French Given Etiquette Manual To Combat Rudeness

French tourism authorities desperate to overhaul the country’s reputation are handing out a manual aimed at teaching locals how to be polite to foreigners. France is the number one tourist destination in the world with nearly 30 million people visiting the capital in the past year; however, many foreigners leave Paris feeling snubbed by the locals.

The unhelpful tone and attitude used by shopkeepers or the unwillingness to speak English to tourists has earned the French a reputation for rudeness causing tourism bureaus to fear they will start losing visitors to friendlier cities in Europe.

The six-page booklet “Do You Speak Touriste?” teaches locals how to greet foreigners in a number of different languages and explains some of the cultural peculiarities of various nationalities. This includes referring to Brits by their first names, welcoming Italians with a firm handshake and greeting the Chinese (who are described as “fervent shoppers”) with a smile and a “Ni Hao.“Around 30,000 copies of the etiquette guide have been handed out to wait staff, taxi drivers, hotel managers, retail sales staff and other Parisians who regularly come into contact with tourists.

This is not the first attempt to encourage the French to be more polite to visitors – just last year the Parisian transport authority launched an ad campaign to end rudeness, and back in 2008, a group of locals set up a meet and greet service designed to showcase the friendlier side of the local folk. Five years on, the effort to combat rudeness continues… old habits, it seems, die hard.

Ramadan begins in the Muslim world: a report from Turkey

Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan (or Ramazan, as it is called in Turkey), a month-long holiday in the Islamic faith of fasting, prayer, and reflection. For observant Muslims, eating, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity is prohibited from dawn to dusk for 30 days. The elderly, ill, pregnant and nursing mothers, as well as (interestingly) menstruating women are excused. Before dawn, drummers traditionally walk the streets to wake people up to eat a last meal before the fast begins. At the end of the day, the fast is broken with an iftar meal which usually involves special pide flat bread in Turkey.

While many Westerners choose to avoid travel to Muslim countries during Ramadan due to the awkwardness of eating during the day, the nights can be a fun and fascinating time to observe the celebrations and feasts. As Turkey is a fairly liberal country and Istanbul particularly secular, I was curious to see how behavior would change in the city, particularly during the current heatwave. The night before Ramazan began, I headed to the supermarket to stock up on provisions, not wanting to flaunt my food and drink purchases (including very un-Muslim wine and bacon) while others were fasting. While it wasn’t like the pre-blizzard rush I expected, I did spot quite a few Muslims carb-loading on pasta, cookies, and baked goods in preparation for the fast.The first morning of Ramazan, I followed tweets from my fellow Istanbulites reporting on the drummers who woke them pre-dawn but they weren’t heard in my neighborhood. Outside on my street of fabric wholesale stores, it was tea-drinking, chain-smoking, kebab-eating business as usual. Heading down to posh Nişantaşı, the Soho of Istanbul, shop girls still smoked outside designer boutiques and sidewalk cafes were busy as ever. I spotted a few Turkish workmen lying languidly on the grass in Maçka Park, though whether their fatigue was due to fasting or the unbearable humidity is debatable. Hopping on the (blissfully air-conditioned) tram to tourist mecca Sultanahmet, visitors brandished water bottles and crowded outside restaurants as ever, but the usual touts outside the Blue Mosque were hard to find, as were any signs of Ramazan being observed. Slightly different was the waterfront Eminönü area where the Galata Bridge crosses the Golden Horn; the usual dozens of fishermen where cut down to a handful on either side and the plethora of street food vendors serving the thousands of ferry commuters were fewer.

That evening near Taksim Square, hardly any restaurants had closed and even the fasting waiters seemed good-natured about serving customers. Just before sunset, lines started to form outside bakeries selling pide, and at the dot of 8:20pm, restaurant tables quickly filled up and several waiters sat inside and ate ravenously. The mood was convivial and festival-like on the streets, and special concerts and events are put on nightly throughout the month. This month’s English-language Time Out Istanbul provides a guide to Ramadan as well as a round-up of restaurants serving iftar feasts, but curiously, almost all of them are at Western chain hotels.

While it’s hard to tell if people are fasting or just not indulging at the moment, here in Istanbul, life goes on during Ramazan. As the days go on, I expect to notice more bad moods and short tempers, particularly with the already slightly deranged taxi drivers craving their nicotine and caffeine fixes. Little will change for a non-Muslim traveler during Ramazan, particularly in tourist areas, but it’s still polite to be discreet about eating and drinking in public as a courtesy to those fasting. I look forward to Şeker Bayramı (Sweets Festival) next month, the three-day holiday marking the end of Ramazan, and the equivalent of Christmas or Hanukkah, with a little bit of Halloween thrown in. During the holiday, children go door to door and get offered candies and presents, Turkish people visit with family, and everyone drinks a lot of tea.

Any other travelers experiencing Ramadan this month? Tell us about your experience in the comments.

[Photo credit: Flickr user laszlo-photo]

Be nice … or else pepper spray

Dear Gadling Reader,

It has come to our attention that on Monday, March 2nd, on the Canada/U.S. border just east of Vancouver, a dance instructor from Coquitlam, B.C. attempted to cross and visit his second home in Washington, where he had left his wallet.

The dance instructor, Desiderio Fortunato, was asked to shut his car off by the American border officer. Unfortunately for Mr. Fortunato, his dance instructor discipline got the better of him and he asked the officer to “say please.”

Then his dance instructor stubbornness got the better of him and he refused three times to turn off the car, because the officer refused three times to say please.

Mr. Fortunato was then pepper sprayed by the border officer, which, if Wikipedia is to be believed, caused him “immediate closing of the eyes, difficulty breathing, runny nose, and coughing. The duration of its effects depend on the strength of the spray but the average full effect lasts around thirty to forty-five minutes, with diminished effects lasting for hours.” Then he was taken into custody by several officers and held in jail for three hours, and subsequently dismissed with a warning to be more cooperative.

According to the National Post, Mr. Fortunato “pulled a similar stunt at the same border crossing about one year ago. In that case, he was ordered to wait hours to be questioned before being allowed to cross.”

In conclusion, we have no choice but to dub Mr. Fortunato “kind of a douche.” Still, the pepper spray may have been a little extreme, and he should probably sue.

“I asked him three times and when I didn’t turn the car off, because he didn’t say please, he pepper sprayed me…. It was terrible. For half an hour or so I couldn’t see anything.” –Mr. Forunato, Kind of a Douche

Sincerely, Annie Scott and the Gadling Staff

A Few Tips for Speaking Spanish in Mexico

“I’m done.” I said in Spanish as I smiled and looked at our waitress, “Muchas gracias!”, I continued, beaming at my Spanish prowess. She smiled back — actually she looked like she was struggling to hold in laughter when I realized my error — I had just told her I was done like DEAD. Ack! The embarrassment of the situation got me, I smiled sheepishly and dragged Tom to the exit to make a quick escape.

When traveling in a foreign country it is important (and so much more fun!) to try speaking the language — even just the tiniest effort can make all the difference. So far the Mexicans seem to be pretty encouraging, they happily smile and nod while we stumble through our limited Spanish. They even are nice enough to pretend that we are making sense!

When you are learning a new language you are going to make a lot of mistakes, that it just the way it goes and, of course, the only way to learn is to make a few errors. However, there are some things that would be nice to know before you start chatting away in another language.

Here are a few tips for Mexican Spanish that you might want to keep in mind to prevent awkward speaking situations:

This first person pronoun ( “Yo” which means “I”) is often over-used by beginners. If you end up “Yo-yo ing” too much it starts to sound very vain and self-centered. “I this and I that…” starts to sound like ” Me, me ME!” to Mexican ears. Since verbs, when conjugated correctly, implicitly hold who is speaking, try to drop pronouns as they are not necessary. Children are taught at a very young age to drop the “Yo” pronoun and travelers should too.

I want….
A verb that is picked up very quickly by travelers is “querer” which means to want. “Yo quiero” (or just “Quiero”) translates to “I want…”, a very useful phrase except for the that fact that when used it actually translates to quite a blunt request. A better and more polite term to use is “Quisiera….” (Kee-See-EH-Rah) which means “I would like…”. This term is extremely useful and is viewed by the Mexicans as a much more polite.

The dangers of asking for dairy products…who knew?

Mexico has a TON of sexual innuendos. A lot of them seem to focus on the male anatomy. “Leche”, milk in Spanish, is a slang term for semen. If you need to purchase milk do NOT say “Tiene leche?” ( Do you have milk?) or you are sure to hear giggles erupt around you. To prevent this type of embarrassment the best way to ask is to say, “Is there milk?” (Hay leche? which is pronounced Ahee Lay-Chay). There is the same type of situation for eggs, known as “huevos”, which can refer to testicles (ah…machismo culture at its finest). You’ll sometimes hear little old ladies ask for “blanquillos” (little white ones) instead of using this offensive term.

But it sounds the same!
Many Spanish words sound very similar to English words which makes it easy to improvise and try out a word that sounds like it should be correct in Spanish. It is great to get in there and try, in fact, that is what you should be doing — but a word of caution. Words that sound similar can have totally different meanings in Spanish than in English. For example in English we say “I’m embarrassed”. “Embarazada” in Spanish means that you are pregnant. A rather large difference there, right?

Fumbling and messing up are all part of the learning process but sometimes it is much nicer to have a heads up before you stick your foot in your mouth!

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.

Minding your Manners in Mexico

Being polite is the best thing you can do in Mexico to ensure good service and to also undo those nasty rumors that Canadians and Americans are generally rude and want everything “right now!”

In our time here we have learned a few tips that have made our lives easier while living and traveling in Mexico. As with all countries, making the effort to be polite will always work in your favor. Mexicans are very friendly people and are more than willing to assist you with whatever you need. However, being demanding, disrespectful and causing a scene are all great ways to not only lose whatever help you might have received but also furthers the unfortunate stereotype that all foreigners are impolite.

Some things to keep in mind when you explore Mexico:

  • Always Greet People First
    Always greet whomever you want to speak to with “Buenos Dias” (Good morning), “Buenas Tardes” (Good Afternoon) or “Buenas Noches” (Good Evening). It is customary to greet staff when you enter a store and to acknowledge them on your way out. If you launch into a tirade about what you want without a proper greeting you can expect mediocre service–Mexicans find this type of behavior extremely rude.
  • Shake Hands and Pucker Up
    Like some European countries it is customary to shake hands (for men) or kiss cheeks (this only applies to women) whenever you greet your Mexican friends. Men usually shake hands, though the Baja has some local handshakes which have a few flashy add-ons. Women are not included in the fancy handshakes — I asked a gentleman why he didn’t high-five me and he look absolutely appalled that I would even consider it. So ladies, get ready to kiss a lot of cheeks. Surprisingly, for a culture full of machismo, bone-crushing handshakes are considered impolite, a light grip is more than adequate.
  • Remember to Ask for the Bill
    Tom and I sat for ages in a café waiting for the server to realize we were ready to go. We finally asked for “la cuenta” (the bill) and quickly left the restaurant complaining of the poor service. A friend of ours enlightened us to the fact that it is considered rude to bring the bill to the table if it has not yet been requested. Instead of rushing you out of the restaurant, the servers give you time to relax and enjoy your meal, quite a change from Canada where the staff tend to push you out the door so they can serve more customers. Whenever you are ready to leave just nicely ask for the bill.
  • Address People Using their Titles
    Titles are a huge deal in Mexico. “Señor”, “Señora” and “Señorita” all show respect and it is best to use them until the person you are speaking with indicates otherwise. Education is highly regarded and it is a good idea to address people by these titles as well, “Doctor(a)”, “Ingeniero” (engineer) and “Profesor(a)” (professor)) are some titles you may come across. If you are a university grad you can always introduce yourself as “Licenciado(a)” in formal situations.
  • Say Adios to your Personal Bubble
    Mexicans tend to stand close when they are talking to you. This can take some getting used to but whatever you do try not to step back, it is considered offensive and gives the impression that you don’t want to be near that person.

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T
    Overall, the best thing you can do in Mexico is to be respectful to everyone. From taxi drivers to business executives you need to make sure you treat everyone graciously. Those travelers who make the effort to be courteous and polite will experience better service, lots of smiles and a much better reception when traveling in Mexico.

“No Wrong Turns” chronicles Kelsey and her husband’s road trip — in real time — from Canada to the southern tip of South America in their trusty red VW Golf named Marlin.