression of a place, person or even a group of people it can be really hard to shake it off. My friend had the same attitude about Paris that you originally did. I didn't find that to be the case, although I was only there for a day. I think one's own perception can cloud how we see others, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Good for you for deciding to break that habit, it's not something that everyone would even try to do. You mentioned going to Quebec as well. I'm from Alberta and here there's an attitude here that everyone from eastern Canada is rude and arrogant (usually just applied for Ontario and Quebec – not so much for the Atlantic Provinces). I haven't been to Quebec, but the people I've met from there have all been very nice. And the western Canada perception that had been ingrained into me about Ontario was shattered when I went to Toronto and had a lovely time and met wonderful people. I think no matter where you go you'll find people who are friendly and nice, and others who maybe are a bit rude. But perhaps like the example you gave, there's a reason for why they appear that way. I work at a hotel and the customer is always right attitude can bother me, especially when the customer is being rude or blaming me for something out of my control. It's always a good idea to try and relate to the other's point of view, no matter what side of the counter you're on. Things could turn out good like it did for you.

    • Naomi

      Our own attitude is key also. Imagine if you are in Paris for the first time, literally walking on air because you are so excited, you smile at literally everyone & how will the world treat you back. Alternatively, you have lived your life in a rut, travel for the first time, expecting everything to be like at home & are cranky with all the little accidents & mishaps of travel, how will the world treat you back.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for the comments Linda ;)
    It's definitely an interesting part of their culture and I'm glad I finally appreciate it!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks Alouise! Seeing things from the other point of view is important, and I'm sure those in the service industry in English speaking countries would wish they were treated more like people as they are in France, even if the customer suffers a little because of it.

  • Lorenzo

    When abroad, the French do complain when they get treated badly though!

  • http://www.MyBeautifulAdventures.com/ GlobalButterfly

    Wow, what an EXCELLENT article!!! I couldn't agree more with what you've expressed. People definitely need to change their “filter.” Can't wait to read more of your posts.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your comments Ali! If you make it to Berlin over the next 3 months I'll be hosting and we can compare CS stories ;)

  • adventurerob

    Excellent article. All it takes to fix things is often a change of glasses/contact lenses/filter.

    Culture eh? Gotta love it.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yep, we travel for culture and yet I hear people complain about the culture of their destination all the time if it isn't watching traditional dance/music. There are social aspects at play too, that are extremely important in the destination's modern culture. Thinking outside the box helps you appreciate it better ;)

  • Eileen

    I've loved your post!
    Il est trés trés joli! :-)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com Benny the Irish polyglot

    Merci Eileen :)

  • nouvellevie

    For me, it's not about being close-minded or open-minded but more about being a positive or negative thinker. I also think it's the Law of Attraction at work too. If you have an negative mindset of a place (based on stereotypes of course and others' 'stories') when you get to that place yourself you're bound to have negative experiences as that's what you're attracting.

    I went to Paris 4.5 years ago for only 3 days/2 nights so I don't have a strong impression (or recollection) of the place but I don't have a single memory of a Parisian being 'rude' or unhelpful to me, yet I have LOTS of memories of nice, friendly, helpful locals. At the time I also don't remember seeing dog poo 'everywhere' I went and I have no memory of seeing any at all.

    I was told by everyone that 1) Parisians are rude and that 2) dog poo is everywhere, yet I didn't experience either of these things.

    I have a friend or two, who, after coming back from a vacation, will recount their stories and all I hear are the negative experiences. I find this absurd, because for me, I'm happiest when I'm on vacation and when I come back I have a billion stories to tell and they are all positive. I don't even remember the bad stuff let alone give it the time of day and tell my friends about it.

    What I feel about these friends of mine and people like that is that they have a negative (or close-minded as you say) mindset so they just keep on attracting negative things and experiences into their life…

    Regarding your other point, I think having worked in customer service makes it much easier to relate to the worker. I'm grateful for my many years in retail as I think I can easily relate to the worker, unlike others I know who have only ever had cushy office jobs, a lot of people have an arrogance about them that customer service workers are below them and therefore are to be treated like dirt and slaves.

    It's funny when people say that Parisians (or whoever) are arrogant, because the real case is that it is probably them themselves who are arrogant!

    • Naomi

      Spot on with the customer service tag!!! Working with the public, particularly tourists, is not a thing a lot of people do, so they are not used to how it is every day for these workers. The options are, while travelling, is either you have an empathy with them as you’ve done that job, or you know how to treat them & what to do from being well travelled (or at least I’d hope that people who are well travelled know how to treat service staff to get what they need easily) People who are not well travelled & who are not used to “tourist weary” workers will interpret their behaviour as rude.

  • Ed

    Benny, you're not the only one who's been taken aback by Paris, but at least you didn't need therapy:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15391010/

    Apparently, many Japanese tourists are so shocked by the rudeness they encounter in what they thought was the “most romantic city on earth” that they require hospitalization.

  • Madelyn

    I know this is an old post, but I had to comment on it.
    I know EXACTLY what you mean.
    In grade school, I was a budding french speaker. I spoke with an exceptional quebecois accent for a thirteen year old, and my grammar and vocabulary was about two years better than the other grade 8s. I won the French award, and was encouraged by my French teacher to continue learning French, and visit Quebec.
    So I did a month long exchange with a Quebecois girl.
    I wanted to murder her from the first second I met her. Quebec was clearly Satan's playground. Everyone was surly, mean, rude, and disgusting (another kid on the exchange had a homestay father with an amputated hand. Said homestay father would, while watching tv, gnaw on the stump until saliva ran down his arm onto his pants. I think you can imagine how horrifying that would be to a kid).
    The homestay daughter was two years younger than me (a big deal at 13), refused to speak a word of english, and nothing was ever good enough for her. She was a cranky little bitch and I hoped she'd choke and die. All the english kids quickly learned to speak in shakespearean english so they couldn't follow our conversations and rat us out to the counselors, it was that bad.

    I seriously hated Quebec, Quebecois and all French people after that trip. I gave up on French completely. The only solution to the evilness around me was clearly napalm, proton weapons, and a good deal of salt raked into the ground.

    I went to Montreal last year, and had a wonderful time. Quebec is a beautiful place. What I learned was that it was not really a French/English cultural clash that we experienced, but a city dwelling/extremely rural community clash, further exacerbated by poor matching and 13 year olds general ineptness at being tolerable human beings. I'll be living just over the border in Quebec next year to finish up my degree.
    It's amazing what returning with a fresh, open mind can do, isn't it?

  • Sos

    We do say that “le client est roi”. But you know what we do to kings…

  • Sos

    As a Paris-born Frenchman I felt slightly uneasy with the past comments about Parisians (although hating Parisians is something like a French national sport anyway), so saying that I liked this post is an understatement. (It also reminds me of the stories about Sao Paulo that you heard in Rio.)

    I find your example particularly eloquent too. With a few words, you changed your status from zillionth customer to fellow human being.

    Another interesting example : http://www.bonjourmadameblog.com/searching-for-

  • Nicholas

    Amazing article!

  • shortbaldman

    Suppose you're in London and a Russian speaks to you only in Russian and expects you to react as if you are Russian. How would you react? Probably you'd think or say “Get stuffed!” to him. Naturally, he would think you were arrogant and dismissive. Does this sound familiar?

    As an Australian tourist in Paris several times, and in other French-speaking areas such as New Caledonia in the Pacific, I have never once been treated arrogantly or dismissively by any French person. In fact quite the contrary, most French people seem to go out their way to help me, from the lady at the newsagency in the Gare de Lyon warning me to not leave my suitcase unattended, the receptionist at my 3-star hotel and the man in the Cambio at Charles de Gaulle airport organising together to return to me my lost passport and travellers cheques. On another trip my wife and I were invited to the opening of a new cafe and then to dinner at the home of people we had met at that cafe opening.

    My French pronunciation is atrocious. One French guy said to me “My God, where did you learn your French?” But I keep trying. And so I am sometimes answered in English, sometimes in French patiently repeated slowly and often until I understand, and sometimes I am given a good-natured pronunciation lesson. The thing is, it generally doesn't matter how bad your French is, as long as you attempt to do it. And another great thing is to smile a lot. (As you say, be positive rather than negative.)

    I found that to learn French (or any non-English language), it was better to immerse yourself without any opportunity to fall back to English. Travel alone. That way you start to think in French. I once found myself thinking “Merde!” instead of the English equivalent after only a couple of days in Paris.

  • hannah

    Having spent an academic year in France (in Poitiers) I came away with an enormously negative view of the people in that particular place. I didn't really have a negative view of the French before I lived there, and visiting France I had always found people friendly and helpful (even in Paris!) because I speak good French. I can say, however, that I spent a year in Poitiers (which, to give a frame of reference, is a town of almost 90,000 inhabitants, of which 27,000 are university students) with people literally pointing and staring at me in the street because I have dreadlocks and 3 facial piercings. Openly laughing at me. Adults slowing their cars down to stare at me on the street and point at me out of their windows. Girls my age, in particular, looked down their noses at me almost any time I had an interaction with them (I am a girl). I wouldn't want to generalise about the French as a whole, or even about all the inhabitants of that town, but I felt so astonishingly unwelcome almost everywhere I went that I spent my whole time hanging out with other ex-pats from various countries and hardly got a chance to speak French with native speakers because they were rude to me before I even opened my mouth. I would love to go back to France and stay in another, friendlier, place to perfect my French, but the experience has soured me on the French for a while and that saddens me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/betania.mueller#!/betania.mueller Be

    Se não se importa, vou escrever em portugues pq vi que vc é fluente.
    Estou gostando muito do passeio pelo seu site, vejo que tens uma sabedoria
    antropológica muito grande…mais uma vez, parabéns. Estou impressionada.
    Infelizmente fiquei poucos dias em Paris então saí apenas com minhas impressões,
    ser um estrangeiro nos deixa em uma posição vulnerável e as vezes não temos
    a coragem de tentar nos aproximar. Mas realmente, a primeira vista em Paris, isso
    é dificil! fico feliz que conseguiu algo depois desse tempo…eles não fazem a minima
    questão de ser legais com os estrangeiros. O máximo que consegui foi que fossem
    indiferentes. Parece que estão na defensiva sempre. Mas muito boas lições! ;)

  • Faye

    Oh dear, how eye-opening (well, on my end, that is). Reading about your rapid change of heart towards the Parisians has forced me to try and radically alter my negative views of the Chinese.

    Don't get me wrong — I am a part Indo-Chinese part- Hong Kee girl, yet I don't speak Mandarin, and for a long time, never had any intention to. I have had (forced) formal lessons in Mandarin for the past 6 years, with no progression. Looking back, it was primarily because this the necessity to learn this language has been drilled into me since birth. I am the type of person who resists anything that is forced unto her. The fact that my parents are literally forcing me to learn the language, and coupled with my principles and beliefs that clashed with my relatives' ones in Hong Kong have all contributed to making me hate the language. Other little factors, like my father taking me to literally every single part of China, and my hate of busy cities with large crowds have aided in fueling my loathing.

    But now, I shall try to discard my self-drilled stereotypes of the Chinese and try to learn the language for real. It is very strange, because I happen to be a person who loves cultures and languages (I also aspire to be a polyglot in the far, far-off future), and being already bilingual myself, there shouldn't be any reason why my Mandarin-learning is being hindered. Now I realise that it is all because of the barriers that I have placed onto myself.

    /runs off while I attempt to speak to the Chinese people in my country/

    By the way, why don't you try learning south-east asian languages? Indonesian is extremely easy to learn (no tenses, no genders, easy pronunciation) and very very simple to pick up. Locals in Indonesia will only be too willing to help and will be more than delighted to witness your attempts in Indonesian, and offer suggestions. Although Indonesian and Malay are mutually intelligible, Indonesian has a far better accent (heavy with rolled r's and expressive sounds) so it's worth a try!

    There is no reason why you shouldn't be fluent in it by 2 months!

  • Jennysgordon

    What an interesting blog. I have been living in Portugal for over 2 years and have a similar negative attitude to the Portuguese and the country. It largely stems from disappointment in myself due to my failure to pick up the language really fast as was expected of me by everyone who knows me (I am fluent in Czech, a much ‘harder’ language).

    This is only the first entry of yours I’ve read and I plan to have a good read now – for tips on how to change my situation. It is so true that your personal psychological approach to a place really does have a very strong impact on your resulting attitude and success there (or lack of it).

  • Stranger Here Myself

    Sorry, bro, but you were right the first time. I was in Paris for two years and never had one Parisian friend — Asians, Africans, North and South Americans, other Europeans, and French people from other parts of France, sure, but not one Parisian. Every day was an exercise in maintaining a positive self image while 90% of the people I encountered treated me with contempt.

    Not all cultures are created equal; the Parisians are not just different, they are unkind.

    Your technique of being hyper-friendly (like your technique of talking to everybody described in “Don’t Be Shy”) might have worked for you, but I feel obliged to say women should not try to apply it to men. Parisian men interpret even eye contact as a sexual invitation, and they don’t think women ever mean it when they say no. Women are a safer bet, but of course, Parisian women are notoriously unfriendly, probably due to a lifetime of dealing with Parisian men.

    Sure, you can still find people to practice French with, but they probably won’t be Parisians. And that’s fine. But just as you shouldn’t contort the facts to conform to a stereotype, you shouldn’t contort them to conform to a “positive” world view.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Sorry but I think your two years has jaded you similar to how my nine months jaded me. Even if you spend ten years there without changing your interactions with Parisians you can never get along with them. They are definitely harder than most people in the rest of the world, but it’s possible to get them to treat you friendly.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Glad to hear my posts are boosting your motivation :) Keep up the good work, and remind yourself how nothing is impossible while you are achieving the impossible ;)

  • http://twitter.com/barcodex barcodex

    Benny, I started reading fin3m several months ago but somehow missed this post. And I should say that after finally finding and reading it today, I also think it’s the best. Illistrating your ideas with examples of your own past – it’s the best recipy to promote them. Unfortunately, both times I were in Paris, they were before I spent 2 years in a language school studying French, so I can’t comment on the reception of my broken French by Parisians, but the next time I go there, I will try speaking to them in French, and I will definitely use your advices to use a positive filter!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      A few people said it was their favourite article of mine! More like this on the way :)

  • http://thefranco-americanflophouse.blogspot.com/ Victoria Ferauge

    They are a pretty strange tribe. :-)

    I moved to France in 1989, got married and have pretty much been here ever since. Language was only one of the hurdles I had to overcome before I felt at home.

    I think you did an excellent of job of capturing one of the essential pre-requisites to learning a second language – a positive attitude and a lot of empathy. Parisians are wonderful people once you get to know them (full disclosure, I’ve been married to one for 20+ years).

    In the dark moments when I was struggling to learn enough French to get through a job interview I found Professor Kenji Hakuta’s work to be illuminating. He co-authored an excellent book with Ellen Bialystok titled In Other Words: the Science and Psychology of Second-language Acquisition. I highly recommend it.

  • http://twitter.com/julieparisienne Julie S

    I have been living in Paris for 2 1/2 years and it is hard hard hard. Yes there are nice people, once in a blue moon you can find someone who will speak french to you and I think once I even had a friendly waiter but I have to say unfortunately that everything you said in your before part still applies…RESCUE ME please!!!! :D

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      What changed for me didn’t need to happen after 9 months, and if I had continued with that job (they offered me a permanent position as an engineer, but at a pathetic wage) I would have likely spent several years in Paris and may never have found out what was causing all the trouble.
      You have to give it a fresh start! The presumption that they’ll be rude comes across in how YOU act – I know from experience. Trying to start over is how I managed to find a solution!!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I agree. I’m a fan of cities, but the 2nd or 3rd city, or especially the university city (Toulouse in France, Salamanca in Spain etc.) have such a better and more friendly young crowd.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Natives never feel offended. The only people that have been are those online who jump to conclusions quickly about my motivations for doing this as putting flags in languages and moving on rather than a means to meet people. Everyone I’ve ever met in person thinks it’s great what I’m doing, since they can see that I’m genuine.

    I met a lot of deaf people in Austin and they also thought what I was doing was fantastic – many of them said they shared my blog with their hearing friends to encourage them to attempt something similar.

    Please be clear about your definition of “fluent”. Saying you can’t become fluent in any language in “less than a lifetime” is pretty much the silliest thing I’ve read for a while.

    I’m not interested in “conquering” – I’m just learning and using languages. Doing so quickly is efficient. Don’t get offended by that.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Tu veux dire ma “performance néerlandais” ? ;)
    Après mon séjour à Paris, je suis allé à Toulouse où j’ai passé 3 mois. Mon impression de l’Hexagone a changé tellement alors !! T’inquiète, j’adore les Français ;) Pas trop les Parisiens :P mdr

  • Anonymous

    I know this is an old post but I’ve just discovered it and, as many others have said, I think it’s one of my favorites of yours! I’m actually planning on going to Paris a couple of months from now and will be spending 10 months there. I’m choosing to go there because, like you, I prefer cities, but I was a little worried by everything I’ve heard about Parisians being rude, etc. But what you’ve written here is so encouraging. It’s so neat to see how a small change in attitude can turn your whole experience around! Bravo. =D

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      What I write is encouraging, but I still recommend you move to Toulouse instead of Paris if you can :-P If you don’t, have a good time anyway! It’s tough to apply the advice I give here, but I’m sure you can do it :)

  • http://stephenrice.eu Stephen Rice

    Yeah, it’s definitely I am right, you are closed minded.

  • http://www.budgettraveladventures.com/ Jeremy Branham

    Yes, I am closed minded.  The thing is, my opinions are based on logic and rational thinking from my perspective and it works for me.  I guess in the same way your experiences, logic, and rational way of thinking worked for you in France.

    For me, I learned a little about the culture in France when I was in Paris in 2005.  I actually spent Thanksgiving with an American couple living in Paris.  They told me the same things you did about the rights of workers, how it’s nearly impossible to fire someone there (it’s why the students were rioting back then – they couldn’t get a job because none ever opened up), and how the French are proud yet sometimes lonely.  It was an eye-opening look inside a culture I probably wouldn’t have experienced on my own.

    I think the lesson in this is to try and understand.  I am going to be passionate and opinionated but maybe I can learn to listen and understand first.  Until then, I’ll keep all my close-minded thoughts to myself.

  • Anonymous

    So, you got someone who was initially acting like an arsehole to you to do what you wanted by kissing his arse? Surely that makes him _more_ of an arsehole because he was lying and could’ve done what he’d (as a representative of the business) had previously claimed they could do? The contrast is someone who genuinely couldn’t help and had to put up with angry customers. The conclusion you draw from this is that because you were more skillful in getting what you want that makes you more open minded than before, but based on what you’ve written I can’t agree with that conclusion.

    Understanding that you have a perspective, that everyone has a perspective, and that this world is built on perspectives is a really useful thing but it doesn’t mean you should skew your own perspective from a negative one to a positive one just because you consider it to be “positive” or because it gives you relief/pleasure. Understanding that negative can be seen as positive from a different perspective is helpful, but it doesn’t stop something or someone being negative within a certain context.

    It got you your emails and it relieved some tension in your mind so in that way it was a good thing for you, but the premise is too weak for me. The overall desire to get along is good, but it would be easier without people acting like arseholes. I’ve been round the world and there are many different forms of consideration/manners/rudeness, but understanding them doesn’t magically make inconsiderate into considerate.

    It’s just my view and even though I don’t agree with you I still think it was worth you posting, and hope that my comments don’t seem too harsh. It’s difficult to say what you think in print and not sound harsh, so apologies if it does.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      To him, people coming into his work place being stern with him are the arseholes. You don’t seem to be able to see it from the other point of view, and this is essential for cultural understanding.

      • Anonymous

        So, because I disagree with you _I_ can’t see his point of view? Nice ad hominem there! :-D  I’ll let it slide though because I can see that you can’t see what I can see.;-)Tell me again how seeing his view negates what I wrote – you did read it, right?”Understanding that negative can be seen as positive from a different perspective is helpful, but it doesn’t stop something or someone being negative within a certain context.”I tell you what’s helpful for cultural understanding, *listening*.  For instance, how I noticed you didn’t mention being stern to him at first, that you asked for something and he lied to you immediately. What an arsehole you are! If only I’d seen it from his point of view!;-)  It just looks like kamma to me. Treat people like shit, you get a lot of people being shit back. You say you offer wifi but don’t, you get a lot of stern customers. You kiss an arsehole’s arse, they do you a favour.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

          Your logic is so weak. I don’t need Latin terminology to point out “because I disagree with you _I_ can’t see his point of view?” as being faulty based on my brief reply. I’m not going to “let it slide” myself, but you do no better and continue to miss the point and indeed his point of view.
          You misunderstand everything here. I didn’t kiss anyone’s arse, I tried to relate to a human being rather than treat him as a clog in a machine. It’s very easy to sit in an armchair and think you understood everything that went on.

          The real world isn’t as simple as you are making it out to be.

          • Anonymous

            Your site is called fluent in 3 months, and you have a problem with someone using a latin loan word in English? Very strange attitude to have.

            Let’s get two things straight. I pointed out that I wasn’t there with my last reply (should I need to?) – while hinting that if you’d left things out that are pertinent then that was down to you (obviously).

            Secondly, I was also clear from the start that I understand his perspective. I just don’t agree with it. To understand someone’s perspective is not that same as agreeing with it. That’s the fundamental bit of logic you missed. 

            Now either he lied to you immediately when you’d just asked for wifi, or he didn’t and you were stern to him. In the first situation he’s being an arsehole. In the second you are. If there’s more information you need to pass on do it, but reading your responses it looks like it was you that was the arsehole.

      • Anonymous

        So, because I disagree with you _I_ can’t see his point of view? Nice ad hominem there! :-D  I’ll let it slide though because I can see that you can’t see what I can see.;-)Tell me again how seeing his view negates what I wrote – you did read it, right?”Understanding that negative can be seen as positive from a different perspective is helpful, but it doesn’t stop something or someone being negative within a certain context.”I tell you what’s helpful for cultural understanding, *listening*.  For instance, how I noticed you didn’t mention being stern to him at first, that you asked for something and he lied to you immediately. What an arsehole you are! If only I’d seen it from his point of view!;-)  It just looks like kamma to me. Treat people like shit, you get a lot of people being shit back. You say you offer wifi but don’t, you get a lot of stern customers. You kiss an arsehole’s arse, they do you a favour.

      • Anonymous

        So, because I disagree with you _I_ can’t see his point of view? Nice ad hominem there! :-D  I’ll let it slide though because I can see that you can’t see what I can see.;-)Tell me again how seeing his view negates what I wrote – you did read it, right?”Understanding that negative can be seen as positive from a different perspective is helpful, but it doesn’t stop something or someone being negative within a certain context.”I tell you what’s helpful for cultural understanding, *listening*.  For instance, how I noticed you didn’t mention being stern to him at first, that you asked for something and he lied to you immediately. What an arsehole you are! If only I’d seen it from his point of view!;-)  It just looks like kamma to me. Treat people like shit, you get a lot of people being shit back. You say you offer wifi but don’t, you get a lot of stern customers. You kiss an arsehole’s arse, they do you a favour.

      • Anonymous

        So, because I disagree with you _I_ can’t see his point of view? Nice ad hominem there! :-D  I’ll let it slide though because I can see that you can’t see what I can see.;-)Tell me again how seeing his view negates what I wrote – you did read it, right?”Understanding that negative can be seen as positive from a different perspective is helpful, but it doesn’t stop something or someone being negative within a certain context.”I tell you what’s helpful for cultural understanding, *listening*.  For instance, how I noticed you didn’t mention being stern to him at first, that you asked for something and he lied to you immediately. What an arsehole you are! If only I’d seen it from his point of view!;-)  It just looks like kamma to me. Treat people like shit, you get a lot of people being shit back. You say you offer wifi but don’t, you get a lot of stern customers. You kiss an arsehole’s arse, they do you a favour.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      To him, people coming into his work place being stern with him are the arseholes. You don’t seem to be able to see it from the other point of view, and this is essential for cultural understanding.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I’m sure there is some historical or cultural reason, but I didn’t find people to be mean to me in Toulouse. Parisians just have an especially high opinion of their language, and anyone not producing it perfectly is “insulting” it.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_S6BY26FQMRNEIBGV7JDNWEURUM CassieB

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been studying French for several years now and I’ve been nervous about the how the French people act and this honestly makes me feel much better. I try really hard to ignore stereotypes but the worries still lingered. I’m also studying Japanese and I’m deadly afraid of meeting them too! I know they’re very friendly yet I fear that the cultural difference is too great. 

    Thanks again. :)

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TMZKZHGTNQZ4TA3UFSR27QHBPA am143

    Thank you for the blog! I read this with a lot of interest because I can really identify. I’m from Texas and I married a Canadian and have been living in Vancouver for over a year now. I have never lived anywhere but in the US and I always had the impression that Canada was just like us. Well, I was wrong. The last year has been an incredible learning experience. As you said, I expected everything to be the same. When things were different, I would get upset about it (It could be because I live in a part of Canada that is culturally very diverse). I would get angry when a store clerk didn’t provide me with enough attention, or someone refused to speak to me in English, etc. So I complained, and railed, and started to become bitter about a lot of things. But, my husband, who is not from North America, made it very clear to me that Americans are not the center of the world. I’ve come to realize that, and to embrace it. I am beginning to enjoy the differences but opening the mind is a process. :)

  • http://twitter.com/AaliyahSooNYy S.

    Maybe if people stopped looking at France and immediately thinking about Paris they would have explored other french cities such as Perpignan, Marseilles, Lyon or maybe even Strasbourg (my hometown :D).  I promise once you travel around France you find some nice people and – if lucky- a nice weather. I’m 17 so I can’t really say that I’m an experimented traveler (I’ve been through Europe a bit and went as far as Morocco is) but I’d love to do what you do and I WILL do it. Lots of love and God bless ! ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Sorry but it is NOT politeness when people grimace at you for speaking their language. Parisians are not polite in my book, but after working hard to change and adapt to them, they will be nicer.

  • Amber Rousse

    Although this post is quite old, I encountered it now and want to share a similar experience. I have been living in Sweden for about two years with my husband. We both, along with our array of other immigrant friends (not from our home countries either), find it to be extremely difficult to integrate with the Swedish people. I am trying very hard to convince myself that it is a cultural difference that I don’t understand how to manage yet, but I still get into situations where I really want to blame the Swedes. I am surrounded by the negativity of my friends who really dislike “the way Swedes are” and have no desire to try to change their views to integrate themselves. I would like to be able to integrate, but another part of me thinks I shouldn’t have to try so hard to make friends, when I easily connect with other immigrants. I never am satisfied with complacency, but I question how much energy I should devote to try to win the friendships of people at the expense of some other more “natural” relationships with other foreigners.

  • jackster12

    Benny,

    SO sorry that you and others have had such negative experiences in Paris. My wife and I have lived here on and off (mostly on) for the last 11 years… came here barely able to order a baguette… and have found the French exactly the opposite of how you describe at the start of this post.

    That is, they’ve mostly been very helpful and complimentary of our French speaking efforts, right from the start.

    It’s true, there’s a lot here that’s tough to do because it’s just done in a French way (read: lots of discussion, red tape, and veiled conversational twists). But the arrogant French we’ve found have been limited to the places where you pretty much find arrogance everywhere, ala train stations, tourist traps, etc. And even then, it would be an overstatement to say they’ve been unpleasant (at least to us).

    We’ve even had children born here and, by all reports with which to compare, our experience was practically heaven compared to what happens in other places (including the U.S., where medical staff are — oddly — very much like the stereotype you outlined for the French.).

    I do, however, like and credit you for the revelation at the end of your post. I read through some of the comments below and can only conclude some people just aren’t ready to get it, yet… that the people you interact with are more reacting to you rather than presenting themselves as they are.

    By the way, I came to your site looking for a way to increase my French… learn Spanish… etc. I’m almost certainly going to be buying your instructive stuff. Love your philosophy of getting started in languages.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rivera.brent Brent Rivera

    That’s the very challenge of travel—you’re forced to see things from your host country’s perspective. If you don’t, your opportunity for growth is wasted.

    The old adage, “When in Rome…” is old because it’s fundamentally true.

  • loulou

    I’m French, and many French people just feel the same about Parisiens.

  • Naomi

    I agree! I read this whole post & most of the comments & nowhere anyone has pointed out that maybe the receptionist was having a crap day? He works in a cheap hotel, & his life is probably not all he wants it to be & he has to deal with tired cranky cheap tourists all day long! I live in a small tourist place in Australia where we the locals are genuinely friendly with each other but we generally tolerate & have to be nice to tourists/guests. They can be super irritating, especially when they think they are better than us (more money, from a bigger country). Anytime I go to a big city eg Sydney/Melbourne I am always surprised how uninterested shop assistants/receptionists etc are in having a genuine interaction unless I have started one already eg over email. Even smaller places in our regional area also do not do “great service” generally only doing what they have do “there you go love” with no eye contact & that’s about it. Unless I start the conversation & seem interested in their life (let’s face it, dealing with the public on a daily basis is usually a pretty low rent job) I get nowhere. I can’t imagine it’s that much different in other big cities.

  • jonniferus

    I moved to Paris 5 years ago (I’m American) and I spoke good French from the beginning. I too found myself fighting with people at first and I was very intimidated by the condescending/dismissive attitude or outright scoldings I got from shopkeepers, bakers, random people on the Metro, etc. It’s shocking being treated like that when you’re not accustomed to it. It’s much better now. I know the cultural codes – the right tone to strike in a given situation, the different menu of acceptable reactions, if you will – and I can hold my own better if there is a confrontation. More than other places I think you need to know the “right” way to act for things to go smoothly here.

  • orose21

    No because you are in /their/ country so YOU are the one that has to make most of the effort. Why would someone else change everything they grew up knowing and their attitude towards things when they are in their own country and you are the stranger/foreigner?

  • orose21

    Oh and I don’t me ‘not be closed minded’ I mean such as the guy said above about the password. Why should the receptionist change his perception of his work (customer is not king like in America) when you are the one that is the guest in his country?

  • hope

    Hi..think this is a very important point you make. I was not getting along w someone, and finally i realized i was provoking them…arguing when they said something. In India they have this saying…regard your husband like a snake coiled ready to strike, or another translation: a poisonous snake capable of being exciting by even a trifle.

    I started treating this girl like that, and boy, did it make a difference….I stopped doing alot of things i had been doing….

    At first, I just started being aware, like you say, of how I was sounding, what i was saying. Then I realized it was my own fault for ‘going there’….

    Nice to hear your story..

  • http://www.facebook.com/zoha.khokhar.7 Zoha Khokhar

    Good to see that you got over the negativity in the end, though. ^^ Sounds rather scary, running into a cultural block like that and not understanding what’s gone wrong, but it was an encouraging read to know you can eventually break through.

    It’s possible I might have an easier time if I ever start travelling, since in my language, when you’re being polite, you usually speak to the other person as if they’re doing you a huge favour, and talk about yourself as if they’re doing you the favour for allowing it. Always humble self, always respected others. But who knows.

  • http://www.zarachiron.com/ Zara Chiron

    Whoa..after having lived 2 years in Lyon with the “cold” Lyonnais I can only respect the brilliant attitude contained in this article. It is easier said than done, but if you do live your life this way, you simply can’t go wrong! It helps to meet people where they are at.

  • Marion

    Benny, ce post est vraiment fabuleux :) J’adore ton blog et j’admire ta détermination et ta volonté de travailler dur pour maîtriser toutes ces belles langues et mieux connaître les citoyens de notre monde.

    Originaire de Toulouse, j’ai toujours eu un problème avec les parisiens (même mes propres cousins qui vivent là-bas), leur mauvaise humeur, leur froideur et leur mépris envers le reste de la France…

    Bref, j’évite autant que possible d’aller à Paris car à chaque fois que j’y suis, c’est une expérience pénible et j’en repars énervée contre tous les parisiens, sans exception…

    Ton post m’a ouvert les yeux d’une façon incroyable. Je nourris du ressentiment envers eux depuis tellement longtemps que ça a dû influencer mon attitude. Je pars perdante et sur la défensive à chaque fois et c’est sûrement pour cela que l’expérience est tout le temps négative…

    La semaine prochaine, je vais passer quatre jours à Paris et je vais tenter ta technique en espérant m’apercevoir que j’avais tort de les juger comme ça :)

    Merci beaucoup ;)

  • john

    Benny you are a piece of shit, huge piece of shit. You scammer!

  • Herman

    La grande majorité des Parisiens méprisent en premier lieu les Français qui ne sont pas Parisiens… Pour eux, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Lille ou d’autres grandes villes françaises sont indignes du moindre intérêt… ! La prochaine fois que tu viens en France, visite Lille, les gens sont accueillants et chaleureux !

  • Herman

    Super blog en tout cas !

  • Mjhmjh

    Maybe he can’t afford to go to England yet, because he’s working full-time and studying at night, or has a wife and several children to support.

    I am grateful to all the people who spoke English, but patiently helped me practise speaking their language, so I’m happy to pass it on, by helping others with their English occasionally, even when I’d rather use my own foreign-language skills.

  • Qukis

    So, what are you closed minded about? – an excellent question!
    Attitude can be a powerful tool for success or failure.
    Positivity is not just another bullshit, it has real value.
    Thanks for the article!

  • Mara

    when i first went to paris, i didn’t know what to expect. in many capital cities, the people are considered “rude”, simply because live in a capital is hectic and individualistic.
    however, when i was completely lost and trying to find the metro in a rather rural part of paris, there was a lady who walked me all the way to it! for 10 minutes! we conversed, and she told me places i should visit, giving me some tips as she was parisian.

  • Erin

    I absolutely love this… I spent a month in France last year and came away feeling so let down. I wondered why the French were so rude to tourists, why I was given disgusted looks everywhere I went, why nobody seemed to want to help me out if I needed assistance. Looking back I can see things differently, I can tell that of course tourists are bothersome to the people that live there every day, and I can see that having a conversation with somebody who is not very good at your language could be irritating, especially if you’re in a rush or trying to do something yourself. I know now that a lot of things I interpreted as “signs they didn’t like me” were really just “the French being French” – nobody will help me with my bags if I am struggling, nobody will assist me in finding the right word to complete my sentence, nobody will get me out of every problem I get myself into because simply, they have their own lives and their own issues and I need to be able to do things on my own. It’s so good to know that other people have felt the same way about Paris and overcome it, and it makes me excited about my next visit!

  • J Aubrey

    This is a FANTASTIC change in perspective about the French and Paris. I just moved to Paris 3 weeks ago, and had a very similar realization when the last train home was cancelled at the last minute due to a strike. I was pissed, but every other Parisian around didn’t seem to fret too much. “C’est la vie” as they say, and the staff for the train have their rights. We just have to deal with it in our own way, rather than harass them to solve our inconveniences for us. After that, my attitude about the French changed; I finally see things their way a lot better now.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Great open mind! :) You’ll have a great time in Paris with that attitude ;)

  • Steve

    Looking at some of the goofy pictures of yourself you post on this site and the general arrogance in some of your writing, I really am not too suprised. The way you are treated in Paris is simply a reflection of what they don’t like about you. It’s not the Parisian’s job to welcome you into their city. It’s not beholden on them to like you, or be impressed with your French. If they don’t, you are better to look in the mirror than blame them. Even in your article here you are reaching for reasons to explain it away but you miss the point. If you are a superficial, full of yourself prat, you’ll find it hard to get along there naturally. In many ways Parisians are the opposite of what you dislike about Amerians. I’ve never had a negative experience with real Parisians. I’m well traveled and I’ve found them among the friendliest and most genuine people in Europe. If a Parisian doesn’t seem to like you, it’s generally a good time to look in the mirror, and while you may have learned to deal with them, their opinion of who you are naturally still stands to reason. They are a great judge of character (maybe painfully for you) precisely because they’re not afraid to be.

  • Edgar Roock

    This board really brings the message home

  • Daniel Brockert

    This reminds me of my experience in Korea. I found it very difficult to get people to understand my accent and people didn’t really want to try. People can’t believe me when I say Chinese was easier to learn than Korean despite the tones and writing, but I think the social differences played a HUGE role. In China you can have bad tones and still get people to understand you since they have so many dialects that they are used to accents.

  • Stephanie

    Growing up in the States, customer service is, like in the UK, very customer-oriented. I worked however in retail and in restaurants for many years while in undergrad and to afford my study abroads, so I’ve been on both sides of the coin: customer and employee. I think it allows me to be more patient because I know that the person providing me the service is just doing his/her job and i have no idea what could have happened already that day, etc. in that person’s life. Like Benny did on his second trip, I try to put myself in the other’s shoes and it truly does work most of the time.

    My second study abroad was to Paris. I had all the romantic notions of most students of French and francophiles in general. I was bound and determined to win over the Parisians and become fluent while there. Keeping those goals in mind, it affected the way I did everything in many positive ways and when things got tough (nothing like trying to deal with French paperwork bureaucracy), I kept reminding myself why I was doing it.

    I have so many funny, touching and downright great memories of my 18 months there. I not only became fluent, but made Paris so familiar to me that anytime I am there, I feel “at home.”

    Parisians are like any metropolitan city dweller. They are on the go, in a rush much of the time, so asking questions about directions, etc. is going to be a largely fruitless endeavor unless you do the following. Find the elderly man or woman sitting on a park bench or strolling slowly down the street and politely ask them for directions. They usually have all of the time in the world, would love an interesting conversation and I are pleased to help. I’ve had people take me where I wanted to go because they were headed in the same direction. These are the people too to chat up in parks, etc. to work on your language skills and learn about the culture. They tend to be more patient as you struggle to find the words you are seeking. (I had a great train ride once to Belgium with an 85 year old German woman where she didn’t speak English and my German was extremely weak-yet we had the most amazing discussion about family, life, etc.)

    Go to cafés and clubs that are not tourist-driven. Sit at the bar and observe for a bit, then if it feels right, chat up the barman, other patrons. They can be a lively bunch!

    Even if homesick, try to avoid other students/travelers from your culture to avoid falling into the trap of having someone to speak your language with. We are usually louder and more boisterous when feeling super comfortable and that’s when the stereotypes occur while you’re out and about-locals might treat you differently than if you weren’t in that group. Imagine a large group of some language you don’t speak well or speak at all coming your way in your country. You feel a bit bombarded and might become intimidated or defensive based on perception.

    In my travels, I avoid other Americans las much as possible and instead hang out with the people of other cultures that I am studying with. French was our main language of conversation, but you also acquire phrases from their languages and have even new places and friends to visit. Score!

    Allow other travelers to tell you about their experiences, but don’t take them to heart. While doing a homestay in Costa Rica, the other borders were also American and refused to speak the required Spanish in the house. They told me tour “mom” would never let them upstairs to the family area where the t.v. was and they had been there studying at the university for 6 months (yet they hardly spoke Spanish?-You get the picture). I ignored their remarks and practiced speaking my weak Spanish all the time with our “mom” when I’d get home from school and I stayed away from these girls. Guess who was invited to come up to the family area starting her third night in the country? Do not let others opinions and experiences affect yours.

    If you prefer a slower pace of life, the south of France is the place to go. Like Benny said, Toulouse is a great city and people there are fairly friendly. Little villages and towns are very tight-knit, but there too you may find a positive curiosity exists about you and your culture.

    I do agree and so would my Parisian friends, that the French who have wanderlust like most of the people on this forum are extremely open-minded, friendly and chill.

    Lastly, always keep in mind that no matter where you go, there’s always an a-hole or two that can’t get past their stereotypes and are rude. Remember that it’s their loss, their issue and move on to meet others. I make it a point to never leave a country with a bad impression of its people. It forces you to get yourself out there and make new friends.