Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Trying to make Parisians nicer

In the City of Light, an eternal question is once again spurring debate: Is the stereotype of the brusque Frenchman justified, or do visitors just not understand the French?

The soul-searching is coming from an unlikely place: the Paris tourism board. It is ramping up a charm offensive to burnish the image of France — and Paris in particular — as a kinder place for tourists. Officials have been deluging cafes, hotels, shops and taxi ranks with 20,000 more pamphlets titled “Do You Speak Touriste?”, a manual on how to make travelers feel more welcome, after 35,000 copies handed out in July ran out. ...

Paul Kappe, an owner of the renowned Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis, perched behind the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, gave a Gallic shrug when he saw the brochure.

“It starts with the assumption that the French are disagreeable,” said Mr. Kappe, a contemplative man who kept a watchful eye on the restaurant’s sunny terrace, full of waiters and patrons crammed behind tiny tables. “Well, that does have the ring of truth,” he said. “But it won’t stop a waiter from being unpleasant.” ...

All of the brasserie’s servers were longtime professionals, dressed impeccably in white shirts and long black aprons. Their smiles were hardly effusive, but they poured wine with an expert turn of the wrist and counseled diners on the “plat du jour.” On the other hand, some deftly ignored patrons clamoring for a bill.

“In the United States,” Mr. Kappe observed, “waiters can be fired at any time and must work for tips, so they have to be nice. In France, you can’t just fire somebody if they’re not doing a good job. If you could, everyone would be friendly.”