This is just me but I get really frustrated when something, someone or somewhere I love is misunderstood. And for some reason, some of my friends really fear travelling to Europe. Most have a misconception about my dear (vive la) France too! These are the common reasons:
Well, hey, I don’t blame anyone for worrying about this issue when we’re from Singapore. For heaven’s sake, we take everywhere to be our home. In school, we leave our bags open and our laptops beneath them to reserve seats. In trains, we hold onto our iPhones and play our ass off without worrying that someone’s gonna snatch it and bolt. In crowded streets, we walk around with our bags unzipped. Of course anywhere is more “dangerous”.
I think I’m getting arrogant about this because I escaped Europe unscathed for half a year. My closest encounter was having my bag unzipped while in a souvenir shop of a chapel after some old man allegedly bumped into me. Thankfully nothing happened. Oh, and a couple of boys were cycling really slowly down the street. When approaching a corner, they sped up and snatched the mobile phone of the lady in front of us. Creepy.
But I was really thankful and these things taught me a lot. If you’re in a dodgy town, don’t show off any blings – iPhones included. Don’t leave anything valuable in your pockets because they will be gone before you realise it. Just have one bag, with one big zip and guard the zip like hell. Also if you look nervous the whole time, duh people know you’ve got something worth guarding! Ladies got it easy cos with shoulder bags, they can keep it as close to their bodies as possible. And don’t get distracted by gypsies and kids, … basically anyone. It isn’t Singapore where you smile to people on the streets because they may be your friend’s friend’s friend. It is also unlikely that anyone would ask you for help at the ATM and enter their passcodes in front of you. (Yes that happened today, and in Singapore, nobody deems that as dubious.)
2. Service Quality
In France especially, their trade union works like hell to gain that power. They’ve got that French Revolution too, as a “success” story to show that they can do anything they please, for their rights. If you were working in a place where it doesn’t matter if you perform well at work, you’ll get paid anyway and nobody will dare to fire you – how many of you would honestly say you’d still put in your 100% all the time? The only reason we do is because we’ve got it drilled in our heads that if we don’t deliver, we’re out. (Not to say it’s a bad thing at all.)
Hence, generally speaking, most of them don’t give a shit about your money. Their people don’t like sales staff bugging them either. Neither do I like them bugging me and following my every step around the store. I like being left alone. But heck, over here, we have the mindset drilled into us that customers are king. If I don’t like you, I complain, and you’re going down. But there, nobody cares. Nobody cares if you’re gonna buy, nobody cares if you like the store, nobody cares if you like the hostel, especially if you’re paying such a low rate for accommodation. So don’t expect service quality. They’re not being rude, it’s understandable!
Especially in France, tourists think locals are snobbish. They’re arrogant, they only care about their language, and they don’t want/like to speak to you if you speak in English. How many of you can honestly say if a foreigner from e.g. PRC or India speaks to you in their native accent, you would respond with a smile and struggle on with the language?
Hell to the no.
I would maintain my English until I realise they suck in English more than I suck in (e.g.) Mandarin, so then I’ll struggle with Mandarin. Otherwise I’m just embarrassing myself, in my home land. Likewise, their primary language is French. Their pride in their language is enormous it’ll put all our Singlish shame, well, to shame. They think their English suck so why should they try to speak in English to you? (Also see point #2.)
Hence if you struggled in their language, you’re showing respect. And now that they know you suck in French more than they suck in English, they’re more willing to speak it. (And most of them don’t really suck in English, it’s just their accent!)
If you go with a preconceived notion that they’re gonna be mean to you, you probably are gonna do something that encouraged that. E.g. Hmm let me see if it’s right, do they hate English-speaking people? Then proceed to babble away. D’oh.
If you go expecting to be treated like king, well you’re not. Because they thrive mostly on internal tourism, unlike us in Singapore where we worship the ground tourists walk on.
And if you go expecting to be robbed/pickpocketed, you probably are gonna walk around weirdly and attract more attention than you need.
So if you wanna do like the Romans do, pretend you’re local. Walk around like you know that place (read: don’t hold on to your map 24/7!) and when approaching people, ask nicely in their language. Show some respect! Don’t expect all you expect in Singapore everywhere you go.
Disclaimer: This could change greatly if something horrible happened to me while I’m there in summer. But hell yes, I’m gonna act like I’m from there.