It certainly is nice to be in France again. Paris specifically. Last year I never made it to Frence at all, and I certainly felt the lack.
Last winter, I decided it was time to finally make the effort to get a Schengen visa and move to Europe for a while. But other things got in the way, so I decided: fine, I'll just do the three month "dip" that is legal without a visa. Then in February, things were still not under control and I decided to only make it 8 weeks, and I made the airline reservation. But then.... Well, maybe you don't really want to hear all this. Anyway, I changed the reservation and here I am for six weeks.
I continued to hear people, especially back in the US, talk about how rude the French are in Paris, especially waiters. And I continue to have exactly the opposite experience. In fact, it sometimes puzzles me why waiters and especially bartenders here treat me as well as they do. Unless maybe that I tip like an American. (Not quite that well, actually, but certainly better than the French.)
My most recent experience was in a brasserie on the Boulevard St. Germain in the Latin Quarter, right in the heart of the tourist district. A fairly expensive looking place.
Mostly I just wanted to use the bathroom. And I know that one can just walk in and do that without buying anything, asking if necessary, "Ou sont les toilettes?" or even just "Les toilettes?" (Toilet in French is always plural, even when there's quite obviously only a single toilet, just as in English it's always singular, even if one is talking about a bathroom in an airport with a dozen urinals.)
But since there was space at the bar, I decided that it would be nice to have a glass of wine. The guy standing behind the bar was obviously the manager. I said "Bonjour monsieur," as French courtesy requires (even if you don't speak French, you can surely learn at least this much), and asked for, "Un vin blanc," then added, "Un sauvignon," since I knew he'd ask me to be more specific.
Okay, so that was fine, and I sat on my barstool long enough to drink my wine, then asked, "Je dois combien?" and offered a 5 euro note and got my change. The wine was a little more than 2 euros, I think. Drinking is not expensive in France, unless you really want it to be.
And since the manager had somehow been especially courteous in greeting me when I'd come in, when I collected my change from the little plastic saucer I left him a one euro tip.
And then he gave me a smile and poured me another almost full glass of wine, turning the little plastic saucer upside down to indicate that no more money was required.
I looked at him and shrugged. (I can't shrug as well as the French do, but I'm getting better at it.) I hadn't wanted any more wine, but my shrug said something like, "Well, what can one do?"
Okay, so far this is not a really memorable French experience. Bartenders in the U.S. give me free drinks all the time, without explaining why. Certainly it's not because I spend a whole lot. But those are bartenders who know me. From a French bartender who'd never seen me before in the heart of the tourist district, this was a little odd.
But I sat there and slowly drank my second glass of wine, then said, "Au revoir, monsieur," to show that I had completely mastered French courtesy.
Then to my complete surprise, he reached across the bar and took my hand and shook it, saying, "Au revoir, monsieur. C'était un plaisir."
Now it's true that Europeans shake hands a lot more than we Americans do. I've often seen bartenders shake hands with a regular customer when he arrives and then again when he leaves. But I was a complete stranger. And we hadn't exchanged a single word of conversation. The handshake alone would have seemed just a bit odd, but the comment, "It's been a pleasure" completely baffled me.
Maybe if I'd gone to a really expensive restaurant like the Tour d'Argent, I would have had a different sort of experience and the staff would have been in fact rude to me. I don't know. The fact is that my experiences in really expensive restaurants even in the US have seldom been very positive.
So maybe if you experience the French as being rude, you should go to more corner cafes and fewer high-price restaurants.
And learn to say, "Bonjour/bonsoir, Monsieur/Madame," and "Au revoir, Monsieur/Madame."
Love & kisses to all,