France fights back against bad manners

Long criticised for their rudeness, the French are becoming more and more annoyed by bad manners. Judging by a new campaign on Paris’s public transport network, the French have decided to fight back against impoliteness.


Note to visitors from abroad: you are not the only ones annoyed by snotty waiters, aggressive commuters and shameless queue-jumpers in France.

The French – although long stereotyped as bad-mannered – are exasperated, too. And now they’re fighting back.

“Lack of manners” was quoted as the number one source of stress for 60% of French people, according to a recent study by French polling institute Ipsos.

Last month Paris’s transport company, RATP, said 97% of its passengers had witnessed “uncivil” behaviour on the French capital’s buses and metro lines.

The company even published a “Top 10” list of the behaviours that most annoyed French commuters.

Unsurprisingly, loud mobile phone chatter topped the list, irking 86% of people surveyed. Refusing to let passengers off a train before jumping on – a classic Parisian nuisance – also featured high up in the table.

Shaming the shameless

In an attempt to shame ill-mannered commuters, RATP has launched a campaign for “civility” on the public transport network.

One of the ads from the Parisian transport company's campaign
One of the ads from the Parisian transport company's campaign

The campaign features large ads picturing animals behaving like, well, animals, before horrified human onlookers: a hen blaring into a mobile phone on a bus, a buffalo shoving its way onto a packed commuter train, a sloth sprawled across several seats in a crowded carriage and other shameless beasts.

The RATP also created a website on which frustrated commuters can write their own captions for photos of stressful situations caused by boors.

Even the French football squad’s bad-boy behaviour during the European Championship is not going unpunished. Four players – including midfielder Samir Nasri, who launched a foul-mouthed rant against a reporter – will face a disciplinary hearing on July 27.

A sign of changing times?

Does this backlash mean rudeness has become more widespread, or is it just less tolerated?

Cécile Ernst, French author of the sociological and etiquette essay “Bonjour Madame, Merci Monsieur” (Good Morning Ma’am, Thank You Sir), argues that the shockingly loutish behaviour of France’s football team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, when the players notoriously went on strike, is merely a symptom of a broader social trend.

She says that when strict social conventions were contested in the 1960s for being bourgeois, rules of civility were also thrown out with the bathwater.

“People do not feel nostalgia for the social codes themselves, but for the rules marking respect for others and the desire to live together,” she told FRANCE 24.

As a teacher in a poor suburb of Paris, she observes that her students not only lack social graces, but are actually proud of their “incivility”, which they see as a form of liberation.

Yet one generation complaining of younger people’s manners going to the dogs is hardly novel.

Sociologist Julien Damon, who helped carry out the RATP survey, believes ill manners have always existed.

“What changes is what we deem acceptable or not,” he told news magazine "Marianne". “Our behaviour is more and more geared towards cleanliness and hygiene: spitting on the ground or smoking in a restaurant, once commonplace, are now frowned upon.”

According to the survey commissioned by the RATP, 63% of respondents who admitted to poor etiquette said the ads made them stop and think about their own attitude on public transport. It remains to be seen whether they will start behaving as a result.

(Main photo credit: RATP/Bruno Marguerite)


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