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Are French Waiters Rude?

Rude, or just French? A waiter in a Vancouver restaurant claims he was fired for having a “more direct and expressive” culture than his North-American coworkers.

“The much-maligned and often misunderstood French waiter is an inscrutable breed unto himself,” wrote journalist Cristina Nehring in the Wall Street Journal in 2015. And it appears this view still rings true today. Guillaume Rey, a French waiter working in a restaurant in Vancouver, believes he was fired because of his French “culture.”

He is accused of being “aggressive, rude and disrespectful towards the manager and another server.” In a discrimination complaint filed with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, he states his coworkers were unable to accept his “honest and professional” attitude learned while working in the French hospitality industry.

Should we take this as proof of the cliché of the unfriendly Parisian server? Or perhaps of French snobbery while abroad? “We can only guess as to what really happened in the restaurant, but several factors may explain how his behavior was perceived,” says Canadian journalist and writer Julie Barlow.

A Taste for Contradiction

“The French tend to say ‘no.’ It may sound like they are refusing to communicate, but in fact it is a way of starting a conversation and inviting people to reply. Americans might be shocked by this reflex, as they don’t know how to react,” says Julie Barlow. And according to the Wall Street Journal, the preferred reply of a French server is “C’est pas possible!”

In North America, people look for consensus in conversation. But the French prefer provocation. “We associate good manners with French conversation, but the French actually enjoy lively discussion,” says Julie Barlow. “They tend to say things that border on disrespectful to provoke a response.” Exchanging opinions is appreciated, and disagreement fuels the conversation, although “foreigners may feel a little unsettled.”

The French also don’t change when at work. “People expect to be able to express their opinions on whatever matters to them, regardless of where they are. In a sector with a very defined hierarchy, such as in restaurants, this approach may cause problems.”

Is the Grumpy Garçon de Café a cliché?

Working as a restaurant server in the United States and Canada is often a temporary job, or just a way to pay the bills. However, in France, being a waiter it nothing less than a career that requires real training. Servers are not there to smile, and they never interrupt a dinner — neither to ask if “everything is ok” nor to bring the check.

While living in Paris, Cristina Nehring remembers feeling intimidated by French waiters in restaurants. “I felt they thought I was constantly making mistakes,” she writes. “But with time, I learned to recognize — and even appreciate — the strange way they express their desire to satisfy customers, their expertise, their agility, and the beauty of what they do.”

“There are adjustments that need to be made for French people who come to work in Quebec, and the same applies for Quebecers who move to France. It’s a question of survival,” says Julie Barlow. The sociologist herself learned how to say ‘non’ and ‘bonjour’ when she started living in France. “After four months, I gave an honest opinion on what I was eating for the first time in my life. When the server asked if I had enjoyed my meal, I replied ‘non.’ In North America we say ‘yes’ and then leave a smaller tip!”

=> Julie Barlow and Jean-Benoît Nadeau, The Bonjour Effect, St. Martin’s Press, 2016, 25.99 dollars.

  • Les “serveuses” americaines ne sont pas des professionnelles. Les Francaises le sont. Les serveuses americaines apportent et mettent sur la table et servent un peu comme “a la maison”. Je prefere les garcons francais etant moi-meme francaise et aimant etre bien servie.

  • The Americans tend to be free-spirited, open-minded, casual, and entrepreneurial (business-minded). The French tend to be feudal, top-down, conservative (less risk-taking), and semi-German in their formality such as “amt” and “behörde.”

  • En tant que Française, je suis souvent affligée par l’incorrection des serveurs et serveuses français à Paris. Ils interrompent sans vergogne la conversation que vous menez avec vos amis pour vous demander si “tout va bien”. C’est insupportable. Récemment, une jeune serveuse a fait remarquer mon âge à mes collègues pour me discréditer !!!

  • On doit tout simplement s’adapter. Je préfère les serveurs américains. Le client a toujours raison en Amérique. Cela explique ce niveau de rendement dans les affaires economiques américaines. Quand je vais à un restaurant, je veux qu’on soit aimable avec moi. Je veux qu’on me montre de l’attention également. Aller dans un restaurant, c’est un lieu de refuge et de détente. Je ne veux pas me faire gronder par un serveur. Je pense que la difference de culture perdure parce qu’en France le service est compris dans l’addition tandis qu’aux USA, le service n’est pas toujours obligatoire. Le serveur doit etre gentil et courtois pour gagner ma bonne grâce. C’est tout simplement juste! “Le désir de tout homme est de se sentir important.” Un homme dans un restaurant n’en demande pas moins.

  • I’ve never found a French waiter rude, but then I’ve never been to Paris. We are going to Paris next year. I guess I am about to test these ideas. Once in Marseilles, at a quayside restaurant, a very dignified waiter was serving a large table next to us from an immense platter of mixed seafood held in one hand, while he grasped a crab between two spoons held in the other. The crab slipped from his grasp, flew into the air, slid across our table, and stopped directly in front our delighted 9 year-old daughter, who proceeded to crack and eat it. The other table, full of happy French diners, burst into uproarious laughter. The waiter was mortified, but recovered, and was most gracious to all.

  • I have my doubts as to whether the waiter in Vancouver was really a victim of “cultural differences.” It sounds like an excuse for a court case. I have always found the waiters in most Paris restaurants to be very competent. They are not overly friendly, unless you are in a cafe or other casual place. The same is true in the French countryside. As long as the food is good and the service is competent I don’t care how friendly they are, whether in France or North America. On the other hand, I do expect them to be polite.

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