If your city has a reputation for insulting tourists and swindling them for every cent, it's probably not a good sign, even if you are the number three most visited city on Earth. A down economy and a decreasing number of international visitors (only city in the top 10 to lose visitors per annum) has heralded a new era of tourist relations in Paris, as local tourism authorities and hotel moguls are trying all types of new tricks to inspire more people to travel to Paris in 2014, as well improve their overall experience in the city.
Parisian café personnel have the unenviable distinction of being universally recognized for providing the worst service one could encounter; known for belittling customers, refusing to speak anything other than French (even if they are fluent in other languages), and generally being dismissive when recommendations are not taken or cheaper meals ordered. Perhaps appropriately, the city's tourism board has resumed a 2013 project, passing out six-page pamphlets directly to restaurant, café, hotel, and museum staff with recommendations on how to improve relations with the nearly 80,000 visitors who visit Paris per day. According to the 2013 pamphlet, Americans should be reassured of prices and the availability of hamburgers (referred to locally as steak haché), Spanish tourists like amusement parks, and the Chinese are "fervent shoppers, who with a simple smile and hello in their language will be fully satisfied." The 2014 edition has deviated away from potentially offensive stereotypes in favor of accommodating to specific tourists needs, so instead of advising staff that Americans can be relied upon to order a hamburger at every dining destination, it recommends where an English speaking tourist can find information about local restaurants written in English, for example.
From July 21st to August 10th, a variety of variously rated three and four-star hotels in the city center will be experimenting with "honesty rates", where the guests can pay what they feel their stay was "worth" (note: not what they want). The purpose of such a promotion would be to build a "trust contract between the client and the hotel," says Aldric Duval, who created the ploy to promote his three-star hotel. The scheme seems to follow recent comments by Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister; he said the country needs to be more accommodating and friendlier to visitors if it wants to protect its reputation as a world class vacation destination.
The "do you speak tourist" pamphlets and "honesty rates" for hotels are not the first attempts Parisians have made to appear more congenial towards tourists. The Parisien d'Un Jour (Paris Greeters) program has been pairing visitors with Parisian volunteers who wish to show off their home city since 2009. Tourists interested in the program register online and share their interests so the program can match them with a local who is passionate about similar interests. Alain Sauvage, a resident of the Grenelle neighbor in the 15th arrondisement, has been volunteering for the program since its inception and concedes, "I know we have a very bad reputation, I had this feeling that the people who are coming to Paris need to be a little bit more accepted as friends by Parisians."
You can't deny the powers that be are doing their part to make Parisians appear more amicable in 2014, but we would argue it takes more than a negative experience with a snobbish waiter at a café to deem your Parisian vacation ruined. Ultimately, a negative Parisian experience is typically rooted in a cultural disconnect; so in order to truly enjoy a Parisian vacation, consider acquiring a rental vehicle in France so you can explore all the different neighborhoods this vibrant city has to offer and mingle with all different types of locals. If you're still finding folks to be rude, simply ask them, "ne parlez-vous touriste?" and point them to your pamphlet -- but don't be surprised to receive an old-school Parisian response and a grunt.