Rebranding destination France

What images do La Marianne, The Loire Valley and Gewürztraminer bring to mind? Probably none, unless you were born in France or spent significant time here. But this trio forms the new mantra of tourism ministry chief Frederic Lefebvre. He wants visitors to spend more time in France and could soon be in a town near you with the following message: There is more to see in France than the Eiffel Tower and the picturesque urban sprawl around the monument’s base.

And there is another image that worries Lefebvre even more. That is, that of the haggardly restaurant waiter whose main job consists of ignoring and sneering down hungry customers in equal measure.

"We would like to make a strong effort to improve the sense of welcoming in France," Lefebvre told a group of tourism professionals in New York this month, according to "We are number one in the world in terms of the number of tourists (76.8 million in 2010)…But, in terms of sales, we are very far behind the US," he lamented.

In other words: “Sorry we’re rude. But can you give us more money?”

While people who actually visit France go home with few, if any, stories of French rudeness, Lefebvre is going around adding credibility to the fable. The diversification-accommodation combo is at the core of the ministry’s new marketing strategy, and its website,

Conspicuously absent from the website are pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, chocolate éclairs and Marcel Marceau-like mimes. Figuring prominently are provincial capitals, UNESCO World Heritage sites, summer festivals and regional vineyards. That and videos of the smiliest people you ever saw.

But as the website battles preconceptions of rudeness it is also hurting the image of French savoir-faire. Dizzying videos and poorly translated text is bound to leave potential tourists baffled as to what they might expect from a trip here.


A sample from the website:

Montpellier: Discover a city in turmoil and sites are among the most prestigious World Heritage”. Does that mean we'll be watching a "Medieval Times" show done on a massive scale?


Nantes: Recognised as European capital of good living, between the westerly winds, scents of iodine and salt and light of the Loire, Nantes recounts his maritime adventure” Should we expect story time with a retired boat captain with one eye and an aversion to soap?

The tourism ministry may in fact succeed in changing ideas about French hospitality, but in unexpected ways. If foreigners start spending more vacation time off the beaten track in France - and if they manage to survive the pitchfork battles in Montpellier - they will certainly meet more French nationals. That may do more than any marketing ploy ever could to bury the reputation of that rude Parisian waiter.

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I really agree that French people are very polite. That's why I like them most. My friend who is a French too, he's so nice and smart. French people are great. - key west hideaways
I spent my adolescence in France and will never forget all the thousands of times we were treated with kindness and courtesy. All my life I have defended the French against bigoted Americans. So imagine my surprise when twice last summer I was yelled at simply for being American. I speak French well enough to know when I am being insulted. At the restaurant where I was treated so rudely the owner seemed happy to justify this rudeness. My response was, "with an ambiance like that, you'll soon go bankrupt". I was at Flavigny in the countryside of Burgundy, not Paris. I think France might benefit from an agency where one can report rudeness, as I am sure the other businesses in Flavigny would like to know about this café where foreigners are abused.
People in Paris are absoloutely rude!!!!!!! The root their heads in books and magazines from point to points and never say good morning or bonjour or whatever! they dont even smile!!! Ive been here 3 weeks now and I am offended! If nowhere else, the staff at the Interntional University should be able to assist by directing you at least to someone who speaks your language, but NO! It has to be that you do business or seek their help IN FRENCH! No hospitality!
Paris is pretty, the food is great and the people are nasty.
Our love for France and the French people gets stronger and stronger. Right now we're pining to go back again since returning back home in February after another long stay. We wish we were French. We've experienced nothing but politeness, courtesy and helpfulness on all our visits. Thank God France exists. Its a model to the world and the French people themselves from those living in the smallest village to Paris make it that way. I'm sure the Fench tourist experience can always be improved through good government planning. Just as long as these programs don't loose sight of what is French.
I specialize in French travel ---off the beaten track, insider events...real experiences in Provence, Burgundy, the coast etc. I have rarely, in all my travels, experienced rudeness. Mostly, my clients are SO happy and have such great experiences they come back again. They become lovers of all things French.
France is a fantastic country and her people are amazing. I find people in my own country much more impatient and rude.
We, my wife and I, like many tourists, do not visit the 'Gay Paris' or historic heritage sites, for we, among many, love the countryside of France, and enjoy the many campsites of France and avoid wherever possible the cities and towns of France. We follow the same pattern in England and Ireland. We are countryside lovers. We also enjoy the heart of France that is there in those campsites.
Let's be honest and admit that one of the main things that annoys anyone living in their home country is a foreign visitor, or illegal alien who makes no effort at all to speak the host country's language. Here in the US we have millions of people who speak little or no English at all. Is that annoying? Of course it is. Now let's go to Paris, France, where I have been visiting every year since 1996. The French I am sure find it quite annoying when a foreign visitor starts speaking in their native tongue, and just assume the French will understand what they are saying. LEARN SOME FRENCH. It doesn't take a genius to learn some basic terms. I find average American tourist to be service oriented and service expected. They seem to feel that if they are spending money in France, every Frenchman should be grateful. We're here, start bowing. When I arrive in Paris, I speak to the driver in French. It isn't hard to learn to say to the driver. Je voudrais passer à l'hotel Montpensier douze rue de Richelieu,s'il vous plaît. Make an effort to fit into the local scene. I have had a number of people who have asked me to outline where to go in Paris. I am always more than happy to do just that, but I am always amazed to find that they know very little or absolutely NO FRENCH. You want rude. Go to NYC. Chicago. Los Angeles.... you will get all the rude you can handle. It would take hours to tell you how many doors have been opened to me in France, just because I speak OK French, and know a great deal about their history from 1690 to 1820 Give the French a break.
I have thoroughly enjoyed several trips to France, not just in Paris, but to the Atlantic and Med cities, as well. I found people to be kind and helpful. On the streets of Paris, I was often greeted by passersby. I always tried to speak French, and found people quite welcoming. Nobody ever seemed put out by having to try to understand my imperfect language. It wasn't so much rude Americans I saw, but instead quite loud Spaniards and Italians. I just tried to steer clear of them. Now, back in Istanbul (I am an American ex-pat), I am happy to host French couchsurfing guests to share my hospitality with them.
My eccentric 78 year old mother that has never spoken a word of french suddenly decided to move to a house in France with 5 acres of land. Within 5 minutes of starting her ride-on mower an elderly French man appeared shouting at her and not speaking English, took her by the hand, got on and spent 4 hours cutting it for her. French people that can't communicate with her have basically organised everything for her. She loves it, is learning the lingo with an astonishing [to me] vigour. When I or my siblings visit however, we are greeted with a nod but never a smile which has made me fall in love with them. Forget all this superficial American or anglo-saxon marketing fakery just as readily as bourgeois pretence of manners. It has no good benefit for anybody. I have no doubt that the same would happen in a village or city in Britain or the U.S... Many countries like France understand that 'we' are not 'all in it together'. Don't start making people believe that we can all have untold financial wealth. You had your 'Arab spring' more than 200 years ago. Carry one living up to it.
Hello, I am an American now, but was French for the first 21 years of my life...Yes, France is beautiful, but the major tourists do not see what is going on.. France need tourist money... tourists don't see the Muslims praying in Paris streets, stopping all circulations to prey.... don't see the poor, how expensive things are... My family used to have, a restaurant, hotel, much taxes... unbelievable. I have family in the Languedoc Roussillon (move from Orly airport region (I worked there), I have family in Paris, Germany, Thailand, Roumania and now China (german newew married a chinese). I visited many countries, France also, Times are hard. Most of the french I know complain about how hard their lives are..if you are a rich Americain you can find many places you can afford... wonderful. In my youth I learn to take things the way they are.. My children speaks 4 languages... my grandson 11 years old speak 3 languages . I saw many ugly americains and english in the 60's. I also saw many pretentious french people.My last visit in France in 2006, woauh! rude muslims in Barcelona, and taking all the street and sidewalk Perpignan etc.. and I have seen terrible people.. etc... it will get worse... the tourists don't see this. I get news everyday online by family members, the last ones....and the world is not very happy. Enjoy your vacations in beautiful places, I like the south of France, but the "region parisienne" nice to visit, but I would never want to live there.............bonne vacances!
we've lived full-time in SW France for seven years; we're accepted by neighbours and people we meet with warmth and friendliness - rudeness is very rare from the French, and they really appreciate anyone who has a go at the language - well or badly doesn't matter; and Carrie Warner (1st comment) should start her French experience with the triangle Carcassonne Narbonne Beziers
Everything I've read (from ex-pats and travellers) re: the French is positive and warm; and the consensus is that attempting to speak their language is much appreciated. I absolutely will take a refresher course in beginning French before I visit this winter. I wouldn't dream of travelling to a foreign country without learning at least some words of politeness and getting-by phrases. I want to experience French culture and adapt to their identity; that's what draws me there in the first place.
I spent two weeks there a couple of years ago. I speak no French and grew up in California. I did not experience one bit of rudeness in Paris or the surrounding tows of Nemours, Auxerre, Sens, and Joigny. I found the French people to very nice and helpful when asked about restaurants or directions. we never experienced the "rude" waiter. In fact the waiters were some of our favorite people who offered us tips on what to see and what not to see. I have experience was more rude people in New York and Los Angeles than in France.
We should not generalise. Not all French people are rude, just as not all Americans are rude, and not all English people are rude. In my experience you will find a similar mixture of people in most countries. A few are rude, but many are polite. Some people make a great effort to be extremely helpful. I adore France and the French people and do not want them to change, not for me or for anyone else.
The french are very nice people. It is the french system that is rude. They want to translate everything like tv programmes and documents into french even from an international language like english which they are taught in schools. This is especially obvious in the government bodies, they set a very poor example.
I spent 2 months last fall in Arbois in the Jura area of Franche-Comte. The experience was so wonderful I am buying property there as I'm retired. After a week everyone in town knew me and they bent over backwards to make me feel welcome and assisted with daily tasks. My French was high school level at best and always made them smile. Rudeness is non existent in their character.
i took my first visit to france a few weeks ago and i stayed there for two weeks. but i do agree with alot of the people here, there are rude people everywhere, not just in france in fact i found very few rude people there, perhaps annoyed people from all the ignorent tourists, such as myself, but otherwise they were fine. but i do believe you havent seen france until you have seen the non tourist orriented areas.
I'm from California and have lived both in Germany & now France. I'm still shocked at how friendly the people are here - much more like Californians. I experienced 2 miserable years in Germany with the most rude & unfriendly people day-to-day where you can even endure verbal abuse at the post office. Parisians can be a bit cold, but outside of Paris is a different world. The French are very into manners & politeness. Here in Alsace, little children open doors for me and I love going to the friendly post office! Come visit!
It is not all strange good attitudes are returned.
I will be visiting France for the first time in a few weeks. I have heard nothing but good things about the French people from my boyfriend, who lives there. No matter where you go in this world, there will always be one or two rude people you cross paths with. You cannot base an opinion of a country on one or two rude people.
France must not to be confused with Paris. However, some restaurants (and shops) appear to revel in treating almost everyone, tourist or French, with the same disdain. But the attitude of some clients should also be questioned. Treat others as you would wish to be treated - and leave a tip. Remembering also that most tourists only see 'the sights' and don't enjoy all that Paris has to offer.
I have traveled extensively in France for many years and have never encountered a rude French man or woman ! I travel alone & rent a car, I wear "protective coloration" - no jeans but always a scarf with everything, always carry a copy of Le Monde,speak softly and many times have been mistaken as French. My French is rudimentary but at least I try! If your language skills are high school, I would suggest beginning your travels in France in the Normandy area - most everyone speaks a bit of English & everyone greets you with open arms - for obvious reasons! Yes, we liberated them from the Germans 60 years ago and they have never forgotten BUT!! WE have forgotten that in 1778/9, the French army under Gens. Lafayette & Rochambeau was on American soil, helping US gain our independence from England!! If you want or need to get away from the loud, rude Americans & Brits, may I suggest three of the most colorful, sweetest little villages in the South of France - - NOT on the Cote d'Azur but west of there in Carry-le-Rouet, Saussette-les-Pins & Martigues, just S of Marignane Airport, off the A55 - very few tourists but gorgeous beaches & the best seafood outside of Brittany!! THIS is the true South of France!! Have a wonderful vacation and remeber what St Augustine wrote: "The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.".
I just returned from Paris and must say that everyone I spoke with was pleasant, kind, and welcoming. From the staff at my hotel to strangers on the streets of Montmartre, I was never treated rudely! Even the gentleman I stopped on the street to inquire where he had purchased the delicious sandwich he was carrying was gracious enough to walk me down three blocks to show me the shop's location. I think that if you treat everyone you meet with correct manners and friendliness, you will have it returned to you in spades!
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The customer service in France has a lot of space to improve, and it is not only about the rude waiters. You may que for more than an hour in a shop of a mobile telecommunication company, or half hour in a bank (where most probably there is no one who speaks English). That is true that French people tend to be more friendly with those who talk to them in French, but in case they want to attract more tourists they should be more open-minded. They may take example from Turkey, which I would say is very good at catering their tourists. Usually on the Mediteranian seaside, in 4/5 star hotels you will find personnel who speaks English, German, Russian and not only.
I have visited France several times (Champagne, Burgandy, Alsace Normandy,Picardy,the Loire valley and Paris. I have stayed in hotels and been overnight guest in French homes. Never have i experienced rudeness (except for Paris cabbies). If you are polite the French, like any others will respond in kind. Sad to say the rudeness I've witnessed has come from my fellow Americans. The "everything is better in USA " attitude doesn't cut it anywhere. Next time go to Orlando.
The French have got to go a long way before they even become a quarter as rude as the Brits or Americans abroad. I have lived in France and I have found the French polite, helpful and charming. The country is clean and puts England to shame. Parents bring up children to respect others and are well behaved. The only drunkeness I have ever witnessed is that of drunken English louts swearing in English at bar/restaurant staff. These are the same people that complain about the lack of British beer, Macdonalds or Fish & Chips. Should these ignorant guests in another country want British products, then stay at home, after all why would you visit a country that doesn't cater for you lack or commu nication or eating habits. The British are the laziest in the world when it comes to language skills, they have enough problems with their own. When visiting France try and make the effort to speak a little French for a change, you will be amazed at how helpfull and delighted the majority of French people will be. English or the American version may be the international language, but it is not compulsory for other countries residents to speak it. Why should they when you are guest in their country; remember the word is guest, try behaving like one show some respect and you will get respect in return.
In 2002 my wife and I found only a few rude French. One in particular was supposed to give a tour of Paris but after he picked up an Italian family all we heard was Italian and no description at all in English. On the other hand we had people come up to us when we were perusing a map and ask if they could help us.
The French people are friendly and helpful. I have been to France several times and every time I was helped in every way.Besides the French are charming and it is a joy to deal with them.
"À Paris tout le monde était coupable." Outside Paris, on the other hand, all is delightful.
You may find some of the French translations into English funny, difficult to understand or slightly ridiculous, but Americans look what you did to the English language, you have butchered it. The French can spell 'honour', and pronounce 'r's and even 'u's, as in stew, not stoo!
I find it interesting that in an article about breaking a stereotype that so many people are quick to jump on the bandwagon of another stereotype. "The French aren't rude, its the Americans." I am sure not all the French are rude and not all Americans are rude. Please do not proliferate stereotypes, take people as the individuals they are. I plan to visit France in the next year and I am currently learning French to help me on my trip. I am an American, and I have been raised to treat people with respect as have many of my peers.
Given the choice, I would rather visit France as a tourist, than endure New York City or almost any other destination in the US with the possible exception of North Dakota. As an American, I have traveled extensively and I have experienced and apologized to local citizens for rude Americans I have stumbled over. I also find it absolutely refreshing to converse with Europeans tourists whose knowledge base exceeds football and NASCAR.
The French are some of the friendliest, helpful, interesting people on earth. I have visited France hundreds of times and have NEVER been treated rudely. On the other hand, I get treated rudely constantly here in the U.S. Drivers in rage mode, clerks who hate it when you ask for help because they are talking on their cell phones, etc The French people are the best in the World.
After living in Paris for a year, I do my best to try to dispel the nasty rumor that the French are rude. It is simply not true. I found the people to be a bit more reserved and formal than Americans, but never rude. I personally think it is rude for Americans to go to anther country and expect everyone to act "American." When traveling internationally, take a few minutes to learn about the culture and embrace it during your visit. It will go along way towards making your vacation more enjoyable.
My wife and I are retired and visit France usually in June or September and love the culture the cleanliness the food and most of all the freindliness of the French people we meet. Our French language is at the learning stage and we are never without help when we need to know the correct way of saying what we are trying to say. Vive la France.
I have visited France each year for over 20 years and have found particularly the last few years there has been a noticeable improvement in the effort locals make toward vistors, not that I ever found rudeness but more of a reserve. I agree with other comments that loudness and rudeness seem much more likely from tourists from America, England and unfortunately Australians.
I think the website could be improved. While it is functional and includes lots of useful content, it seems cookie-cut. Compare to say, California's: Two specific issues: the black arrows on either side of the front page graphics never went away on my browser, and it would be cool if the France region map were inlaid instead of a popup. Also, the author of this blog is right: some of the translations are awkward. "The official website of tourism in a glance" - is that really on the home page? Did they run out of money? The translation problem seems like an especially easy and cheap fix. They could hire a USA college student or new graduate to fix this text for $20/hour. Or, maybe the student/new grad could be compensated with a trip to France that would be featured on the website. Maybe it would go viral, you never know. The cost would be negligible. Or, here's an idea - enterprising Anglophones out there, this site need to be fixed! Anyone need a job? Try to get in touch with these guys! If you're reading this, you probably like France. This might be perfect for you. You might get a trip out of it. Concerning the "rudeness" debate... many Americans, at least, seem to perceive French people to be rude. This campaign seems like an honest attempt to change that. We should all say bravo to that because chances are that everyone wins: France gets a better image, and perhaps some who think the French are rude will be persuaded otherwise! Holding a bias against an entire group of people - be it the Americans, the French, or any other group - takes energy, and it's soul draining. Why spend time and energy harboring such ill feelings? I can't think of a good reason. I know I'm singing to the choir on that last piece, but I wanted to get it out there.
My wife and I moved to the Creuse 4 years ago and have only ever encountered charming French people. Civil servants are civil. That was shock never experienced before. Since we arrived we have visited all corners of the country and we have been given the same welcoming approach. The first day in the country we stopped at a cafe and before we opened our mouths to speak we were welcomed with handshakes. Where else but France. Love it.
I visit France often, am not very good at French but always try. I find people to be nice and sometimes very friendly. Some of the funnest experiences have been French people stopping what they were doing and taking the time to teach me French. I always have a lovely time in Paris or outside in the countryside. The bad mannered loud people there always turn out to be Americans.
I've been to Paris many times - sometimes for extended periods - since 1983 and agree with many other commentators here that, as long as you try to speak French, most French people are friendly and polite. However, I've also had some very negative experiences, from being physically pushed out of the way when someone considered me to stand in their way (e.g. in a supermarket) and seeing others (French people) pushed out of the way e.g. on a platform in the Métro. Yet worst of all was the attitude experienced many times at the hands of French and north-African men who seemed to consider me (then single) and my pupils (I ran a couple of school trips with sixth formers in the past) as easy prey. From being stalked by strangers through streets and through the Métro system, to being unable to read and enjoy the warm weather in a public park owing to men becoming very persistent in their chat-up efforts, to waiters in a restaurant trying to chat up me / my pupils respectively, to a waiter in a restaurant physically slapping one of my pupils on her rear, and in one case a car with two men kerbcrawling whilst following my group of female pupils on their way from our hotel to a restaurant, I've seen it all. As much as I love Paris, I don't think it's safe for single females / young girls and women as many men - even during their working hours - are an absolute pest.
Years ago we bought a nice home in Périgord we use for 6 weeks a year and spend a lot of money when we are there. We never rented it to tourists as many French do regularly. Now, as foreigners, we will be obliged to pay a special tax of 20% of possible virtual income from renting it. We will decide as many foreigners will do : goodby France !
During my many visits to France I have never experienced any behavour other than courtesy, kindness and helpfulness. My experience in travelling to "foreign" countries is that it is always appreciated if one attempts to speak their language, irrespective of how inadequate one's vocabulary may may be!. Tony Burton, Newark, UK.
We have lived in France for a number of years and have found the French very polite. It is the English who are usually rude and shout at each other and expect the French people to speak English. If I go into a supermarket and there are children misbehaving with parents shouting at them they are usually English ! If you try to speak french even if only a little the French people normally will help as much as they can. They can be reserved which may be taken as surly but this is out of politeness usually.
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I have visited france from the age of 20 to my current 70 yrs. I have a farmhouse in the Loire Atlantique and dine out every week. My reception in rural France has been invariably friendly with invitations to the village fete and to private homes. help with translations and practical assistance in the garden. 60 neighbours manually moved an old oak hangar for the cost of a crate of wine. I am still thrilled to be well integrated there. In Paris it is largely the Americans who are rudely ignorant, I'm sorry to say!
Carrie Varner - We did move to France, and we love it. The people are lovely, as is the south of France. May your dreams come true. Terry
Can you imagine a French visitor to the United States walking into a retail establishment and asking first, before anything else, "Do you speak French?" Imagine how insulting that is in reverse? It's no wonder why Americans often receive a cool or cold reception in France. One can change the entire experience by taking the time on the flight across the Atlantic to learn some basic, common etiquette. France is a polite society, and politeness goes a long way. Bonjour madame (monsieur), excusez-moi, je ne parle pas français. Pouvez-vous parler anglais avec moi ? That one short sentence is guaranteed to change the entire playing field. Or you could just walk in and say, "HEY YOU, YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?" That one short sentence is guaranteed to get you a very cold shoulder.

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