Was I an ugly (rude) American in Paris?

Okay, this has been bothering me for a few weeks and I thought I’d get some opinions. Back in September, I was in Paris to celebrate my 40th birthday. I have been to France before and knew that it was considered impolite to enter a shop without saying “bon jour” or something to acknowledge the shopkeeper. Not a problem. I even do that in the USA when going to a small shop or business.

Well, one day I was walking along the Seine and remembered that I had a bunch of postcards in my backpack that I needed to mail. So, I walked up to the nearest Tobacco shop and spied a sour looking older lady behind the counter. I stood in line until the man in front of me got his smokes. When it was my turn, I asked the lady in my best broken French if I could have 10 stamps for postcards to the USA. Well, she immediately scolded me and said (in English), “in THIS country we say “bon jour” first and “how are you” before conducting business”……”you are very rude”. After she said this to me, I asked her if she considered herself rude for admonishing a complete stranger in front of other customers. She had no reply.

It got me to thinking. In the USA, I “might” say “hello, how are you” to someone behind the counter at 7-11 or the post office or wherever, but generally do not. I’ve been paying close attention to this ever since my run in with this lady in Paris, and I find that most people in the USA do not exchange pleasantries with people working behind the counter. Honestly, I know this may sound rude, but I don’t care how you’re doing, I just want my stamps. It may be pleasant and nice, but it’s a complete waste of time.

Am I way off base here?

I always thought it was the shoppies job to acknowldge YOU, as you are there to patronize them (i.e. give them your money), so they should greet you, as your presence in their shop is doing them a favor. But maybe in Europe that is different- I love the French, but can’t say as I know all their customs.

She was the rude one.

You’re grand, totally on base IMO.

I agree with yojimbo. It’s a different situation if you enter a shop and you’re the only customer, but if you are having to queue, it’s better just to get a move on.

I find that generally people acknowledge each other when entering a store. Perhaps it’s different in the U.S.

If it’s a quiet, small store, and the shopkeep makes eye contact or something, I’ll say hi, but if their head’s buried in a magazine or something, I won’t. I’m not there to make friends, though I’m also not going to be unnecessarily unfriendly. And I always say hello/howyadoin to the cashier at Safeway, line or not.

I always greet the cashier in a store, or the server in the restaurant, or the ticket agent, or whomever. It seems to be nominally courteous to acknowledge someone’s existence, and second nature. Cultures differ, of course, but my experience when living in Europe was that people expected at least a pleasantry to be exchanged.

But there have to be some gruff parisiens who don’t say much, and it seems like perhaps the OP was jumped on in particular because of his speaking?

I go out of my way to exchange pleasantries with virtually everyone who I encounter in all conceivable circumstances—except for French people, I always ignore them.


When I deal with french speaking people I just accept that because I can’t speak French I will be treated like a rude American. I’ve dealt with plenty of people from other countries and cultures and I generaly find French and French Canadians impossible to appease.

I lived there for a year and I don’t recall anything of the sort. I usually did because I do the same thing here. I remember the shopkeepers and cashiers were on the surlier side especially in Paris.

You wern’t rude. The sour looking shop keeper was extremely rude, and didn’t deserve your custom.

I cannot imagine an American shopkeeper bitching someone out for not saying hello. I think this woman was being hard on you for reasons personal to her. Don’t let it continue to bother you, if you can. JMO.

This is funny, because I have endlessly heard Europeans criticize Americans for being so “shallow” and “superficial” and “insincere” precisely because we so often greet people we don’t know with a “Hello! How are you?”

Wee Bairn is right. The shopkeeper had the greater responsibility to be polite and greet you the customer.

As a general rule, I say hello to no one. But I am a rude hermit. I think it’s safe to say that you were not intentionally being rude, unlike the shop keeper.

I try to say hi to people before I interact with them, although I still find this bit of American culture odd after living in Korea for the past decade. That said, I think it’s incredibly rude to lecture anyone about manners in public (unless you’re a parent scolding your kids). I’m sure Miss Manners would agree.

I generally greet people in that situation, but provided you smiled, spoke as nicely as you could - given the language barrier - and weren’t surly (ie, you didn’t just stalk up and demand your stamps as though she were a servant) then NO WAY were you the rude one. No way at all.

Truly, it just sounds like she was an old sourpuss with a prejudicial attitude towards Americans, expecting them to be rude.

It’d be generally a self-fulfilling prophecy, I’d expect, if she greets all Americans with such aggressive contempt! :eek:

A French citizen rude?

Surely you jest, everyone knows that the French are the most polite and friendly people on the planet :dubious:

A waste of how much time? It’s just a simple acknowledgement of a person’s existence. You are not entitled to stamps or anything else in this world - once you learn that, a simple “Hi” to people you come across and have transactions with makes sense.

While I agree that on this occasion, she had some prejudice that led her to be rude, I’ve never found that to be the general rule in France. In fact, I hate the stereotype that you portray here - not least because I get much worse treatment from people in London than I ever do in Paris or Nice.