Paris Officials Push for Politeness Toward Tourists

Their city is the world's No. 1 tourist destination, yet Parisians sometimes seem downright grumpy about it.

On Monday, city officials set out to change that, urging cab drivers to smile and telling waiters to try out their English.

Tourists, too, were given tips like "try out French products" instead of heading to the first Starbucks in search of friendly service.

As Mayor Bertrand Delanoe launched the first Paris Tourist Day on the sprawling Trocadero Plaza across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the response from passers-by was predictable: Parisians said their rude reputation was exaggerated. Visitors disagreed.

Paul Roll, director of the Paris Tourism Office, conceded that the French capital has a "rather unfriendly" image but defended his compatriots.

"French citizens are shy when they need to speak in a foreign language. They have a very strong accent, which makes it difficult to understand," he said.

He said the campaign was aimed at making Parisians understand how important tourists are to their city's economic growth, and to help them improve their habits when dealing with foreigners. A full 12 percent of jobs in Paris are directly connected to tourism, Roll said.

"To be frank," said Brazilian tourist Joana D'Arc de Almeida, "I think Paris needs to learn a lot about how to deal with tourists, because that's what brings money to the city. It looks like they have so much money from it already that they don't care about people anymore."

She said she's determined, regardless, to adapt to the "French way of doing things."

Tour guide Nicole Rimbaud insisted her fellow Parisians' "habits are really changing."

"If (visitors) make an effort and try to explain to Parisians that they don't speak French instead of speaking English right away, (French) people can be very warm, actually," she said.

Cab driver Mustafah Hammoum welcomed the friendliness campaign — but said in general his colleagues are "quite nice."

"We do our best," he said.

"What could we improve? Well, traffic, that's for sure. And English skills, why not? There are lots of cab drivers who don't speak that language. It's a real problem when people can't understand each other," he said.

Many Parisian cab drivers aren't native French speakers, either, adding to the challenges for passengers.

Bystanders at the Trocadero event were offered Parisian water, orange juice and brochures with a "Charter for the Parisian and Visitor."

"I will take the time to give information to visitors. I will make use of my foreign language skills to reply to them in their language," reads one item of advice to Parisians.

To tourists, the brochure says, "I will experience the Parisian lifestyle" and "I will take advantage of my stay to try French products."

It's not the first time the city has sought to clean up its manners, nor the last. While Monday's event was a one-day affair, city officials are also offering long-term friendliness projects.

"Ambassadors of Welcome" kiosks went up for the summer in five strategic tourist sites, like near Notre Dame Cathedral and Place de la Bastille.

In any case, Roll notes, despite tourists' fears of surly Parisian service, when they get here they usually change their minds. He said 97 percent of those who visit say they want to come back.

Paris saw 15.3 million visitors in 2006 from foreign countries and elsewhere in France, according to the Paris region tourist bureau.