A Tourists’ Paradise? What do the French really think of us?
France is the most popular tourist destination in the world and has been for some time. There is an increasing number of international visitors coming every year, reaching 86.3 million total tourists last year in 2015 – nearly 10 million more than the USA in second place.
Traditionally, the majority of visitors have been from Europe, with German, British and Belgian being the most common visiting nationalities. The image below is from 2014 but the trends remain unchanged. Let’s see how much Brexit affects the figures.
As has been discussed many times, the list of reasons for visiting France is practically endless. For many potential tourists, however, that list tends not contain ‘the politeness of the people’ or ‘the wonderful welcoming attitude of our hosts’. This feeling is not limited to the UK. Across Europe, the traits most commonly associated with the French are arrogance, haughtiness and obstinacy.
This time, however, we wanted to take a look at it from the French perspective. What do they think of us Brits and the other nations of Europe, particularly in relation to visiting France and being guests in their country?
Are we really that bad?
To try and understand how the French feel about their neighbouring nations we carried out a survey. It was multiple choice and the answers were always:
- United Kingdom
Strap in. Some of this may be hard to take.
(1) People from which country are the least polite when visiting France?
As we can see, almost half of the respondents voted for Russia being the ‘rudest’ country. At 44.8% this is definitely statistically significant.
It seems we should be pretty pleased with this result, as, while we did come second, we are battling neck and neck with the Germans for that silver medal.
French males voted more heavily for Russians being the rudest. Could this be something to do with their culture of violence when travelling abroad? Exemplified most recently at the Euros, surrounding the Russia-England match.
French females, however, were more inclined to vote for the British as the rudest visitors to their country. Could this possibly be a reflection on British lad culture, a celebration of drinking and ‘chatting up’ girls.
(2) Tourists from which country are least likely to try and speak French?
Apparently this is not just a British trait. While we were a close second, it was, again, the Russians who fell on their sword.
The other results are as to be expected. Belgium coming in final place here is no surprise as it is an official language of the nation (around 37% of the country speaks it primarily) and is the dominant second language.
The efforts of the Spanish and Italians are also looked upon more favourably, with only 5.8% and 6.7% respectively voting for them as the countries least likely to try French. Is it because the similarities between the Romance languages make it easier? Or could it be something to do with the fact that, being hugely popular tourist destinations themselves, they have seen it from the other side and, as a result, consider it important to make an effort?
(3) Which country has the worst taste in food?
I think you can probably guess which way this is going to swing.
With the most commonly used nickname for us being ‘Les Rosbif,’ referring to our stubborn obsession with overcooked roast beef (nothing compared to a bouef bourguignon or entrecote, of course), it is perfectly clear what the French think of our national cuisine.
No other question was answered so decisively in our survey and the British romped to victory (or defeat) with three fifths of the votes.
Another recent survey of 14,000 respondents, carried out by Expedia across 14 countries, revealed that the Brits are also least the likely to sample local food when abroad. The same survey also suggests that the Spanish and the Italians are the most open-minded in Europe.
Only 57% of UK adults will try unknown or local delicacies abroad. This is shameful next to the 94% of the Spanish and Italians.
If the French are correct in their assessment of European tastes, could open-mindedness be closely correlated with good taste?
(4) From which country do the most beautiful people come?
We can take knocks to our cuisine and our inability to speak other languages. To be honest, we are probably too comfortable with these two blemishes on our national character. This is one poll, however, that most Brits would hate to sit bottom of.
We did, however. Not far behind the poor old Belgians (who seem to be a bit of a chump in the eyes of their big brother) but it is, frankly, embarrassing how in the eyes of the French we measure up next to the Italians and Russians.
(5) If you had to switch France’s history and culture with those of another country, which would it be?
There are undoubtedly many strings to the British bow in terms of history, culture and innovation. We have Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens; the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and David Bowie. We can offer the Industrial Revolution, the invention of most popular sports, as well as the television, the telephone and the internet. Surely the French can see that!
Nope. First is Italy, again. Their Mediterranean boot fetish continues!
Perhaps the many military clashes between the UK and France have driven our history out of favour with the general populace.
With Spain being the runner-up it starts becoming clear that perhaps the most important thing to the French is maintaining their healthy, outdoorsy lifestyle. It is easy to see a load of similarities between the French, Italian and Spanish ways of life. They both place much more importance on food, family time and local traditions and customs.
Perhaps we could learn something from our continental cousins?
(6) From which countries do the worst drivers come?
When Brits are asked that question, the minds of the majority would jump straight to Italy. A 2015 poll by breakdown company, GreenFlag, shows us that 37% voted that Italians were the worst drivers in Europe. The same poll told us that the Brits feel that Italians are the most likely to break the rules of the road and have the strangest regulations in their own country.
Let’s have a quick look at the French responses.
A notable disagreement between the aforementioned poll of Brits and that of the French, is that we think the Germans are the best drivers (37% of the Brits voted for this) whereas the French clearly favour the Dutch style of driving.
After looking at the actual European road fatality figures for 2015 (provided by the European Commission), it quickly becomes clear that neither country was right.
Out of our countries, it could be argued that in real terms it is we the British and, in particular, the Netherlands that deserve the crown for safest drivers. Both countries have a much higher population density than Germany but fewer casualties.
It seems that both the British and the French were wrong about the Italians. In comparison to the rest of Europe (particularly the countries to the East) Italy is relatively safe.
What is most interesting is that the French voted for the Belgians being the safest drivers from our choices, when, in fact, the opposite is true.
(7) If you had to permanently live in another country other than France, which would it be?
The answers for this question, as you might expect, tie in closely with question 5. This, again, reinforces the importance of lifestyle and culture to the French people. The sunny climes of the southern Mediterranean are calling to our cousins across the Channel.
But perhaps this is just a romantic notion rather than a practical or realistic one? While the exact figure is regularly disputed, it has often been said that with its huge diaspora (bigger than anywhere else in the world) London is France’s sixth-largest city.
(8) If you had to marry someone from another country, which country would it be?
For such a romantic nation, one would expect this to correlate relatively closely with question number (4).
Yes, again, the French love for the Mediterranean people remains strong, with Italy and Spain swaggering into first and second place respectively.
It seems the Brits have been given a little respite, however.
Perhaps it is our sense of humour (certainly something the French respect and value in the British) or our impeccable road safety, but something has upgraded the British from least attractive people to ‘fourth-most marriable.’
I’d chalk that up as a win.
Additionally, it was the youngest age bracket (18-24) who voted most strongly for marrying a Brit with the results being pulled down by their older counterparts. Perhaps there is hope for us yet!
And no surprises here. France’s love affair with Italy continues. And this is the second-most decisive poll after the now-forever-forgotten ‘worst taste in food’ incident.
With such epicentres of fashion as Rome, Milan and Florence, it was unlikely to be any of the other countries coming out on top.
The UK shouldn’t feel too disappointed with second place, however.
(10) People from which country most appreciate French culture and history?
Finally, the UK have topped a positive poll!
After speaking to a number of people it is clear that we do have a fascination and appreciation of their lifestyle, food, cities and scenery. In his article ‘What do the French really think of us?’ Francophile and writer, Anthony Peregrine supports this idea, telling us that, particularly when it comes to tourists in France, the Brits are ‘modest, polite and impressed, perhaps over-impressed, by everything.’
Research suggests that there is very little bad feeling between the Spanish and French so, for now, it is uncertain why the French feel they show the least interest and appreciation for their valued culture. Quite simply, it could be due to the proximity in both location and culture. There could also be some national resentment in there?
Undoubtedly, our own views and opinions on the French are incredibly complex and mixed. It would appear our continental cousins feel very similarly about us!
Survey data from July 2016
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