It isn’t always wise to believe everything everybody tells you. But when your friends complain that Parisians don’t speak English and others, having heard the rumour, ask if it is indeed true that they are rude, unfriendly and unwilling to speak anything but French, you end up having doubts and organizing weird experiments in Paris.
Believe it or not, being French myself, I have never addressed my fellow Frenchmen in their natural habitat in English. So today was a first time… my brother and I dressed up as tourists for the occasion: big backpack, hat, sunglasses, bottle of water, map, camera and even – drum roll – a small Eiffel tower dangling from my bag. We practiced looking lost and foreign in front of the mirror , and then set off.
Well, it was a lot of fun. We came up to people and asked them if they knew how to get to famous tourist attractions. – in English. Then we had to pretend not to understand when they spoke French to us or their friends, stifle our giggles when the accent was too strong or when they got completely mixed up looking at the map. One person was particularly funny: “You go straight sur le bridge, and zen you continue sur la rue de Rivoli, the rue de Rivoli, you walk, and then you turn à gauche, et là, TAC! you see the Beaubourg.” Tac?!
Anyway, here are the stats:
_ sample size was 50 people
_ out of these 50 people, 20 spoke enough English not to have to resort to sign language. The others just answered in a mixture of French and sign language. Sometimes, they would repeat French sentences, hoping that maybe we would understand the 2nd time - which of course we didn't (by the way, it's hard to look completely clueless when you do in fact understand everything somebody is telling you).
_ 6 people were at least a little bit rude, but only 2 of them downright refused to help us.
_ out of the 3 old ladies we approached, two spoke good English and were very helpful and friendly. The 3rd lady didn’t speak a word of English – actually, we never heard her voice. But chances are that you’ll have a great time talking to a French granny.
There could be more stats showing how people respond according to their age and gender, but frankly, I can’t be bothered. The main conclusion is that I don’t really understand what people are complaining about; the Parisians we spoke to were usually helpful and friendly. Admittedly they didn’t speak English that well, but sign language is just hilarious and overall it was great fun talking to locals.
If you need complex information though, I would advise you to learn French.
A bon entendeur…