Cultural Expectations

According to  Expedia’s 2007 Best Tourist League survey, the French took the title of the world’s worst tourists.  Some people will not be surprised by this.   Some years ago I had to act as the buffer between 10 French technicians traveling to Washington, D.C., and the hoteliers and restaurant managers upon whwhom they descended. It has been frequently said that the French, like their wine, don’t travel well.  Unfair, because not all French people are alike, any more than the English or Americans or Danes or anyone else. And you can always find people of any origin who find nothing is equal to what they have at home. 

However,  these Frenchmen did complain.  They complained about the water at the hotel, naturellement, the disgustingly sweet and sticky Danishes which posed as breakfast, and could not be convinced that the tip was not included in laddition in the restaurants.  There was no baguette served with the meals, no decent steack – frites, fish was breaded and overcooked, and, worst of all, no wine included in the menus. 

They were right about the tap water, of course.  It tasted like rust and minerals, like maybe lead, so I took care to have some Evian placed in their rooms.  Not much I could do about the Danish, no croissants being available, nor the baguette, which was and is ubiquitous in France and served with every meal.  Not much I could do about the food, either; I had to agree it wasn’t up to Parisian standards.   But explaining about tips for servers was impossible.  There was a yawning cultural gap.

If I tried to explain that the tip truly was not included, they thought I was pulling one over on them and trying to line my own pockets.  I tried to explain to irate servers that it wasn’t the custom in France, and they also went livid, pointing out that knowing what these non-English speakers  wanted to eat in the first place was like dealing with 10 pre-verbal, demanding toddlers.  Then when the food came it wasn’t cooked right, the wine wasn’t good, too much ice in the water (gives you stomach cramps).    The servers felt over-worked and abused, and not being left a tip was perceived as a slap in the face.  So in the end, I left tips for them.

But guess who they took the title of World’s Worst Tourists away from?  The British.