Free French Lessons Online - Tourism Advice
Many times, tourists get bad reputations, not because they are trying to be rude, but because they simply do not know the custom of the country they are visiting. (Of course, there are some people who are rude in any country they are in, including their own! We are not talking about them. We are talking about you-the traveler who wants to learn about other countries and cultures and get to know the people in other countries.) You cannot get to know other people without speaking to them, and so you have taken the first steps in that direction. Even the most halting of speech, using a guidebook and a dictionary, will help you get along in another country. It's the tourists who refuse to make an effort to be understood by the locals that give everyone a bad reputation. Many people (especially business people, or people in large cities) do, indeed speak English. But why should they speak your language when you are not willing to make the least effort to speak theirs, and you are in their country? Tourists who have studied French before their trip tell many stories of Frenchmen going out of their way to be helpful, (and starting to speak English) once they have heard the tourist try to speak French. Everyone recognizes that it is not easy to learn a new language, but if you try to communicate with a Frenchman in his own tongue, doors will open for you. Those who come back from a visit with stories about how unfriendly the French are have surely not made an effort to communicate with them in their own language. So your first step should be to try to speak French as much as possible.
Society in France and other French speaking countries is still fairly formal. Do not use "tu", unless you are specifically directed to. (Except with children.) Address new acquaintances by Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle and their last name.
We may be accustomed to walking into a shop, going up to a counter and asking "How much is that scarf?", without even acknowledging the existence of the clerk behind the counter. This is considered very rude in France. Whenever you address a person, you should look at them and say "Bonjour, Madame", then make your inquiry. In a small shop, you should say hello as you walk in the door, both to announce your arrival, and in greeting. There are still many small shops in French speaking countries. Although they are using "supermarches" more and more, the French prize the quality available at their neighborhood "epicerie, boulangerie, boucherie, fromagerie" (Grocery store, bakery, butcher, cheese shop).
Digging into your food (or drink) without some preamble seems course to the French. Whenever you sit down to a meal, you will notice that everyone wishes everyone "bon appetit". If you have a drink with someone, it is polite to say "a votre sante", or some variation of it. Try "a votre famille" if it is appropriate, and, if you have been invited to "tutoyer" (use the "tu" form and the first name) someone, you would say "a ta sante" or "a ta famille". When you toast someone, you look them in the eye.
You will notice that the French have more subtle gestures than we do. Hearty hand shakes and pounds on the back that indicate deep interest and approval for an American would be considered very forward to a Frenchman.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Observe the behavior of others and try to incorporate their style as your own. This is not being a phony; it is respecting the traditions of other people. This is the way you will not be viewed as an "ugly tourist".
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