Here’s why I loved Paris: I went there with some almost-entirely forgotten French and a phrasebook (which I read constantly while we were there). In almost every case, when we were out somewhere, the people at the shops and wherever else were happy to meet me halfway. If I was struggling with something, they’d try to figure out what it was in English. It was so great to try and go as far with French as possible and have them willing to give me the assist when it didn’t get there.
And really, almost everyone we met was like that: kind, happy to talk to us, and I think a little amused that I was trying so hard to speak French.
I went to Paris expecting to not like the French at all, and out of all the people I dealt with, only a couple weren’t great.
That said, here’s how Parisians are dicks:
– Making fun of your pronunceation. It’s a little power trip, where they make a big deal about how you’re not saying words correctly – repeating the thing you said, acting confused, the whole deal. I was in a bakery and asked for two pain aux raissons (these cool pastries with raisins in them) while making the thumb-and-finger “two” and pointing at the pastries I wanted in the display, and the young woman behind the counter made a huge deal about how I wasn’t saying it right. “Poisson?” she asked, which would be fish. She protested that they didn’t have any fish pasteries. Which then would make it really strange for me to ask for fish pasteries, right? And since I’m pointing to something that sounds pretty close to what I asked for, it’s probably a pretty good bet that that’s what I want.
There were people behind me in line and this was embarassing. I did my request again, asking for the pastries, the sign for two, pointing, and she repeated my words with the same confused look. She drew this out for a while.
This is distinct from conversations I had with people who wanted to talk to me about improving my French, which was sometimes pointed but done in a friendly way.
– The indignity of work. This happens everywhere – there were a couple times where I’d walk up to a counter to buy something and the clerk would make a big deal with the body language, huffing as they stood to walk over, sighing as they opened the register. They only work 35 hours a week – come on.
I spent almost almost two weeks in Paris, working my ass off to speak to people, and by the time we left I could have reasonable conversations with shop keepers (including asking them to please speak a little more slowly). I felt really good about it, and it helped make my time in Paris much more fun.