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Parlez-Vous Polite? Paris Manual on How to Treat Tourists

Dana McMahan
Saturday, 6 Jul 2013 | 7:00 AM ET
Eric Feferberg | AFP | Getty Images

As the saying goes, Paris would be great, if it weren't for the French. Now, in an effort to improve tourism in a down economy, the city is distributing pamphlets to local businesses teaching them how to not be so famously rude to visitors.

Aimed at improving relations between the 80,000 visitors a day and front line workers like taxi drivers, servers, hoteliers, museum staffers and merchants, "Do You Speak Touriste?" provides colorful cheat sheets aimed at helping Parisians shed their snooty image. The city's tourism board is passing out the six-page guide directly to service personnel, and has an accompanying website.

"I think they know it's desperate," Elaine Sciolino, a New York Times writer in Paris, told TODAY, "I mean the economy is really hurting, and unemployment is at 10 percent. Foreign investment is way down, so you've got to keep tourism up."

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For instance, to understand Americans, the guide says, locals should know they demand WiFi, enjoy high-end hotels, and prefer to have dinner at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, Germans want to converse in German. Spaniards like amusement parks. Feeling uncertain about navigating an unknown city, the Japanese need to be reassured. And the guide describes the Chinese as "fervent shoppers," gently reminding readers that "a simple smile and hello in their language will fully satisfy them."

The pamphlet provides tips for 11 different nationalities in total.

But not everyone feels they need the new handbook. Chef François Pasteau of L'Epi Dupin has insisted his staff speak English, among other languages, for the last 18 years.

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"Why you have to be rude with customers??" Pasteau told TODAY. "No! You have to be nice, with everybody!" With tourists lining up to dine at his bistro, the attitude seems to be working.

Though the guidebook endeavor launched last month, it's not the first effort Paris has made to make itself more approachable. "Meeting the French," a program born in 2005, offers travelers the chance to meet "real Parisians"—at work or at home, over dinner in a local family's apartment.

Similarly, the free "Parisien d'Un Jour" (Paris Greeters) program has since 2008 paired visitors with local volunteers who love to share their city. Travelers register online ahead of their visit—noting interests like food, architecture, flea markets, history—and the program matches them up with a local enthusiastic about the topic.

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Panos Paleologos, president and CEO of HotelBrain, expects the Greek touristic season to be "excellent" due to an increase of reservations, upgraded products and more competitive rates.

Alain Sauvage, 67, has led Paris Greeters strolls in his Grenelle neighborhood in the 15th arrondisement of Paris since 2009. "I know that we have a very bad reputation," he said. "The reason [for] doing this is to give to the visitor a good impression of the Parisian."

Sauvage traveled the world before retiring from IBM. "You can visit monuments, museums, but the good thing is to have contact with someone who lives there," he said, "and that is something we need to do more and more in Paris."

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Along with the 300 other volunteer guides, Sauvage does his part. "I had this feeling that the people who are coming to Paris need to be a little bit more accepted as friends by Parisians," he said.

Thankfully, it looks like there's at least one Parisian out there who doesn't need the new guide.

—By Dana McMahan, NBC TODAY Contributor.

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