We all know that Parisians have a reputation for being smug and snooty. Want to order a coffee? Better pronounce café au lait with an impeccable French accent or you can forget about good service. But stereotypes are just that: stereotypes. And not all Parisians have a propensity to rudeness, at least not those part of Paris Greeter.
Created by a group of locals intent on showing the good side of the Parisian nature, Paris Greeter is a service that provides the traveler with free tours in nine different languages. Groups of up to six are led by true Parisians that have a love for their city and a love for sharing it with foreigners; the organization’s French name, Parisien d’un jour, Parisien toujours is very fitting.
These aren’t trained tour guides working for big companies, they’re just regular locals that want to give their city a good name. In the words of one of the volunteers, “I’ve always heard my American friends say things like, ‘Paris is wonderful – except for the Parisians. And I always wanted to do something about it.”
[Via World Hum]
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After compiling data all summer, I honestly have to say that I’m starting to like Parisians more than New Yorkers. This isn’t limited to a one time event or getting kicked out of Milk and Honey either – I realize that when faced with thousands of people every day everyone is going to run into a few bad apples. At this point in my travels, however, I’m starting to get the feeling that Parisians are just flat out friendlier than residents of the Big Apple.
To back up – I’m not the sort of person that makes broad generalizations about a city or culture based on a bad experience. I have tons of lovely friends in New York and am almost always thrilled to be in the city. I reap my opinion from days sown in each city, fumbling around in circles trying to order pizza or crepes, navigating the city streets in the middle of the night or underground, lost in a maze of subways.
As an example, on holiday in Paris this past month I spent three days wandering through the city with my girlfriend. Not once did someone scowl at me for butchering my French, nor did they shirk away when I asked for directions or stood on the wrong side of the escalator. To the contrary, people I met were pleasant, nice and even downright helpful.
Conversely, my time spent in New York has been marred with impatient commuters, surly public transportation employees and a general feeling of “you don’t belong here.”
What can I say? Paris has done a better job of making me feel welcome than New York has. Been across the pond this summer? What’s your story?
Monolingual, white tennis shoes, an unbecoming outfit and an ugly fanny pack: my stereotypical image of an American tourist. But apparently Americans don’t win the number one spot for the world’s most obnoxious tourists. In Europe, that special place is held for the French, reports Time Magazine.
According to an international survey conducted for Expedia.fr, the French are in fact considered to be overall the worst of the worst of tourists. Employees in 4,000 hotels in Germany, the U.K., Italy, France, Canada and the U.S. were asked to rank their clients on different levels ranging from willingness to speak the local language to discretion and elegance, and French travelers did not fare well.
France fell behind India and China as providing the world with the worst tourists. And the stereotypically obnoxious American tourist? Out of 21 countries, with the most liked at the top, the US got an impressive 11th place. Why is that? Among other reasons, despite language faults, Americans get the top spot for trying to speak local languages the most. Quelle surprise.
We are slowly starting to feel relatively comfortable in Mexico: things don’t seem so unusual, and both of us are starting to notice subtle things. Well…if you can call gestures in Mexico subtle.
Chins tilting, cupped palms, and a version of the “OK” sign are only a handful of the gestures that I have noticed in Mexico. I wanted to find out what they mean, so we had our our friend, Iker (a Federali turned lawyer), help clarify the meanings. He was also nice enough to pose for photos.
Here are a few gestures you might come across in Mexico:
- Hurry Up!
This gesture, shown by rubbing the forefinger and thumb together, does not mean money in Mexico, it means you need to get moving!
Holding the thumb and forefinger up with the back of the hand to the viewer indicates that something is expensive. You’ll see husbands making this gesture to their wives in the markets or other shopping venues.
If you are haggling with someone and you notice someone else nearby tapping their bent elbow consider yourself insulted. Tapping on the elbow means “stingy” or “cheap” in Mexico.
You should watch out for someone who is “colmilludo”, which loosely translates to cunning or crafty. This is indicated by tapping one’s eyeteeth which are called “colmillos” in Spanish. This gesture refers to someone that is always looking out for himself. Iker told us that it is used both positively and negatively it just depends on the context — but I got the feeling that this is rarely used as a compliment.
Yup…the one gesture you need to know the most since it resembles the Western “OK” sign. It is formed by touching the thumb and forefinger together creating a very small circle. This is extremely rude and never used to someone’s face. See the gallery below to check out our friend Iker who kindly modeled all the gestures for us…even the rude ones.
As mentioned above the “OK” sign is the same here as at home. Just make sure that circle you make isn’t too small!
The gesture for lazy is a cupped palm facing upwards, like you are holding something heavy. One or both hands can be used in this gesture. This is highly inappropriate because it refers to lifting “huevos” (which is Mexican slang for testicles). Basically the meaning behind this gesture is that the owner’s “balls” are so big and heavy that he can’t get up!
- What’s up?
People will greet you with this gesture which is often just tilting the chin up or tilting the chin up with palms upturned and a shrug. It means “What’s happening?” but you will also see it used as a general greeting. I have found even the youngest kids know this gesture and use it in replace of a verbal greeting.
It might take awhile at first to recognize these cultural cues but once you have an idea of what to look for you will see them used all over Mexico. Gestures tend to vary from place to place so it’s probably best to use them when you are absolutely certain you know what they mean…after all, calling someone an asshole when you meant to say “OK” might not go over so well.
“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.
My dad lived the high life in Europe for a good chunk of his adult life, and as a Commanding Officer for the Royal Canadian Air Forces, he was treated to many fine dinners at many fine establishments. So you can imagine the lectures I got when I put my elbows on the table or, heaven forbid, asked for ketchup for my food. “If you ask for ketchup in Paris, you’d get kicked out of the restaurant,” he’d say as I rolled my eyes.
As painful as it was when I was a surly teenager, I’m kind of glad for the etiquette lessons of my youth because I it gives me the chance to escape being labelled a stereotypically rude North American when travelling. Still, it can’t hurt to brush up on table manners. Here are some tips for being a good dinner guest in France from MSNBC:
- Don’t arrive exactly on time for a dinner party. Come about 15 minutes to half an hour late
- Don’t bring wine — it implies that you don’t trust the host’s selection. Bring sweets or flowers — but not chrysanthemums (they signify death) and not yellow ones (they signify an unfaithful husband)
- Men should wear nice jackets to dinner and women should wear high heels
- Always keep your hands on the table, but not the elbows.
- When greeting, women can kiss women and women can kiss men, but two men should never kiss so save yourself the embarrassment of leaning in (cringe!) If you’re in Alsace or Brittany, be prepared for up to three kisses but don’t initiate them yourself.
- Never pour your own wine at a restaurant. Want water? You’ll have to ask.
- Eat asparagus with your fingers and use your digits to get shellfish out of the shell, but otherwise use your utensils.
- Always eat with your fork in the left hand, knife in the right. And hold your fork properly — it’s not a shovel!
- If it’s a five-course meal, the only course you can refuse is the fourth one (aka, the Cheese course.) If you have dietary restrictions, let them know beforehand because it’s uncouth to refuse anything.
- Don’t cut your salad — roll it with your fork.