Getting Fried Over Fries

by admin on June 26, 2012

I am American (I live in New York), and less than a year ago, a friend and I went on a vacation to France. This was, without a doubt, the best vacation of my life so far, and I enjoyed almost everything about the trip (especially the food!) Before I left, a few people took it upon themselves to warn me about stereotypically rude French people that hate Americans, and I chose to ignore those people, because a) I don’t like to pass judgment on people I’ve never met, and b) don’t try to ruin my vacation before I’ve even left! As it turns out, (and I’m not sure if this was due to our own attitudes, or sheer dumb luck), every French person we had the pleasure of meeting during our trip was nothing but kind and helpful. I only wish I could say the same about the other Americans.

We spent the last part of our trip in Sarlat La Caneda, a medieval town in Southern France, where we stayed at a marvelous hotel run by some of the nicest people I’ve met. Our hotel package included dinner and breakfast, so we ate most of our meals at the hotel for the three days we were there. On one particular evening, the owner had the night off, so dinner service was left in the hands of his assistant manager (we’ll call her AM), and a young man who was waiting tables (we’ll call him YW). YW spoke very little English, but my traveling companion spoke a little French (and I’d learned enough to get through a menu), so we managed to get by. I had ordered boeuf et pommes frites (steak and fries) this particular evening, and they were delicious.

The evening in question had brought a new group of guests, including an older wealthy American couple (seated at the table next to us) who were the very personification of the phrase “Ugly American”. This couple made me feel embarrassed to be from the same country as them: they were demanding, condescending, and complained to each other that “nobody speaks English!” (Sarlat is way off the beaten path, with no train service to any of the major cities, so I was surprised to find the number of English-speakers that we did meet there).
YW was cheerful and friendly, never made a single mistake with our orders (despite the language barrier) and seemed enthusiastic to give the best service possible. The night before, we had asked for a simple pot of hot water for tea, and he brought up an entire tea tray, complete with little tea biscuits—for which we were not even charged! I’m giving these details so that you have some perspective on how horribly this couple (I’m calling them the American Uglies—AU) behaved. After being curt and demanding all throughout giving their orders and receiving their food, AU Husband called YW to the table and proceeded to berate him because he “did not like the way the fries were presented on [his] wife’s plate.” I was trying not to listen to their conversation, but at this I put my fork down and did a double take. My friend and I exchanged looks that said “did we seriously just hear that?” As I mentioned before, YW spoke limited English, so as AU Husband went on and on about the travesty of his wife’s fries being in disarray, all he could do was stand there, and stammer out “the… fries?… they are bad?” Finally AU Husband said “Get me someone who will understand!” Poor YW (looking like he was near tears at this point) went to go get AM. AM’s English was quite good, so she came out and asked “Yes sir, there is a problem with the food?” (okay, I’ll admit it—I was straight-up eavesdropping at this point. I was just so appalled by what I was hearing).

“I don’t like the way the fries are arranged on the plate!!” AU Husband replied angrily.

“The… fries, sir?”

“Yes! The fries!! Do you understand!?”

I was sure AM had understood, but she stood there a second, probably thinking the French version of “WTF, mate?” (as I was, the English version). “I am sorry. What would you like us to do?” she replied after a few seconds.

AU Wife spoke up with “Well, I don’t want it, now!” and AU Husband said “I don’t want mine, either. Just wrap it up, we’ll eat it upstairs.”

AM attempted to smooth things over, and finally convinced them to stay for their dessert, which they ate while complaining. Even worse, service slowed down for the rest of us, as the only two people on staff were busy trying to keep this obnoxious couple happy.

When YW emerged to take our plates, he was quiet, and visibly shaken. “The food is ok?” he asked, to which I smiled, and replied “The food was delicious. And I thought that the fries were arranged beautifully on my plate.” He cracked a smile after my friend translated for me.
Unfortunately for us, the hotel seated guests at the same table every night (I guess to avoid confusion, since everything was charged to the rooms), so we had to sit next to this boorish couple for the rest of the trip! Although thankfully, that was the last outburst we witnessed.

I don’t believe rudeness or entitlement is the exclusive domain of a single nationality.   When husband and I were at Epcot a year ago, we encountered a few “ugly” Europeans and South Americans who had no respect for a wheelchair whatsoever.   There are rude, obnoxious, entitled people of every race and nation.   When encountering fellow countrymen who are behaving obnoxiously, I consider it my duty to go above and beyond kindness and courtesy to counter the perception that all Americans are traveling brats which appears that is what you and your friend did.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Sugaryfun June 25, 2012 at 3:51 am

I agree that rudeness isn’t a matter of nationality. I did encounter a particularly rude American couple when I was working in a Scottish pub. The man asked for a beer then cut me off when I started to ask which kind he would like (we had twelve different beers on tap) saying angrily “I just want a beer!”. I poured him a pint of the local beer (we were down the street from the brewery so that was what we sold the most of) and when I brought it he snapped at me that didn’t want it, he’d wanted a Budweiser. I brought him a bottle of Bud and gave the pint I’d poured to the chef, since it never hurt to keep him onside when he made the staff lunches.The woman of the couple went over the bill, angrily querying every single item on it and complaining that the coffee refills weren’t free like they were “back home.” When I gave her her change it included a two pound coin and she demanded to know what it was and refused to believe it was legal tender (I guess they are kind of weird looking, they are made of two different types of metal). But these guys weren’t rude because they were American, they were just ***holes. I’ve met some lovely Americans and some horribly rude Australians (where I’m from) too.

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jena rogers June 25, 2012 at 5:39 am

RE: “…(and I’m not sure if this was due to our own attitudes, or sheer dumb luck), every French person we had the pleasure of meeting during our trip was nothing but kind and helpful.”
‘Looks like what you are saying here is that you encountered exceptions to your own expectations, either because of how you yourselves behaved or because of luck. This contradicts your emphasis further up in your narrative that you don’t like to “pass judgment.” So you still appeared to have some preconceived notions about the French, otherwise you would not have attributed their kindness to your own behavior or “dumb luck.” This doesn’t sound like an unbiased position; it sounds like a backward compliment.
Also, ‘not sure how the rude couple’s financial position (you refer to them as “rich.”) was either relevant, or ascertained by you. Since it was important to point this out, one is left wondering if you also have a bias against folks who appear to be wealthy.
This reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with someone who was talking about a third party whom she considered to be “nice… for a ____ person.” (Fill in the blank with your own race, religion, nationality, and you’ll get the picture of what a backward compliment looks like.)
That said, I nevertheless sympathize with the experience you had, and can only imagine that it would have been a distraction to have to sit near this couple, worrying when the next outbreak would occur.

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jena rogers June 25, 2012 at 5:51 am

Oops… I meant “outburst…” (not outbreak)… ‘Not enough coffee yet this morning… :P

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Cat June 25, 2012 at 8:37 am

If there is one thing of which travelers may rest assured, it is that idiots at home will be idiots abroad. I visited Paris twice-once with a group and once alone.
I speak no French at all. (Mother made me take Spanish in high school. I don’t speak that either. Thanks, Mom.) I got around by walking into bookstores and asking, “Does anyone in here speak English!” Some nice person always came and rescued me from whatever trouble I had managed to get myself into.
My biggest problem was that I look very German (actually I am half-German, but it’s two generations back.) and people wanted to speak German to me, even in Italy. I thought it was a hoot.

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Hemi June 25, 2012 at 9:01 am

Seriously? Complained about the way fries were *arranged* on a plate?That is the most petty, ignorant thing I have ever heard of. I would hate to be the kid who gives them their fries at fast food restaurants.

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Lisa June 25, 2012 at 9:40 am

OK, so this may not be the RIGHT thing to do, but I have found that the older I get, the less tolerable I am!

There have been many instances where I have found it necessary to speak up and stand up when people are being bullies. And in this instance, this couple were bullies. I most likely would have spoken to this horrible man myself. Would it have done any good? No, probably not. I just think that most people like him and his wife will push and push until they feel resistence.

Allow me to be that resistence! ;)

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Belly June 26, 2012 at 4:22 am

Whilst there is the ‘Ugly American’ stereotype, these types are found all over. I’ve worked in bars and hotels all over the UK and in Australia, and the upside I’ve always found if serving jerks of any nationality, is at least Americans tip! (usually)
I’m Australian, and as far as I can tell we have a far from glowing reputation abroad. Dumb and drunk just about covers it. I have certainly encountered many on my travels, and I’m sure I met that description on occasion! (In my defence I was only 18-20 and have since acquired some polish.)
I do remember being embarrassed to be Australian after witnessing some truly egregious behaviour by other Aussies at Oktoberfest; if I met someone for whom English was a second language, I would lie and say I was Canadian!
When I worked as a mother’s help/nanny/slave in England, the mother was just awful. She was of the you-can’t-understand-me-so-I’ll-repeat-it-louder ilk. One day whilst touring France, she was practically screaming “Cream, where is the cream!” at a supermarket employee. From the look on the employees face, I’m sure she understood perfectly, but was unwilling to assist my obnoxious boss and feigned a lack of comprehension. I found the cream, in the dairy section, would you believe it.

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L June 26, 2012 at 4:23 am

I’m trying to work out how you can arrange chips ‘the wrong way’. Were they expecting them to be piled up in some form of decorative sculpture? All lying exactly East-West, much like the pyramids at Giza?

I think that they were more likely just complainers. Maybe they should have just gone to McDonalds every day.

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Cami June 26, 2012 at 6:37 am

Eh, there are jerks in every nationality. A wise person does not judge an entire nation by the actions of a few.

Last time we were at Disney World, we were purchasing pastries at the French bakery. The clerks behind the counter — who were French– were speaking French to each other and barely interacting with customers. The customers were getting aggravated because they felt ignored and I’d guess, anxious that they were being talked about given the way the clerks kept glancing at them. The clerks, were, of course, unaware that my dd speaks French. Until she spoke up and told them that making rude comments about your customers was not acceptable in any language and that they might want to remember that there are people nearby who just might speak French. And the comments were very rude indeed. Should I judge all of France based upon those three people?

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Coralreef June 26, 2012 at 8:16 am

Having traveled to different countries, I can assure everyone that, yes idiots at home are idiots abroad, as a previous poster so clearly stated. If you expect another country to be like home, you’re in for a world of disappointment and frustration. It stands to reason that 1) they won’t speak your language and 2) the foods / beverages are not the same.

Harping about how food is displayed on your plate is so juvenile, there are no words. My daughter ended up with the head of a rabbit on her plate once. She told me very softly that she just lost her appetite, nibbled a bit on the veggies, helped me finish the wine (only time I’ve seen her take wine) and we left after paying the bill. Pitching a fit would only have made everyone miserable : us, the staff and the other patrons, who probably would never have understood why such delicious food was frowned upon and would have cursed the idiot tourists.

And please, please, read up on social norms and behaviours. You’re not home, they will be different, sometimes shockingly so, but isn’t it the reason people travel, to see and experience something different? I’ve seen people turned away at churches and monasteries in Spain because they were not dressed appropriately (spaghetti straps and shorts). Daughter and I carried light but long sleeved shirts and mid-calf light cotton skirts in our backpacks just for that, we would put them on over our shorts and camis before going in, remove them when we got out. Granted we looked a bit wrinkeled when putting them on, but we got to visit everything we wanted.

Carrying a dictionnary and using it is a fun way to communicate. We sometimes ended up with four people taking turns shuffling pages trying to explain / describe / order a meal and having a good time doing it.

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Kim June 26, 2012 at 8:33 am

I agree with Lisa. Perfectly sound etiquette? Maybe not. But no one ever tells off rude people like this – out of politeness. Someone needs to stand up for the wronged person. Since no one has ever told them they’re being horrible, they don’t think they are. But the restaurant can’t really do anything since the horrible couple are paying customers (I guess they could but …).

And I’m not talking telling off as in yelling. I talking having a polite spine and standing up for the wronged person.

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admin June 26, 2012 at 8:53 am

Kim and any others contemplating the need to defend the waiter, don’t. This is a business transaction between a server and two customers and it is none of your business. You would be neither part of the problem nor part of the solution but rather a meddler. Better to privately praise the waiter for his service to you and then tip him well.

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Lilac June 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

When I was in college I backpacked through Europe, traveling to the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, Greece, and England. The only rude people I encountered were the female salesclerks in shops in one of the above countries. It seemed pretty typical that tiny shops would have 4-5 clerks who would sit around smoking while they either ignored you or freaked out when you touched anything. They had hanging samples of each garment and I gather you were only supposed to touch these–even if they weren’t your size or the color you wanted. Not knowing this, I tried to find my size, etc. and this would upset the saleswomen to no end. Having worked in retail in the States for 5 years at that time, I was VERY sensitive to not making a mess in a store but also not very tolerant of salespeople sitting doing nothing, who then complained when they had to straighten a slightly mussed shirt. I thought they were incredibly rude but in retrospect I would guess that they thought I was the rude one. It was simply a cultural difference. I expected a different sort of service than they expected to give. I was in the wrong because I should have followed the norm in their country, not imposed my view of customer service. That being said, with that unwitting exception, I always went out of my way not to be a stereotypical bad American tourist and was met by kindness and courtesy everywhere I went. It is absolutely true that you get what you give. One thing I made sure to do was learn how to say “hello,” “please,” “thank-you,” and other pleasantries in the local language immediately upon arriving in each country. I can still hear the shocked voice of a Greek waiter answering “parakalo” when I said “thank-you” in Greek. That one word changed our group of diners from just another group of tourists to welcome visitors and it showed in the service. It was a great night!

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Stacey Frith-Smith June 26, 2012 at 9:17 am

This is such a cliche; one is almost tempted to disbelieve it. Sad, but true. The Ugly American French Fry Episode? Well, now we’ve heard it all. People act this way on vacations abroad, in fine dining establishments and even at Wal-Mart. I do have to wonder, however, how badly mangled that poor pile of fries had to be in order to provoke comment. Perhaps they should have been served as a Jenga style tower gracefully arching towards some imitation of the Eiffel Tower or a Roman arch? This couple sounds like two tired and overstimulated toddlers who have been allowed to stay up with the adults. Perhaps the gracious AM should have offered them a cookie and a nap. (Or at least wrapped their food, sans fries of course, for consumption upstairs.)

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Cat June 26, 2012 at 9:23 am

Coral Reef, You must show the movie, “The Christmas Story” to your daughter. The rabbit’s head on the plate reminded me of a scene in that movie.
The neighbor’s dogs have come in through an open door and have eaten the Christmas turkey. The family goes out to a Chinese restaurant for their Christmas dinner since the turkey is now gone.
The Chinese owner is trying to provide some Christmas cheer for the family and lines up the wait staff to sing Christmas carols. Then he presents the main course, a duck complete with head.
The family is somewhat taken aback and Dad says to the owner that he would prefer the duck minus the head as it seems to be looking at him. Ready to comply to his customer’s request, he pulls out a meat cleaver and chops off the head, whack, right at the table.
A rabbit’s head would have put me off my dinner too. I don’t know what I would have done about the duck.

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Angela June 26, 2012 at 9:38 am

Well, I thought the OP’s mention of the stereotypical rude French person was to point out how ironic this was and nothing more. There are indeed rude people everywhere but I would find it ironic if nationality A accused B of being rude, and then saw a flagrant example of the reverse.
Yes, the waiter thing is a business matter but it can be deeply annoying to everyone around. My beloved and I were having a special dinner at a nice restaurant in Durham, NC that’s in a converted old house so the seating is funky…you can end up sitting a lot closer to strangers than you normally would. The couple next to us bitched LOUDLY about one thing and another, especially the service, but we had the same waiter and our service was excellent. It didn’t ruin the dinner (we made fun of them on the way home) but it definitely would have been nicer without the narration. At least they didn’t harass the waiter openly!

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Calliope June 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

Almost all of the people I met in France were kind, too. Most of the people I’ve met in every single country I’ve ever visited have been kind, and most people I know at home in the US are kind, too. I don’t think this is because of my attitude or because I got lucky, though; I think it’s because most people, French or otherwise, are decent people. The jerks tend to be louder than everybody else, which is why it seems like there are so many of them.

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Abcd June 26, 2012 at 11:06 am

I would have gotten back their french fries and spelled RUDE! with the fries and served it back.

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Kirsten June 26, 2012 at 11:43 am

I don’t understand why they would say “we don’t want this now” followed by “wrap it up, we’ll eat it upstairs.” Either they wanted it or they didn’t. And then I remembered that they were total wankspanners and it all made sense again.

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The Elf June 26, 2012 at 11:59 am

Funny thing is I bet they are that rude at home too!

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Green123 June 26, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I’m British, and have travelled extensively in Europe. I have also worked in a tourist establishment in a touristy town (Oxford) in the UK. And I have to say that in my experience *rudeness* is not unique to any particular nationality, but *cultural cluelessness* tends to be found more in American and British people. While most European, Asian and South American travellers will turn up in a country with a vague idea of cultural norms and a basic understanding of the local language, many Brits and Americans work on the assumption that the entire world a) speaks English and b) works the same way they do at home. A few examples I’ve seen of late:

*walking into a pavement cafe in Rome/Lisbon/Paris/Brussels, clicking fingers at the waiter and announcing ‘TWO COFFEES!’ and being bemused when the waiter looks confused. Or brings them two espressos!
*expecting free refills of aforementioned coffees
*assuming you can get a ‘proper cup of tea’ anywhere that isn’t the UK
*assuming that leaving a big tip gets you big service (Americans) / leaving no tip at all (Brits)
*getting p*ssed off when the locals don’t queue
*complaining that Italian / French / Portugeuese toilets are ‘dirty’ or ‘unusual’. And asking for ‘the restroom’ and getting a bemused look
*complaining that the shops are closed during lunch / during the afternoon
*complaining that they’re not allowed into a church / cathedral / other visitor attraction in shorts, sneakers and a vest / carrying a mahoosive backpack and camera
*aversion to local food

I could go on, but you get my point. It’s all basic cultural stuff that you can pick up by glancing through a guidebook or skimming Trip Advisor. Seriously, I would not travel ANYWHERE in the world without taking a guidebook / phrasebook, and without learning the basics – please, thank you, yes, no, numbers 1 – 10, where is?, may I have?, etc. – however difficult the language or sudden the trip. In the days of smartphones and internet there’s no excuse for not trying!

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Calli Arcale June 26, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I think Admin is right — best thing to do is pretend you are unaware of the obnoxious guests and then make sure you praise your server and tip well. Not all servers are the same, but in France in particular restaurant service has a strong tradition; it isn’t considered a second-rate job at all, and although mileage varies, many servers take a great deal of pride in making sure their guests are happy. If table B accosts the guests at table A, not only have they possibly insulted the server by implying the server cannot take care of himself/herself, but they have also made the scene bigger and made it clear that not only is table A unhappy, but so is table B. Pretend the boors do not exist; let the staff handle it. It’s their job, and they are generally equipped with thick enough skins to do it. Make sure you enjoy yourself, and make sure the staff know that you are enjoying yourself. Refuse to let your evening be disrupted by the boors, and at the end of the meal, thank the waitstaff and tip graciously; they will think the better of you for it, and will be relieved the scene did not put you off your meal.

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Namárië June 26, 2012 at 1:55 pm

In a way, I feel a bit sad for the couple in this story. It sounds like nothing will ever make them happy.

Either that, or they were just angling for freebies.

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Sarah Jane June 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I agree with the admin about the inclination to speak out in the waiter’s defense. The waiter is doing his job, which means he is supposed to listen to the customer, no matter how unreasonable the customer is (note that I did not say do whatever the customer wants no matter how unreasonable.) This is not a bullying situation. If the employee needs support in the course and scope of his job, the employer or manager is in a better position than a nearby patron to do so.

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TylerBelle June 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I love the show “The Amazing Race,” and the submitted story, and what other commentors have shared, remind me of what has happened throughout that series. The racers are tired and stressed out and needing to get where they are going super asap through different foreign countries, but it isn’t right how some have screamed at locals for not understanding where they need to go, blamed cabdrivers for not getting them to the correct place, and other ugly behaviors. Goodness.

I agree with how the OP and companion handled matters, and what others have said here. It would be better not to get involved with the other people in that type of situation, just take nice care of the waiter/staff when it comes to your own business.

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justme June 26, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Hi everyone, OP here!

@Belly: Thanks, I’m glad it’s not just us Americans that have to worry about that

@Coralreef, Lilac, & Green123: I completely agree that learning a little about the culture you are vacationing in makes for a better vacation all around. Before I went, I made sure to learn a few French phrases (hello & goodbye, please & thank you, where is the bathroom, etcetera), and studied up on local manners and customs (for instance: in France it’s considered very rude to enter a store without greeting the shopkeeper—I’m really glad I learned that). Incidentally, that’s what I meant when I said that perhaps my attitude is why I never noticed any rude people. In truth, I expected the same number of rude people in France as there are anywhere else in the world (e.g. one rude and/or clueless person per every three nice ones, give or take), but for some reason I didn’t notice any. At all. Could be I was so optimistic that I was oblivious to any rude ones, could be people made a special effort to be polite to me because I did the same for them, could be France is just a magical place where nobody is rude (and food is delicious!), who knows? I didn’t mean that I was attributing their kindness to my own behavior. I wasn’t too clear because it was 2am when I wrote this experience, but it sounds like most of you understood what I meant (because you guys are awesome!)

Bonus points for Angela—irony was indeed what I was going for when I mentioned the Stereotypical Rude French People ™. I had noticed that whenever I mentioned my upcoming vacation, two out of three people would respond with “Oh GAWD! French people are so rude, blah blah blah…” Considering that, I thought it was funny that the only rude people I met in France were other Americans.

@Admin, Calli Arcale, Sarah Jane, and TylerBelle: I agree. Confronting the couple would have created a scene, and ruined other peoples’ dining experience. Besides, AM and YW appeared to have it under control. I just tried to be as nice as I could, to show that we’re not all boors!

@Cat & The Elf (that would make a great band name): I don’t know. Usually people who are rude abroad are rude at home, but sometimes I wonder if some people are extra rude when they’re among strangers because they figure they can get away with it?

@Hemi, L, Stacy Frith-Smith, Kirsten, et all: I know, right?! I ordered the same dish as AU Wife, and I thought my fries looked fine. They’re just FRIES, after all! I suppose some people are just never happy.

Haters gonna hate…

Peace!

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Magicdomino June 26, 2012 at 4:35 pm

I read this entry this morning, and still haven’t figured out what was wrong with the fries. Best I can figure, boeuf jus had gotten into the frites, and the couple were too tired to explain the problem correctly. Not that it gives them the excuse to throw a tantrum. The OP handled it well by quietly talking to the waiter after the incident.

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Frequent Flyer June 26, 2012 at 5:16 pm

I am American and have traveled extensively though Europe. I have seen rude people of all nationalities as well as lots of really nice poeple.

In Southern France I remember a situation very similar to that of the OP’s letter. In my case, it revolved around an American couple who did not speak a word of French, demanding a menu in English and an English-speaking waiter. The manager came out to deal with the situation, but speaking only French. When the couple got more and more upset, the French manager and waiters just shrugged their shoulders. What else were they to do? The loud American couple left. Once they were gone, all sorts of people at the other tables applauded the French manager and waiters. My husband and I clapped right along with the others.

The waiter was very nice to us. He could tell we were Americans from the moment we opened our mouths with our accented French. I started to apologize, but with a wave of his hand he dismissed the apology. “Pas grave”, and moved on with his job.

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amanda June 26, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Hi
Living in a tourist destination (New Zealand) and witnessing boat loads of tourist alighting at almost my front door, I would like to say the following. There are a lot of Americans and by world standards they are very wealthy. So for that reason alone we see more tourists from America than anywhere else because more of them can afford to travel. If you have 100 visitors one day and 90% of them are american you are bound to see more rude americans than other nationalities .

I would also hazard a guess that many of them have travelled extensively within their own country and may not realise that in other parts of the world you can go 100 miles and be in another country with different languages and customs. I think Bill Crosby once did a sketch about this. Also air travel has made distance seem like nothing today. I remember an irate American Lady argue with me that she was in Australia as she had woken up in Queensland and a couple of hours later she was in Queenstown and therefore I was Australian!! (her reason was that you cannot fly for just three hours and be in a different country)

Unlike many other countries, most of the television programmes, films etc Americans see in everyday life reflect their culture with their world view, so they do not realise that there are different mores and customs out there.
I have met some wonderful people of all nationalities, and the americans are no different.

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Cat Whisperer June 26, 2012 at 11:49 pm

This particular brand of rudeness is less a matter of nationality than a matter of someone deciding to behave rudely towards someone who, because of the job they are working at, cannot retaliate in any way.

This is one of the things that gives you insight into someone’s character: how they treat waitstaff, sales people, clerical staff and other people who have to be polite to customers even when the customers don’t deserve to be treated politely. People who behave badly in this way deserve to be cast down into the deepest and hottest pit of etiquette hell. They’re bullies, pure and simple.

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Lisa June 27, 2012 at 9:23 am

I disagree with Admin: One of the problems with society is that we sit back and let things happen, we are so caught up in our own little world. Now, I am not saying that you should speak up everytime you hear someone being rude. But if they are blatantly abusing someone, I think it is more than appropriate to speak up.

On a cruise to Mexico, we were on a “tram” that took you from the port to the ship. This left every 10 minutes. (it was posted in more than one language) and the fare was $1usd. A borish family sat in the seats behind my daughter and I. She was screaming at the driver to “just go already!” and calling him “Paco” and what not. I turned to the lady after listening to her scream and berate the gentlman and said “I believe you can walk if you aren’t happy with waiting until the departure time comes”. She immediately shut up, looked at her family and they got off of the tram and began walking to their ship. (The tram passed them and we arrived before they did)

Based on your reply to my comment; “Kim and any others contemplating the need to defend the waiter, don’t. This is a business transaction between a server and two customers and it is none of your business. You would be neither part of the problem nor part of the solution but rather a meddler. Better to privately praise the waiter for his service to you and then tip him well.”…this too was a business transaction. Should I not have said anything? Should I have continued to allow this woman to scream into mine and my daughter’s ears? Should I have allowed her to continue to berate this man?

Say what you’d like, but I have taught my daughter to stand for what’s right and if you see others being abused in any way, you stand up for them. The waiter was being abused as was the driver of our tram.

There is a difference between a rude customer and an abusive one.

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RMM0278 June 27, 2012 at 9:59 am

You probably didn’t meant to, but your entire post is a walking contradiction. I understand that you don’t appreciate rude tourists. But labeling a certain nationality (French) “nice” while labeling another nationality “rude” (American) is perfectly displaying the very judgment you were criticizing. Rudeness isn’t particular to one nationality. For example, I can think of plenty of rude French people I encountered, but I thought of them as rude not rude French tourists.

As an American who lived a broad for some years, it’s so darn EASY to label our own as totally rude and obnoxious, especially if you’re trying to feel superior and cultured. It’s easy because year-round Americans flock to large European cities. We’re loud; we’re rude; we’re easy to recognize. We’re also easy to pick on. But I also encountered PLENTY of other rude people. I didn’t know where they were from, and I didn’t care. But if you think complaining about the arrangement of fries on a plate is uniquely American, you’re wrong.

I think you had good intentions, but lording yourself over others is also the hallmark of rudeness. Rudeness doesn’t beget rudeness. It also doesn’t beget self-satisfied smugness.

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Michelle P June 27, 2012 at 10:07 am

OP sounds awesome. I agree with admin and other posters that it wouldn’t have been helpful or appropriate for the OP and her husband to interfere; the waiter and manager were adults who can handle their own rude customers.

Love the other posters’ stories, got one too. When I was a kid, (army brat) I lived in Germany with my parents. We took a group tour through France. It was wonderful except for a group of American women with us. They were loud, giggling and hollering and running in and out everywhere we went, etc. I don’t mean teenagers either, these were grown women. They were mocking the locals’ accents, getting belligerent when they didn’t speak English, on and on. My mother was mortified. We just tried to act as politely as possible. We were embarassed to be with them. After that my family traveled on our own.

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justme June 27, 2012 at 10:23 am

One great thing I noticed about France (and maybe even Europe, in general) is that they don’t have the “customer is always right” rule that exists in the US. Therefore, if a customer is being rude or abusive to the staff, they can simply refuse service. In the US, they have to use the “you’re disturbing the other customers” excuse, while the offensive customer screams “THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT!!!” as they’re being hustled out the door.

amanda, your experience cracked me up–”Don’t tell me what country you live in! I was in Australia three hours ago, so that’s where you live, dammit!” HA HA! To be fair, though, a good number of Americans may think that New Zealand is actually part of Australia. The LOTR movies did a lot to alert people to the existence of NZ, but some people are still a little confused. Then again, she may have been confused by the lack of complicated border crossing procedures (I live a few hours away from Canada, but it still takes a good half hour to get over the border).

I did have my share of really good experiences while I was in France, though. This is a quick one I think I can share here: After my freind and I settled into our B&B, we went to a little cafe for some wine & cheese before dinner (most of the restaurants weren’t open for dinner yet). We had ordered some bottled water, and when it arrived, we began drinking directly from the bottles (eep! the horror!) At this point the waitor came over to chat with us, asking us where we were from, what we thought of Paris so far, if we intended to visit any other parts of France, etc… It wasn’t until he politely excused himself by saying “Well, I will be right over there, please ask if you would like anything else” that I realized he had been discreetly pouring our bottles of water into our glasses as we were talking. I thought that was an excellent way to handle us Clueless Ones: he didn’t point out our faux pas (which could have been embarrasing), but he didn’t let us continue to make said faux pas either (which could have exposed us to the ridicule of others). He just discreetly corrected it, and we got to keep our dignity–everybody wins!

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justme June 27, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Thanks, Michelle P—I think you sound awesome too! I sympathize with your story–it’s really frustrating when the people you’re travelling with are being loud and obnoxious. It not only annoys the people who aren’t acting like that, but can also reflect badly on the whole group. I was actually traveling with my roommate on this trip, and we like to keep the group small for this very reason (also, it’s harder to keep everyone happy in a big group).
I am not usually a fan of tour groups, because it’s hard to see everything you want to see when walking around with a big group of people. Well that, and my crippling social anxiety makes it difficult to be in big crowds (or maybe it’s just because I love “lording myself over others” in “self-satisfied smugness”—ha ha, I guess haters are still gonna hate). It’s good that your family had the option of traveling alone on that trip.

Lisa, I think in your case you may have been right to say something to the rude people on the tram (since they were clearly bothering everyone else and she was shouting in your ear). In my case, though, getting involved would have disturbed the other diners (who had done nothing wrong), and possibly shown disrespect to the waiter. I guess every situation is different, and you just have to assess what’s going on before deciding whether to step in, IMHO.

Peace out, everyone! (do people still say that?)

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grumpy_otter June 27, 2012 at 8:14 pm

I don’t know if I would recommend this in every similar situation, and perhaps I was fueled by Guinness, but I encountered that same couple while traveling in Ireland and I walked up to them, introduced myself as a fellow American and told them to behave better since we were ambassadors for all Americans and we should set a good example. In my case, it worked, but I could very easily have been punched in the mouth.

But that’s my rule when I travel–I presume that I am the only person of my nationality that these folks have ever met, and try to make my country seem like a place of nice people.

Poor OP–I was cringing while simply reading this. I can imagine how uncomfortable–and I am sure the waiter appreciated your sympathy.

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NicoleK June 30, 2012 at 8:17 am

I am so curious about the fries… how were they arranged?!

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justme July 1, 2012 at 11:23 am

@NicoleK: well I’m not sure about theirs, but I had ordered the same dish, and mine were arranged in a neat little pile (as fries usually are). Maybe they wanted theirs stacked into a replica of the Eiffel Tower? I guess we’ll never know.
I have to say, I was a little disappointed that my fries weren’t arranged in a to-scale likeness of Stonehenge, but I wasn’t going to complain about it… just choked down my plainly arranged fries, along with my tears.

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The Elf July 2, 2012 at 8:02 am

You wouldn’t want your fries arranged like Stonehenge. The problem is that they are too small. The Stonehenge monument on your plate would be in danger of being crusthed by a dwarf. Alright? That would tend to understate the hugeness of the object.

Thank you, Spinal Tap.

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justme July 2, 2012 at 6:30 pm

The Elf, I really think you’re making much too big a thing out of it.

Thanks for that–I’d all but forgotten about that part, and ended up watching it again on YouTube. Ah, good times…

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Basketcase July 4, 2012 at 10:37 pm

I’ve just come back from 6 weeks in Asia and Europe, and by and large, the other tourists I saw were respectful, polite and unobtrusive.
Except for one table of (I’m sorry, but they were) Old Americans in Venice. Off the cruise ship for the day, and apparently hard of hearing, as they were shouting at the strangers at the table next to them, while trying to talk to them about random stuff.

The wait staff were so unimpressed by their volume that when they asked for the bathroom, they were pointed towards the grand canal – our table found this hilarious! They were also exceedingly apologetic that we had had to sit next to that for our entire lunch, which is funny in a way, because we were a group of 8 twenty-somethings, obviously off a tour bus, enjoying several wines with our lunch, but they preferred us to them…

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Enna July 5, 2012 at 10:43 am

This is really odd – what’s wrong with the chips being arranged on the plate the way they were? It wasn’t like they slid off on floor! Wonder what the man meant by “wrap it up”? Did hemean wrap the food up and eat it upstairs – that would just be wierd. If the price of dinner was included in the stay then by not eating the food the couple were just cutting their noses off to spite their faces. They stayed for desert – I hope they were still hungry though.

As for intervening again I think it depends on what the situation is – sometimes just having bystanders watch in shock/disapproval can be enough to make the naughty person stop.

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nk July 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Am I the only one with a bad taste in my mouth from this post? Part of having manners is that you don’t brag about the fact that you have manners. From the way this post was written, the OP seems to be trying to tell the world, “There are lots of rude Americans out there, but *I’m* not one of them.” Boors are boors no matter where they’re from or where they are. The complaining couple would be just as rude if they were a German couple in France or a French couple in America. There’s really no point in centering the post around the fact that the boorish couple was American unless it was to make the OP look good in comparison.

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Shea July 9, 2012 at 4:15 pm

I’ve lived in four different countries, including my country of origin, and have traveled a good deal as well. My view, really, is that no nationality has a monopoly on rudeness. There are differences in culture than can come off as rudeness where none is intended, but it’s not that the entire country is rude in that case. There are rude people in every country. Some people leave their brains at home when they go on vacation. Some people are rude not because they’re French or American or Australian or German, but because they’re rude people. That’s all.

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justme July 10, 2012 at 11:21 am

@nk: I have to ask, what are you even doing on Ehell, if a story that points out another person’s rudeness leaves a “bad taste in your mouth”? That’s kind of what we do here.

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nk July 11, 2012 at 8:58 am

@ justme: My reaction to the post comes not from the rudeness, but from the OP’s guise of self-righteousness when really they seem to be bragging about how wonderful and polite they are in comparison to other Americans. If the story had just been about a couple’s boorishness, that’s fine; that’s what this website is for. But instead the story was about how the typical American is boorish but the OP is not—I can’t see any other reason for the OP to focus so much on the fact that the boors were American since, as I pointed out in my original comment, boors are boors no matter where they’re from.

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Mona July 25, 2012 at 10:55 am

Take it from the Third Culture Kid: rude is about character, not nationality (or financial and socio-professional background). You might not know which fork to use or that the man goes *down* the stairs before the woman but *up* the stairs after, but that doesn’t stop you from being an absolute class act. Similarly, you may know all those things (and the proper way to address every rank of religious or secular official in formal and informal communications) and still be a rude bitch deluxe. I’ve seen it with my own eyes and heard it with my own ears ;-)

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erica September 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Admin- while I usually err on the side of caution I do think if the people at the next table are being loud and rude I would and SHOULD ask them to please lower their voices as their ridiculous behavior over FRIES should not interfere with my enjoyment of the dinner.
It isn’t my business but once it becomes loud arguement rather than a quiet discussion it is my business…

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