“I Don’t Understand the Parisians” – Lerner & Loewe’s “Gigi”

“I Don’t Understand the Parisians” – Lerner & Loewe’s “Gigi”

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Parisians aren’t grumpy, they’re just French! photo: Nicholas Jones

A couple of years ago, I walked into my favorite New York deli and quietly waited for my turn at the counter. Another New Yorker came in after me and very deftly moved in front of me and got to the helper-person before me with a loud voice and a friendly but determined air. It took me a minute to wonder how she managed to slip up to the counter ahead of me… and then I got it: from years of visiting Paris, my subconscious had been converted and my behavior altered… by quietly and unobtrusively waiting my turn, I was behaving like a Parisian – and she, I thought, was rude.

That was a genuine ‘ta-da’ moment for me… So you can take the girl out of the country and the country out of me apparently… at least for a few moments at a New York deli counter. Bottom line: We think Parisians are rude; Parisians think we’re rude. I think we both have our moments.

The necessary ‘bonjour’ when you enter an establishment and ‘au revoir’ when you leave are two of the more simpler nuances of Parisian etiquette. There are a ton more, with bigger implications than just a scoff. Under their socialist system most ‘things’ are the same (sales happen twice a year and every shop has them, equal pay for equal service, tips are included in the meal and not at the diner’s discretion, etc…). Hey, I get it: Unless you know an ex-pat, who’s lived there long enough to clue you in, our cultural behaviors can be misinterpreted as “rude.”

Paris, without any insight into their collective psyche, is gorgeous all on its own, day or night. Driving through the center, past the Louvre and up the Champs-Élysées, over to the Eiffel Tower and across the Seine, past Notre Dame on your way to the Left Bank. It’s all so iconic… so magical.

I’m walking here! New Yorkers have been known to be rude as well…

In our company, it’s become our mission to dig deeper than just the iconic; to leave visitors with a more intimate connection to Paris… to give them a personal connection to the Parisians with an American perspective. It’s the ‘why’ in “Why go to the Louvre when you can go to the Met?”. The Met is an amazing museum but it’s in New York – and New York isn’t Paris. The experience is so much richer when you get a peek into their window… it’s what makes it different… unique.

I’d like to think I’ve adopted some of their more charming characteristics over my years of multiple visits and launching a tourist business in Paris (AmericanConcierge.com). I love going there, I love being there… I love eating there, sightseeing there and I certainly love shopping there. And I mostly always add a sensually knotted colorful silk neck scarf to my daily ensemble.

By the way, I no longer believe that Parisians are rude. They’re just French!


  1. Not observing the rules of standing in line is rude in every country not just in France. If you had been a real Parisian you would have said – in a loud clear voice- to the person who went ahead of you in the line in New York: “ici on fait la queue madame/monsieur”. Saying it in French of course.

  2. Hi, Parisian at birth having lived in the US, Hosting many Americans, Australians, Canadians, Brits, Kiwis …
    Having read so many books and practiced about culture shocks, yes indeed we have different cultures and values. None being right or wrong, just different. Different views on privacy, on conversations allowed topics, on independence … So best is not to judge the others though our own education and perspective, as then we would find the other “rude” for sure.
    What is polite on one side may sound rude on the other and reverse.
    So yes , be open minded and tolerant.
    Now I don’t know where you have seen that Parisians respect lines and queues ? They are the worse, to my opinion …😄

    • Now I don’t know where you have seen that Parisians respect lines and queues ? They are the worse, to my opinion …

      I thought something similar. I think the difference is that in France your position in any queue must be made unambiguous, often to the point of pushing against the person in front. If you leave any kind of gap and don’t pay attention then Parisians will consider it is your inattentiveness (and weakness) that allows them to slip into any gap etc. It’s not rudeness, merely survival of the fittest! Which sounds very similar to the author’s NYC experience! Both are different to the English queue which needs respecting in the extreme. The worst in Paris is when there is ambiguity, say nominally one queue for two servers, because that often turns into a free-for-all.

      As an Australian I was amused when walking with a New Yorker friend who never did adjust fully. She hated the Parisian’s assertive walking habits and the fact that their determined attempt to pretend that no one else exists, even on crowded pavements, results in many minor collisions. New Yorkers are very hurried and brash walkers but they do take considerable steps to avoid contact sidestepping each other as they rush past. She said it was impossible to walk in Paris without “losing points” for contact! Clearly the two cities’ pedestrians are playing to opposite rules. I think it does take a year or two for an Anglo to learn how to walk on crowded Parisian streets (or for that matter even if there are only one or two walking in the opposite direction, who will still attempt to dominate the space as if you don’t exist, even if there is lots of space!). One must walk with a certain brisk casual assertiveness that signals that “I’m coming thru so watch out”. Then the two “combatants” give way just slightly, right at the last moment and pass by without incident or perhaps a slight brush (lost points to a New Yorker). It’s modern jousting, with only egos at risk of damage and becomes second nature.
      Of course what you must not do, but which most visiting Anglos continue to do, is make eye contact with the adversary and make any concession to them well in advance; this awful ceding of space will simply end up with you in the gutter, cursing all Parisians ever born!
      If you find any French-speaking pedestrians who don’t behave like this then clearly they aren’t Parisians but doubtless mere provincials!