Having been in France now for over three months, on multiple visits previously, in many regions and in Paris (twice), we have never encountered out-and-out rudeness. There have been the occasional ill-mannered waiters, but one can find them in in any city or town in the world.
Even in a big city like Paris, there may have been some indifference, but for us, even that was rare.
The fact is that in all our travels around the world we have discovered that even though there are different cultures and customs, people are basically the same everywhere. Treat them with respect and politeness and it will be returned to you.
However, and this is important, we have learned that you must do your homework before you travel. Not just researching where the sights and attractions are, but it is important to understand those things that will be different. Having a feel for what the culture and customs are, and what is considered polite can help you avoid being misunderstood or misunderstanding others – the biggest cause of problems while traveling in a foreign land.
Learn some of the language. Those words that your parents made you say when you were in kindergarten: please (se il vous plaît) and thank you (merci) are the most important – in any language. Saying hello (bonjour) and goodbye (au revoir) are always expected, especially when entering and leaving smaller shops or businesses. One is considered rude and boorish if you don’t greet the proprietor when entering and saying thanks and goodbye when leaving. It is just polite and customary.
Eye contact is also important even during the most minor transactions. However, the French do not make eye contact while walking in the streets, nor do they smile at passing strangers much less make a verbal greeting. We as Americans could easily interpret this as unfriendly, but it is just their custom, and more meaningfully, such actions are reserved for friends or acquaintances. When you do get a smile and a warm bonjour from one of the people you have met before, you know it is real.
We have come to not only realize that so many things are different, but to embrace that difference as an adventure and learning experience. From the etiquette in the market about where to be in line to be helped, to the procedure about when to just seat yourself in a cafe or restaurant versus waiting to be seated. The best education tool is watching and learning.
These are all important things in their culture (and in ours if you think about it). The list goes on, and then almost everything in everyday life becomes an adventure and fun … if you let it.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ~ Henry Miller