When the annual summer holidays cause France to close down for a month, the holiday reservation site Travelzoo carried out a survey on how their European subscribers viewed French tourists. The 2,398 people who took part were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the behaviour of French tourists who seem well on their way to being considered the worst in Europe. Criticisms only go to endorse the clichés we frequently hear applied to the French.
So, what exactly is it they find so hard to stomach? For one thing all seemed to agree that French tourists are extremely hard to please, and never stop belly-aching. The French have a high expectation level with regard to their holidays, so everything must be just right – to the most minute detail. Apparently, one of the favourite occupations of French tourists who’ve just taken possession of their hotel room is to go round looking for the slightest speck of dust. They’ll even look behind that picture frame above the bed! And if their room doesn’t have a magnificent sea view they won’t hesitate to bounce down to reception and demand that it be changed immediately. What’s more, the present economic crisis has made things even worse. The British tourist, on the other hand, will only complain in the most extreme cases, and as long as there’s plenty of sun and cheap booze available, is perfectly happy.
The French are also considered to be an arrogant lot – mainly because they make absolutely no effort to speak a foreign language when abroad. The Gallics are proud of their country, its culture and language, and are inclined to consider themselves slightly superior to others. Not only do they act as if they were still in France, but they expect to be able to find what they’re in the habit of eating at home. Mind you, to be perfectly fair, we don’t think this is a particularly French trait. At the age of 14 the English boy I then was went on a school trip to the South of France. For him it was a paradise on earth, and the food, though certainly different, was an absolute delight. But many of his fellow pupils didn’t seem to agree: their main gripes were that it didn’t measure up to Scarborough and that there were no fish and chip shops around!
And French tourists expect to have both quality food and cooking at the lowest possible price together with the high level of service that goes with it. The British tourist on the other hand, as long as he gets a cooked breakfast, is quite happy with a ham sandwich or a mediocre buffet-type meal. But though the French consider holidays to be extremely important, and will only deprive themselves when they have no other choice, they don’t want their holidays to cost them the earth. This explains the growing popularity in France of the all-inclusive type of vacation where you know down to the last euro exactly how much it’s all going to set you back and where you’re certain that, if you don’t want to, you needn’t fork out a cent more.
But what contributes most to this ‘stingy’ image is when it comes to leaving a tip. French tourists will only tip when they’re fully satisfied with the service (which is extremely rare), and even then (as, to be quite honest, I’ve personally often been in a position to note), this is far from being a general rule. One of the main justifications for this is that they’ve never received a tip during their working life, so why give one to others ? On the contrary, Anglo-Saxons are culturally more inclined to leave a tip – even when the quality of the service leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s also understandable that in this country of haute couture and designer fashion clothes the holidaying French tend to pay more attention to what they wear. And even though they tend to dress more casually than before, there are still certain standards which they rarely abandon. The British and Germans, on the other hand, will stroll nonchalantly round holiday resort shops clad in nothing more elaborate than flip-flops and shorts.
Not only do French tourists want their holidays to bring relaxation and enjoyment, but they also like to come away with the impression that they’ve added something to their personal culture and knowledge. The guided-tour type of holiday, where you visit different places of cultural or historical interest each day is, therefore, far more popular than with holidaymakers from other countries. So frequently can this be observed that in Seville it’s a standing joke that at four o’clock on a sweltering summer afternoon only dogs and French tourists are to be seen in the streets. The English and Germans on the other hand are more inclined to spend their days soaking up the sun on a lounger round the swimming pool, or just lazing on the beach with the occasional dip in the sea.