Three Tips To Enhance Your Paris Experience
Finding waiters rude in Paris is a beginner’s mistake you don’t have to make
There are few places in the world, where cultural differences can be so clearly visible as in a café in Paris. One of the most heard comments from people who have visited the city of lights, is that the waiters are so rude. After visiting the city several times, and even having lived there for about two years, there’s one thing I learned: if you think Parisian waiters are rude, it’s all about you.
There are always a few complaints that seem to bubble up, about these so-called rude waiters. One is that they don’t smile. Well, in my experience, they do. You have to make a good start with them, though. It al can turn sour in the first moment. The thing you need to realize is that in many other countries, wait staff in bars and restaurants are mostly people who don’t necessarily want to be there but are doing this to earn money for something else. They are students or people who were looking simply for a job to pay the bills. Waiting tables in a restaurant or bar is not a career choice. In France, this is slightly different. These people are professionals. Almost like the craftsman from a guild in times long gone. You can see that most of them are in a sort of uniform: black trousers, white shirt, and often a black vest with pockets for change and a notebook. That notebook, often, is not for writing what you ordered. Next time you’re in Paris, note how little they write, but still, you get what you ordered. Often without having to explain who ordered the white wine, and who the “seize”. As professionals, they like to be able to do it all from memory. Now, if your first step is to approach the waiters not as if they are on the lowest rungs of the social ladder, but as the professionals that they are, you are off to a good start. The rudeness will almost disappear. Almost, because there’s another thing that can stand between you and a fun experience in a Paris bar: language.
The second big complaint is that nobody in Paris speaks English. Well, guess what. You are not in an English-speaking country. France is a great nation, with a rich history. A proud nation. Their language, French, is what used to be the language of the higher echelons of international society. It’s what turned the old languages spoken on the British isles, into the English what it is today. So, please have some respect. And please understand that by coming to France, not speaking French, but demanding to be spoken to in a different language, is a big insult. I mean, how good and fun will our conversation be, if I started by calling you very stupid? Not so good, right? And let me tell you a little secret: basically all Parisian waiters speak English. And they will go out of their way accomodating you, when you treat them and their language with the respect they and it deserve. Try a few French words, make an effort. Or apologize for not being able to speak their beautiful language. This will make a world of difference.
Finally, there’s the expectation of behavior that is often contributing to a bad experience. Let me illustrate with a different example. In The Netherlands, we are used to having a table in a restaurant cleared after every single person on the table has finished the course. Taking away a plate is seen as telling those who haven’t finished yet, to hurry up. In Germany, this is completely the other way around. Leaving an empty plate on the table is seen as offensive. So, as soon as somebody finishes, their plate gets cleared away. If you are not aware of these differences, you might be offended by the other behavior. But you need to realize, that if you want people to behave as you are used to, to have the same values and rituals and habits as you, you should never ever leave your house. As soon as you get outside, people will see and do things differently. If that offends you, stay home. And if you don’t want to stay home, don’t be offended, but have an open and inquisitive mind. It will just enhance your life. Your entire life.
So, for a good experience with waiters in Paris: be polite, respect French and the French, and try to speak at least a few words of the local language. If on top you understand that the way people do things at home, is never the way people do things somewhere else, and you are in for a wonderful stay. And life.