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Whether you’ve been to France or not, you likely have encountered a French waiter in real life or on screen. Time and again, movies have portrayed them in a bad light possessing snooty attitudes who won’t give you the time of day.
Only reiterating the negative stereotype, many online forums exist in which American tourists describe their worst dining experiences with their rude waiters. But how can this behavior ever really be acceptable anywhere?
INSIDER spoke with several travel experts to find out why French waiters really are so ‘rude.’
My waiter wouldn’t help me understand the menu.
Depending on where you are in France, there may already be an English translation on the menu, particularly in Paris as there are many tourists who come to the City of Lights.
When asking more specific questions about the translations, it’s very possible your waiter might not help you, but it’s not necessarily out of rudeness. It may be because he simply doesn’t know the technical words in English to describe what is in the dish, according to Fiurenzu Sanna, marketing and public relations specialist.
If you’re visiting cities outside of Paris, you may have an even harder time getting the waiter to translate the menu because the staff may not speak English at all, Sanna added.
For situations like this, Craig J. Buzz Conroy, travel and aviation researcher advised taking the time to greet your waiter in French and explain in a quiet manner that you are not fluent. Mutual respect and manners go a long way and could affect the level of service you receive versus not trying to speak French at all.
He never cracked a smile the entire time I was there.
Waiters in France are viewed as professionals in their field, according to Conroy. In the United States, it is a common belief that food service is a temporary job until a person gets into their chosen profession.
However in France, waiters are seen not as personal servants, but as food servers with panache, Conroy said.
“They are similar to the people in service in England where the position is passed from one generation to the next and it is an honor to be in service — not a job but a position,” Conroy told INSIDER.
Therefore, one reason you might not get a smile and such friendly service during your French dining experience is that your waiter is paid a fixed wage, according to Jennifer Dombrowski, award-winning travel blogger, expat, and Francophile at Luxe Adventure Traveler. They don’t rely on tips as waiters do in America.
However, Dombrowski advised still leaving a couple of euros if your waiter has been particularly helpful and provided exceptional service.
I couldn’t make any substitutions.
“The customer is always right” was a phrase coined in 1909 by Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of Selfridges department store in London. This phrase has been ingrained in American customer service and businesses live by it religiously.
Americans are used to making demands and asking for substitutes on the menu to have their food prepared in a way that meets their needs. This, however, is uncommon to most other foreign countries, according to Dombrowski, and the rest of the world usually sees Americans as a bit difficult because of it.
So when ordering off the menu in France, take it for what it is and embrace it.
“Sometimes the chef really does know best and if you don’t like the potato puree that comes with the lamb shank, then order something else,” Dombrowski told INSIDER.