Let’s explode a few myths about France and the French. At least these are observations of one who has only spent a week here. But after numerous interactions I think what I want to say holds water and will continue to hold water.
The French are really nice, friendly, helpful people. I only speak a few words (Mary Ann is much better with her French minor) but most of the people we interact with want to understand what we’re saying. They’re kind and helpful and even do some teaching about how things are done in France (I handed the waiter my receipt on the little tray he brought it on, and he replaced the tray on the table, smiling (the tip, dummy!).) All speak more English than I speak French.
French people seem really friendly with each other, engaged and seem really interested in hearing what the other person has to say. On the streets, the French are a similar mixture of people to we Americans. Some people obviously headed to work in good and stylish clothes. Others are in jeans and t-shirts, and always there are a few older pensioners, older than us for sure.
There are a fair number of Americans here. It is still the tourist season, albeit late in the tourist season. They’re easy to pick out. Unlike Parisians, who generally know the lay of the land and go about their business headed to wherever it is they’re going, whether to an office or a favorite stand in the Rue Cler, are more relaxed. They look where they’re going, usually straight ahead.
Americans like us are looking around a lot, trying to find our way. We all speak English. We try to read the French signage. Other than a guy stuffing his paper napkin into a finished bowl of onion soup, I haven’t seen any ‘ugly American’ gaffes, and I hope we never commit any.
What I’d say to anyone hesitating to visit France is this: Don’t hesitate. It’s a friendly, hospitable place. People are helpful, and while they may not gush all over you, they’ll always be courteous. And they really seem to appreciate if you know and use at least a few phrases of their beautiful language. And after all, how hard is it to memorize bonjour, bonsoir, merci, merci beaucoup, au revoir, pardon,s’il vous plait, and a few other key phrases? They get you a long way in France.