It’s known as the ‘Gallic Shrug’. It’s a gesture in which the French shopkeeper, restaurateur, railway station attendant and any one of a thousand other people ostensibly in service capacities let the speaker of English know how much they care about any complaint or concern you might have.
In other words, “I don’t care.”
Or, put more bluntly, “Fuck you!”
Canadians will be familiar with the gesture if they recall the body language of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to any gripes by any of the provinces.
Anyway, according to reports, the government and tourism industries in France are not entirely pleased with that country’s rep for being the rudest destination in the world. They’d actually like to see the behavior change. Good luck with that.
And the complaints by tourists are not limited to Anglophones but have been voiced by virtually anybody of any linguistic origin. Such a reputation can hurt the bottom line in dire economic times.
There’s nothing new about the French treating visitors like shit. Mark Twain said long ago that France would be a wonderful country if it weren’t for the French.
Don’t get me wrong about this. I love France and would go back to assorted wonderful cities, towns and villages in a heartbeat. But, at least, having spent time there, I know I will not be graciously welcomed, but will devour the mousses and croissants with gusto. While I no longer drink I cannot comment further on the wines and cognacs other than to say that memory serves me well and they are heavenly. And I will accept the fact that once a restaurant server has given us our meals he/she will treat us like non-persons. Once the transaction has been completed the customer no longer exists.
But, about the French themselves. A few observations:
– we were actually treated rudely in a McDonald’s. “Have a nice day,” didn’t seem to exist in France.
– Wendy went to an information kiosk at the Grenoble Railway Station. She uttered two words and the woman slammed her window in her face.
– Wendy tried to get a take-out coffee from a boulangerie we’d frequented due to their delectable mousses. They’d always been quite friendly. However, this time Wendy was greeted by a curt “Non!” She went down the street to one of those little Arab coffee places and the non-French proprietor gladly obliged her, even though the exclusively male customers in the joint eyed her warily, what with her being female and all.
– We reported the theft of food from our hotel room. A room we’d occupied for a number of weeks. Our news was greeted by that aforementioned shrug and the French equivalent of “Shit happens.”
– The young French females at the university next door did not look like Bardot. They looked like seriously underweight Morticia Adamses. I guess a steady diet of cigarettes will do that. Oh, and they are not seductive. Getting one to crack a smile would have been an accomplishment.
The government’s drive to change a national trait I suspect will be met with little luck. It is in the nature of the place. They know people will throng there regardless – mainly because it’s France – it has the food and the wine and the exquisite sights – so what the hell do they need to care? Anyway, it’s always been an attitudinal place. Either accept that, or don’t go. But, you’ll miss out on those croissants made with real butter.
As I said, rude or not, I’d go back in a heartbeat, even just to ride on one of those highly subsidized trains. I believe the motto for French tourism should possibly be: This is France. Suck it up!