Friday, October 23, 2009

C'est Pas Rude

Are Parisians, and collectively the entire nation of France, rude? It seems that almost everything I have read about traveling in France - directly or indirectly - suggests they are.
Some American published travel guides caution about the famous French attitude and suggest ways of dressing and speaking that will help hapless tourists blend in. For the record, wearing white, American branded running shoes accessorized with a massive Rick Steeves fanny pack will make you stand out, and likely be ridiculed in any country but your own red, white and blue United States of America. It's not de rigeur.
Apparently the closer you get to the capital city, the more likely you are to be the recipient of a sneer or a shrug. I recently read an article in Runner's World magazine that basically summed up Paris' annual marathon - - as a disappointment because of the scant number of volunteers and spectators. I guess the stunning scenery, history, and amazing selection of post run carbo loading opportunities - bonjour chocolate mousse bar! - wasn't enough for this embittered American runner. I sincerely hope they enjoy the free Power Bar gels and the view of their local Walmart Superstore as they run past herds of overzealous, cowbell ringing spectators at their annual "Rock and Roll Marathon".
Closer to home, and distinctly un-Canadian in my opinion, was the comment made to me recently by a colleague that she hated "French accents". Admittedly I am biased when it comes to all things French but of all the accents to disdain, French does not rate. French is sexy and delicious; the accent makes me want to eat well, live well, and spend hours in architecturally rich museums wearing scarves and discussing arte.
But back to the question of rudeness...

It was in Julia Child's lush book My Life in France that she observed - and here I am paraphrasing in the cruelest way - that the French are not rude, but they are proud. Proud of their culture, their history, the almost aggressive beauty of their country, their food, etc., and etc. Her observation struck me for two reasons: First, though I have never experienced a travel anecdote worthy moment of French (specifically Parisian) rudeness, I admit that I have often walked the streets of Paris in half-anxious anticipation of such a moment. Second, I live in a city that for much of the year is overrun by tourists frothing at their fanny packs at the promise of spending time in a city that has often been rather depressingly marketed as "Little England". with the added bonus of scenic ocean and mountain views and marine wildlife. It is a city that is no stranger to Conde Nast's "top ten lists" ( and it is a city that can bring out the worst, as in the rudest of rude manners of locals, myself included.

Perhaps then rudeness is best measured in relative terms. If you live in a place that boasts a two-lane bridge and a Dairy Queen as its star tourist attractions, then as a resident of such a town, you can ill afford to be unwelcoming to any poor tourist that stops on the bridge to take a photograph. But if, like me, you live in a "top ten" destination, where during certain months of the year negotiating your favourite local street to get your lunchtime sandwich becomes a nationality obstacle course and your emotions get the better of you, then you can perhaps understand the French tendency towards exasperation.

As I dream - quite a bit these days - about living in Paris, I wonder if I would ever stop being in awe of its beauty. I wonder if I would ever just walk past the Eiffel Tower without so much as looking up or be able to not stare in open admiration at the parade of female chicness. Would I become blase about Paris?
I doubt it but I would love to find out...

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