France: where "courtesy" has no translation*

France is known for so many things. The great wines, the smelly cheeses & the Eiffel Tower. But where there's an abundance of tourists, there is somewhat a lack of courtesy when it comes to client service. I bet anybody who set foot in France experienced some kind of harsh encounter may it be in the restaurant or in the little shop of souvenirs. During my training in 2004, France was voted the worse in client service in the hotellerie sector for Europe. But to actually live here made me see that isolated moments of kindness do exist in some corners of France.

But not today.
It's August. The last leg of the holiday craze & probably half of the workforce in France is still relishing the summer heat. At 10.30, I called the real estate agency & I was answered by a woman, obviously in a hurry because she speaks a mile a minute & as if without any interest, she asks me to call back before noon. And so I did, the same woman, the same words: call back in 20 minutes, as if not giving me a chance to at least ask her some questions. I told myself that this woman will never get my name & number. The third time I called, nobody was still available to speak with me & I started to get pissed.

"Is there anybody else I can speak to?" I asked with a firmer voice. "I don't know how else I can get a hold of your colleague who handles the rents." Then in a more precise tone of impatience than the last two calls, she started to ennumerate the reasons. A lot of her colleagues are on vacation & that they are drowning with phonecalls. And still, there was no courtesy to actually tell me this nicely & ask my contacts. Isn't it afterall her job? When I started to explain that I just wanted to know if the ad was still good, she cut me by telling me to wait on the line. Now that I am fuming mad, it was another woman who apparently went back on the line. And since I was already raging mad, I was saying that it's been the third time I call, I can't get anybody that maybe it's because of my accent.

To which she replied, "Are you insinuating that we are racists? We don't really like this kind of free comments. You should first know what kind of company we are. We have employees with different nationalities ...." I stopped her by telling her that's not what I think. I explained, containing my burst of anger tears, that it's been the third time I call, there was no interest in what I need since she didn't ask for my contacts & that since they are so busy, there was no patience to give me service due to my accent, on which the other woman might have difficulty to understand, as I have difficulty to explain what I needed when the person on the other end is like tapping her fingers on the table, sighing, waiting for that pause to tell you to just call back. In the end, I did say sorry that she thinks of it that way after all her power speech.

In the first place, she even had the nerve to accuse me of calling them racist when it is not really about racism. Real estate agencies here have very little interest for rentings. We experienced this when we moved from Paris to Marseille, and in the Var region recently where agencies will give you a list of other agencies. So when a voice with an accent is inquiring about renting, there's even less interest for them. She made it sound that their company is with good standing while one of them cannot do a simple job of phone courtesy. The problem with dealing with the French in the service sector is that you are the customer, giving money but you have to beg for their simple attention to give you the service you actually do need. There's always a struggle for courtesy around here. The other day at the lab, when I asked the woman about my payment, she didn't budge a strand of her hair, as if she was lost in her own world. And I asked her twice & got a response on the third when I firmy said, "Madame!" What's worse is that you get used to it & you get all teary eyed for the very few simple courtesies extended to you, to which everybody deserves.

Believe me, I am not a difficult client at all. A difficult patient for doctors, yes but not as a client. I can even end up buying something I really don't want or need if the client service is good. You'd think that in between the bonjours & au revoirs would come a simple courtesy with their jobs. Do tell me, is France's lack of courtesy not alone?

*Thanks Kala for the great title for this post :)


From Manila to Paris, then to Marseille & to the Côte d'Azur, now in Singapore, clinging to a map of three worlds, where everything becomes all relative.


  1. I've had so many of these experiences and I've been brushed off by so many of these people --- in agencies, Frace Telecom, banks, and let's not forget the prefecture during those days of carte de sejour/resident renewals... sometimes I get the feeling that they expect us to grovel at their feet to get decent service.

    There are rude people everywhere, sure, but it's funny that I remember the number of times I've encountered GOOD client service in France even more than I remember the number of BAD client service anywhere else in the world. It's that rare an event.

  2. goodluck to us! i've encountered quite a lot of the same experience before and i tell you, most of that inquiry job, i now delegate to frenchguy.. otherwise, they could always make my blood boil because of their lack of courtesy!

  3. whoa, it seems like you've had a rough time of it. whew, here in tokyo, people are usually courteous, but they aren't direct at all; it makes you wish they'd show whats really going on in their heads ;-) stay strong!

  4. It took me so long to comment because I was thinking of my personal experiences and as I've said the last time...I've had my shares of bad CS but they are light incident compared to what you have experienced.

    A lot of factors to consider while on conflict:

    1. Yes, it bothers to argue in French. It will always be a barrier and where emotions can't be conveyed as I search for the right words.

    2. I think we should remember one thing....do not call during summer where almost everyone’s not back from vacation. Employee is under pressure because one should oversee things alone!

    3. And I always thought they will consider us to be strangers and that probably you really dealt with someone who is a racist w/out you knowing it. And that accusing you to be a racist seems she's speaking of herself!

    I agree with Kala there are rude people everywhere but can she just apply the SOP...get your name, contact number so she can call you back. I don't think it's a complicated task at all ! It's very basic.

  5. Kala, I think to really get service in France is either you grovel or grunt at them. There are really rude people everywhere, just so happens that France is known for it.

    Ana, I think we'll forever have boiling blood, when it comes to having simple politeness, as long as we live here! LOL!

    Caryn, hello & welcome! I think I'd prefer indirectness. Sometimes it's polite :) Aside from cracking from time to time, I try to be strong. Thanks!

    Haze, arguing in French is I guess the biggest hurdle in handling such conflict. You cannot say the right retort at the right time because you need time to translate! Actually, she didn't accuse me of being racist (I corrected that part, kahiya). I was a bit surprised that she accused me of calling THEM racists! And it's not an excuse not to be polite 3 months in a year because of the holidays. Some people doesn't have a choice but to make transactions at this period, diba? Buti ka pa you didn't have such bad courtesy extended to you :)

  6. hi makis :-)

    i could very well see from here that you are fuming mad (the wrinkles dear) hehehe....my hubby is too polite im wondring if he is really french :-) he always let me do the messy things on
    fighting over the phone with my russian accent mas masarap silang awayin LOL i hope we could have an EB before you move to Nice alam mo naglalakad na si mayumi ko :-)..bises...

  7. Yeah i agree CS doesnt exist in France. SO many times it happed to me too. Once we are looking for something in Conforama, my hubby asked one of the employee if they have. He said( in intimidated voice), 'I'm doing something right now I cannot check what you are asking' "Toink" I was really surprise! You cannot answer like that in a customer in Philippines or else you will be fired out!