Paris, the world's premier tourist destination, is making a concerted bid to shed its reputation for legendary rudeness by issuing a new manual to those who work in the tourism industry and cracking down on the gangs of pickpockets targeting visitors.
Paris, the world’s most visited city, is making a concerted bid to improve its image by issuing a new manual to those who work in the tourism industry and cracking down on the pickpockets targeting visitors.
While Parisian waiters, taxi drivers and sales staff have acquired a reputation for legendary rudeness, a wave of pickpocketing, targeting mostly Asian tourists, has been bad publicity for a city that welcomed 29 million visitors in 2012 – a figure that is expected to grow by 10 million in the coming years.
Organised gangs, often from eastern Europe, have been targeting tourists at Paris’s top destinations in a crime wave of such intensity that workers at the Louvre Museum went on strike in April.
Now the police are cracking down – 200 officers have been specially recruited to protect tourists this summer while a new guide – in several languages – warns visitors about both pickpockets in the metro and gangs of youths who pretend to be deaf and dumb and raising money for apparently reputable organisations.
The extra police officers are now patrolling tourist areas, and there has been a drastic reduction in crime as a result.
Advice for shop owners
Besides protecting visitors from opportunistic crime, Paris also wants to improve the way tourists are welcomed by Parisian shop owners, taxi drivers and waiters.
A misunderstanding of American or Japanese etiquette can often be interpreted as downright rudeness – an image the city authorities are keen to shed.
A small 13-page guide, called “Do You Speak Touriste?” provides information on tourists’ expectations according to their nationalities.
The English, for example, like “Smiling, friendly staff, a warm welcome, and a playful dimension to cultural attractions” while the Americans expect “to be taken care of quickly, and a mastery of English.”
The manual also includes notes on how to say basic phrases like hello, thank you and goodbye in several languages
For one shop-owner, it's a welcome initiative: “You have to be able to adapt to the customers. In the United States people come up to you and say ‘hello, are you ok?’ while Asian visitors prefer staff to be more discreet but they like things to be nicely presented.”
Tourists are also noticing the difference. “I visited Paris about five or six years ago and traders didn't really want to speak English even if they knew how,” one visitor told FRANCE 24.
“This year though, I think there's a difference, people seem much more friendly. And they're smiling.”