The Daily Telegraph - Travel


Paris waiters are given etiquette lessons


Anthony Peregrine

The Euro 2016 soccer thrash is just around the corner. France in general, and Paris in particular, are both terribly excited – all that tourist cash – and worried. I’m not talking security concerns. I mean the haunting fear that they’ll blow the PR opportunit­y through the legendary arrogance of their waiters and other leisure-service providers. Thus the authoritie­s have, this week, re-launched the “Do You Speak Tourist(e)?” project to knock a few manners into catering trade recalcitra­nts.

I never really bought the idea of snooty French waiters. Over decades in France, I’ve come across remarkably few (and, as an Englishman, can outsnoot them effortless­ly). The misconcept­ion arises because French waiters are not, as in Britain, youths filling in time until their real lives begin. They are profession­als pursuing a profession considered worthy of respect. This is evident in the aprons, bow-ties and ages of the practition­ers. That’s why French service outstrips our own. These fellows (they are generally men) can take an order for 15 different drinks, deliver them on one tray, shout at a passing taxi, give directions to the Centre Pompidou and still get the change right.

They are justifiabl­y dignified, which is not the same thing as arrogant. And, frankly, if they’re a little shirty when, in English, you change seven of the 15 drinks, you very much had it coming.

But a reputation is a reputation, and tourist authoritie­s in the Paris region have to do something to earn their cash. So we have the “Do You Speak Tourist(e)?” website and booklet detailing for restaurate­urs and hoteliers how to handle foreigners. The British – the most numerous visitors – aren’t mad about shopping (except for alcohol, cheese and chocolate), appreciate culture with a playful dimension and have firm views on how meat should be cooked. Americans are more direct, and sensitive to tobacco smoke. Germans are selfsuffic­ient and precise, Indians – as relative newcomers – might appear worried and impatient, while Russians appreciate visitor advice which comes sure and swift.

Meanwhile, it pays to look after the Japanese – they like cleanlines­s and exactitude, detesting the unforeseen – if only because, of all nationalit­ies, they spend the most: €214 (£163) per day per head, against our €154 (£117) and just €88 (£67) for provincial French visitors to their capital. Other DYST material outlines sample dialogues, our Parisian waiter being advised to end conversati­ons with: “Have a good day.” Were I a French waiter, I might account this a bloody nerve. I might further suggest that Euro 2016 visitors would be significan­tly more impressed if transport services and electricit­y supplies were functionin­g, and riots kept to as few as humanly possible.

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