When some friends from the US and Switzerland told me they wanted to meet up for a few days in Paris, I was conflicted.
On the one hand, Paris is the legendary City of Light, a true world city, full of history, culture, fashion, and food. It’s a must-have on any bucket list.
On the other hand, the French are supposed to be real assholes. Admittedly, the few French exchange students I’d met in college were congenial enough, but I had heard nothing but horror stories from the people I know who have been to France.
The French will pretend not to know English and then mock you if you try to speak French. They’ll try to swindle you in shops and charge you for bread, candles, napkins and tap water in restaurants. Information counters, hotel desks, ticket stalls and even the police will refuse to serve you.
A general air of disdain, superiority, and resentment will envelope you everywhere you go.
I girded my loins and bought a ticket.
The people in my compartment were apologetically polite; the guy next to me literally jumped out of his seat when I told him I needed to get to the aisle. The train conductor spoke with me in German, a language I was told the French despise even more than English.
I finally pulled into Paris and my friends were waiting on the platform. Right outside the train station a French girl asked us if we spoke English, then complimented our backpacks. We told her we were from America and she cheered.
I kid you not. She squealed with delight. I was waiting for her to follow up with something vicious and sarcastic but the blow never came.
We got a little lost on the walk to the hostel, so we stopped on a random street corner to consult our (not so) trusty map. A college kid stopped and asked us if we needed directions in English. Then he studied our map for a while before pointing us in the right direction.
The man behind the counter at the hostel spoke almost perfect English and he was also a cool dude. He sold us beer after last call and recommended local restaurants to us. The other girls who worked the counter during our stay were some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, and kind of hot too. I know it’s cliché, but French accents really do sound sexy.
Almost every restaurant we went to was an awesome experience; usually expensive, but awesome. Nearly all of the waiters/waitresses spoke at least some English, and many of them even joked around with us. One time I mistakenly used a coin tray as an ashtray and the waiter just laughed and emptied it for me.
We met a restaurant owner who talked with us for half an hour about Paris, her life in the restaurant and hotel industry, and some of the rich and famous guests she’d seen over the years. Then she gave us some tips on where to go in the city, apologized for the rainy weather, and wished us a pleasant stay.
Not every Frenchman we met was eager to help, but most were.
This led me to think, what would happen to a tourist wandering through New York who didn’t speak a word of English. They’d probably end up getting mugged in an alley somewhere.
I don’t know what to believe anymore. I tried to hate the French but they kept being kind and generous. People continue to tell me stories of how rude and nasty the Parisians are, but I don’t know what they’re talking about. I was there for a week and almost everyone was ridiculously nice.
Granted, I wasn’t there during peak season. I can imagine how living in the #1 tourist destination in the world would grind the local’s gears by mid-August.
At the end of the day I don’t know what happened. Either all the people who told me of their horrible experiences in France were lying, or I accidentally met the only thirty nice people in Paris one after another in a statistically improbable chain of blind luck.
I don’t know what to recommend to others, but personally, I would go back again in a heartbeat.
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