And illuminates some national stereotypes in the process.
New Yorkers wear black, Londoners complain, but no city stereotype is as sticky as this one: Parisians are rude.
It's a pain, but does it threaten the city's standing as the world's top tourist destination? Two regional organizations seem to think so: the Ile-de-France tourism board and chamber of commerce are collaborating on a campaign to help Parisians be more polite.
"Do You Speak Touriste?", unveiled Wednesday, warns that Paris is falling dangerously behind London in its ability to welcome and assist foreign visitors. Organizers are distributing guides and postcards to businesses in 16 different neighborhoods of the city, and the website offers language tips for dealing with the needs of the city's tens of millions of annual visitors.
But more importantly, it helps Parisians understand what tourists want from Paris. A seven-page guide [PDF] helps them "get to know" their new foreign friends.
Most European visitors, according to the data, have similar goals: beautiful architecture, fine food, and, of course, romance. There are small fluctuations. The Spanish like driving and free stuff. The Italians are impatient, and will be touched if you pay attention to their children; the Dutch are practical and well-prepared. The English seek a combination of relaxation and authenticity. (One wonders if they will they be disappointed by the new regime of politesse.)
The Chinese and Japanese, meanwhile, are chiefly interested in luxury shopping. But there are more specific warnings as well: Japanese visitors aren't likely to make their complaints known until they get back to Japan. They are in an unfamiliar place and benefit from positive reinforcement!
When speaking with Americans, keep in mind that they are "technophiles," who will always be asking for the nearest Wi-Fi connection. They come in search of Parisian refinement, appreciate personalized recommendations, and enjoy the spectacle of the city at night. They also expect full service!
The Brazilians, meanwhile, look for dreams and poetry in their Parisian experience, as well as luxury goods and services.
There are French visitors as well, though it's best not to go out of your way for them: they do not enjoy being treated like tourists.
This isn't actually the only campaign underway to improve behavior in the French capital. Last summer, the Paris Metro commissioned a series of advertisements comparing strap-hangers to badly behaved animals.
Feeling nostalgic for the Parisian rudeness of your youth? We'll always have the cinema:
Top photo: Zdenko Zivkovic, via Wikimedia Commons.