Any traveler visiting a foreign country is bound to do a few things that bother the locals. However, there's no rivalry quite like that between American tourists and the French, especially in Paris. Many French people see Americans as rude, loud, and disrespectful but they have many reasons to feel that way.
If you will be traveling to France, there are many things you can do differently to ensure you aren't seen as a stereotypical American tourist. What are these things? Let's look at the behavior the French are adverse to and what you can do instead.
France, especially Paris, is often known for pickpockets and other scams. However, Parisians are well aware that most American tourists don't take any precautions against these scams. In fact, Americans seem to make themselves a target for these scams while blaming it on France and the French people.
Instead: When traveling throughout France, or in Paris, be sure to leave expensive items back at your hotel. Jewelry and very expensive cameras can make you a prime target. If you are carrying a backpack or fanny-pack, wear it on your front instead of back. Choose another place to carry your wallet if you usually carry it in your back pocket.
Because Americans see the French in a different light and seem to give them a bad rap even though much of the cause of this is the Americans themselves, they may be tempted to bad-mouth the French or Parisians in public. You're likely to make a few enemies doing this as many French citizens know how to speak English, even if not fluently.
Instead: If you have anything bad to say, leave it for your hotel room. In fact, even if it's the opposite of how you feel, making a few compliments while out and about can net you a few friends who might be more willing to help you take photographs or give you directions.
Adding locks to the sides of many Seine River bridges has been common practice for decades. The idea is to add your lock and then throw the key into the river, ensuring the love you've shared in Paris will last a lifetime. However, this has turned many beautiful Paris bridges into more sideshows than photogenic features.
Instead: There are many other ways you can declare your love to your partner that won't damage bridges. Why not take pictures at every spot you enjoyed together and then turn it into a scrapbook you can share with everyone back home? Or how about a souvenir you can take home? Custom souvenirs are a great way to celebrate your love as well as the trip.
If there were tourists in America who just walked up to you and started asking questions or making requests of you, it might make you a little bit upset. Anyone would feel that way. However, most Americans in France walk up to locals and ask for directions or to take a photograph without so much as a "hello." This is liable to upset them.
Instead: Even if you use the English word, "Hello," instead of saying "Bonjour," it's more likely that the person will help you. However, if you'd like to appear more sensitive to French language and culture, a simple, "Bonjour," before speaking to someone can go a long way.
Locals who are using the Metro subway system or the Velib bike rental system to get to and from work, visit friends and family, do their shopping, and other things locals do in any city, are usually disrespected in many ways by American tourists. Keeping a group of travelers together, for example, makes it very difficult for others to find their way. Many American travelers also don't know where they are going or what they are doing which can make for confusion.
Instead: When you know you will be using the Metro or a Velib bike rental, be sure to research how the payment process works beforehand. On the Metro, study the map before boarding so you know which direction you should be headed and what exit you need to look for. Also, take off all large bags and set them on the floor between your feet so riders can move more comfortably. Public transportation in Paris can be busy, so plan ahead.
Americans who encounter tourists in the US often get upset when someone comes up to talk to them and they aren't making an effort to speak English. Just as this practice is frowned upon in the US, it's also frowned upon in France. However, communicating in French doesn't have to be a burden.
Instead: Even if you only learn one French word, it should be "bonjour." However, it's very easy to look up a short list of words and phrases that you can memorize before your trip. To make things even easier, there are cheap, and even free, apps that can translate English to French for both Android and iOS. Some do this in text form and some with voice, but it's an excellent way to express yourself in the local language.
With so many landmarks that tourists love to photograph, sometimes the way you go about taking them can not only be dangerous but can put you in the way of locals going about their business. For example, many tourists stand in the middle of the street to take a photo of themselves directly in front of the Arc de Triomphe. This is frowned upon can make locals upset.
Instead: There are many places from which to take excellent photographs of landmarks within the city. If you aren't able to get the photo from the exact angle you'd like, you can usually purchase a photo book or even just a postcard that can be added to the photograph you were able to take. Keep yourself safe and the locals happy by staying out of the way.
The sidewalk cafes in Paris are famous for great food and great coffee. However, these cafes often have tables set up for those who wish to order food and those who only want to enjoy coffee and scones. Asking to sit in the wrong area because it's more convenient can quickly earn you a disgruntled waiter. Also, while you may be moving tables around so you can sit in the sun or so that your large party can sit together can also earn your waiter a hefty ticket, paid on the spot, from local police.
Instead: It's perfectly fine to ask your host or hostess if there is seating available that you'd like, such as in the sun. You can also ask what tables would be available so you can choose from several. However, seating yourself and rearranging tables and chairs is highly frowned upon. When in France, follow typical French dining etiquette.
American tourists are known all over the world as being very loud. Both speech and laughter aren't as loud in most other regions of the world, especially in France. Because of this, you often don't need to speak as loudly as we are used to in the US to speak over other people and over traffic. It's just not necessary and by being loud, you can infringe upon local's conversations and meals.
Instead: Sit closer together or communicate directions before setting out so no one will need to raise their voice or yell to be heard. If you need to convey a message farther away from you and feel you would need to yell, texting the person or having the message relayed through someone closer to them is the best bet.
The French take their cuisine very seriously. Most chefs have spent years or decades perfecting recipes based on local cuisine, available fresh ingredients, and the unique tastes of the French people. Asking to have a locally made cheese that's added to a salad substituted for cheddar won't just make the chef mad but also the waiter who will have to tell the chef.
Instead: Part of traveling to France should also be experiencing the unique French cuisine they are famous for. If there's something in the dish you don't feel you would like, you can always choose something else. Your waiter is also a great resource when it comes to choosing menu items you would like.