We have several friends with whom I can easily get into an argument about whether the French are friendly or not. Rather than provoke our friends, I prefer to just keep collecting stories of the many ways the French people have been helpful and kind to us--and this includes the Parisians. Sometimes, however, I may go overboard with my attempts to convert my friends.
Ralph and I have been to Paris several times. Usually our stays have been short because we are on our way further south to hike. This year, we stayed five nights--which I think is the most ever, and then we took a couple of trains to get to a small town, Le Gran Lemps, which is on an ancient pilgrimage route.
On most of our earlier trips to Paris, we have stayed in the Marais district. We like both the district and the hotel. However, the place we stayed previously, the Hotel Saint Louis-Marais, has been remodeled and the price has gone up. This time, we found a new place, the Hotel du Champ du Mars, which is about a ten-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. It's also just around the corner from the Rue Clue--a pedestrian street where you can find florists, a boulangerie, a market, and many good restaurants.
It was at one of these restaurants where we struck up a conversation with Catherina and Michael, a couple at a neighboring table. (As happened most times that we ate out in this area, everyone within earshot was speaking English; the couple on both sides of us were Americans.) As we introduced ourselves and shared our experiences about our time in the city, I made my usual comments about how wrong some of our friends were about the French and how friendly they have always been to us.
Catherina acknowledged that they had enjoyed their week in Paris--their first European vacation away from their four kids. She added, "But we had a bad experience when we first arrived at the airport and we asked a man for directions."
He yelled at me, "You just come up to me and don't even greet me before you start asking questions--in English!"
Catherina quickly learned an important rule about dealing with the French--always greet people formally. You start with a "Bonjour, Monsieur" (or "Madame" as the case may be) and then continue, in French if you can. If you can't, then you can ask, "S'il vous plait, parlez-vous Anglais? (If you please, do you speak English?)
And when you leave, the formalities continue, with "Merci" or ""Merci beau coup" and "Au revoir." Ignore this advice at your peril:-).
This has worked for us countless times--and I have nothing but gratitude for the countless people throughout France who have put up with our limited language skills.
For others thoughts on this, follow this link to Virtual Tourist.
Salut! (informal/with friends: "hi" and "bye")