I realise that it has been a fair few (3) months since my last entry, this has been due to unfortunate new commitments (work), and new circumstances (I’ve been really lazy). However, by happy coincidence, today is the last day of 2014, so this represents a perfect opportunity to turn over a new leaf and bring you lots of new amusing (hopefully) and wonderfully intriguing (I’ll try) content.
So on this eve of the new year, lets talk about some new resolutions the French should really take. (For the record I am French, make of that what you will)
I recently returned from a ten day vacation in Paris with my girlfriend, and I must admit that having lived in the UK for the past 4 years, I had not been back to France for any extended stay in a long time, but on this trip I was wholeheartedly appalled by the service and attitude of many of the people I encountered in France.
I am not sure if this is an issue which has been aggravated recently, or if this is just something I had not noticed before, but I was quite ashamed at the attitude and service we received throughout our trip.
Beginning from the moment one boards the Eurostar from Kings Cross in London, you are immediately reminded about the difference between the French and the English, while crossing the border control you have to first pass the English Customs. The English officer will smile at you, say “Ticket Please!” and then pleasantly nod you through, the difference with the French agent is subtle, and not immediately noticeable, but he will not speak to you unless he absolutely has to, he only gestures you forward with a perfunctory gesture, then give you the briefest of glances, frowns at you, and then gives you a half nod to dismiss you. This interaction is tiny and only last a few seconds, but it is symptomatic of the French attitude to service and customer relations.
There are few other countries at which you can seat yourself at a restaurant, and really feel intimidated by the staff. Placing your order is an inconvenience for the waiter, amending an order, or asking for so much as an extra straw will draw some barely concealed exasperation, and god help you if you want any supplements or changes to your order. Even Macdonald’s is different, we stopped by to get a burger; “Extra cheese on the fillet o-fish” I asked nicely, “We don’t do extra cheese” the woman behind the counter shot back, I looked at her dumbfounded, “You don’t do extra cheese?”, she just stared at me like I was the biggest waste of time she had ever seen. “Why can’t you add extra cheese?” I persisted, “Because we don’t” came the immediate reply. I realise that this is the sort of problems people call “First World Problems”,
but here’s the thing, these minute interactions are emblematic of French attitude in general.
This is not to say by any means that the French are lazy, or that they are rude, some of the hardest working and most intelligent people I know are French, but the difference in attitude is that the French do not, and will not, go above the line of duty. They shy away from taking responsibility, if its not in their job description they won’t do it. The passport inspectors job is to check the passports, but he doesn’t give a damn about the people the passports belong to. The macdonald employee won’t add extra cheese because its not worth her effort, she would rather spend two minutes arguing the point, then putting in the extra effort to make sure her customer leaves happy.
We had other similar experiences, we went to watch the Hobbit in 3D, we got of to a bad start when the projectionist put in the wrong movie reel and the film started in 2D. 15 minutes in he must have realised his mistake as he restarted the film, however the 3D effects were badly calibrated and the movie finally started again for a 3rd time, but now the sound wasn’t working. So after about 40 minutes of mucking about, like your old crazy uncle with the DVD player over dinner, the projectionist finally got the movie going, to sarcastic cheers from the audience. Things were looking up, and we enjoyed most of the movie, right up to the main duel between the films main villain; Azog the Defiler also known as the Pale Orc, and one of the heroes; Thorin Oakenshield. Just as both sworn enemies lock into mortal combat, with both combatants exhausted from the trials of battle, both badly wounded, and with the final duel reaching it climax the cinema screen cut to black. No really. The projectionist had fucked up again. Queue shouts and tantrums from the audience, my girlfriend and I elected to leave there and then, as the projectionist was frantically trying to restart and fast forward the movie, unfortunately he sped up too much and inadvertently spoiled the movies ending.
As we went back to the ticket desk with a throng of livid movie goers who looked close to rioting, I spotted the projectionist discreetly slip out of the projection room, he starred bug eyed at the angry crowd filing before him for a few moments. Then after witnessing first hand the faces of the hundreds of people who’s night he had just ruined, he did that most Gallic of things, and just shrugged, then trudged towards an exit to presumably go for a cigarette break. Now this for me is worse than the fact that the movie screening was such a disaster, any cinema in the world can have a bad night, anyone can make a mistake, or even several mistakes at their job, but what I found disturbing was the total lack of responsibility and ownership for what was after all a cluster-fuck. Even the people who were working at the ticket desks didn’t apologise, in fact no one apologised at all for the disaster. After all it was the projectionists fault, so why should the ticket clerks have to apologise? In fact one of them actually started shouting back at people.
And here’s where French Service is losing a march on the likes of England, if something wrong happens, individuals are too quick to pass the buck, to avoid having to actually do extra work for which they do not feel personal responsibility.
The French could get away with a reputation for rudeness and harsh service because for a long time they still delivered services and products that no one else could. After all Paris is still one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world, but now other nations have stepped up their game, and the French could use some new years resolutions to make sure they are not left behind.
Its a strange thing, but after years of living in England and missing the joys of life in France, the good food, the culture, and the je ne sait quoi that makes Paris so enjoyable, I realised while we were walking past the smiling British customs officials that I had actually missed this place. Its a funny thing, on the face of it England has very little going for it as a tourist destination, but what it does have is an ability to market and sell itself, the difference one feels is that the English feel that they are lucky to have you come spend your time with them, whereas the French feel that you should be grateful that you are in France at all.