ZUT ALORS! The French are being urged to shake off their reputation for being unfriendly and instead be a bit more “Oui” than “Non” towards visitors.
Those working in the French tourist industry in the country have been asked to turn on the charm in a bid to increase visitor numbers and boost the nation’s economy.
A number of recent international surveys found the French capital was one of the world’s most hostile places for foreign visitors.
Now restaurateurs and others dealing with tourists in the country are being asked to smile and help when asked if they speak English.
France is still one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations for the world’s tourists – receiving around 83 million visitors every year.
However, France’s commerce minister Fleur Pellerin told the National Tourism Conference in Paris: “Tourism is not an amusing or secondary matter. The stakes are the same as exports.
“Too often we mistake service with servility. The country needs to recover a sense of hospitality.”
As part of a shake-up of the country’s attitudes to foreigners, Sunday trading laws need to be changed to allow more shops to open, and the Gare du Nord station, where Eurostar trains arrive from London, needs a facelift, according to French foreign minister Laurent Fabius.
Mr Fabius, who is also responsible for international development and foreign trade, said that France wanted to attract 100 million people each year, up around 20 per cent on current levels.
The nationwide tourist action plan comes after a number of surveys showed that visitors to the country thought it was an unfriendly place.
Last year, the Paris Tourist Board issued a “politeness manual” to service industry workers in bid to change the city’s reputation for being the rudest place on earth.
Paris attempted a similar campaign three years earlier, hiring “smile ambassadors” to be friendly to visitors at the city’s main attractions.
A recent study by the Trip-advisor website also found foreigners visiting Paris voted it the rudest city in Europe.
Researchers found tourists thought the French capital had the least friendly locals, the rudest taxi drivers and the most hostile and aggressive waiters.
However, Glasgow restaurant owner Richard Dupupet, director of French restaurant Le Bistro Beaumartin, defended France’s reputation, saying he thought the culture of the “customer being always right” had gone too far in this country.
“Recently there seems to be a culture of complaining. If people don’t like something they threaten to write bad reviews – it seems to be the new way to be.
“Because there are so many deals to be had travelling to France, it has become much more affordable to many people. And for some reason they think that it is OK to treat service staff, such as waiters, like servants. They think that being rude and demanding things is the right way to be.
“However, in France, eating in a restaurant is a two-way thing – that you are respectful and polite to the people looking after you.”
Mr Dupupet, who was brought up in Burgundy, France, added: “When I go to a restaurant, I speak nicely to people and treat them with respect. This is how it is in France – but being rude seems to be the new way to be.”
Morgan Miceli, French manager of La Garrigue restaurant in Edinburgh, said he thought attitudes in France towards visitors were changing.
“I don’t think that the reputation of the French being unwelcoming is fair any more. In the past that might have been the case but attitudes are changing.”