There’s a fabled history of French rudeness from Napoleon, who called the English a “nation of shopkeepers,” to former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who infamously snarled at a voter: “Get lost, poor jerk.”
Now, bad manners and aggressive behavior top the list of causes of stress for the French, even higher than unemployment or the debt crisis, says pollster IPSOS. A total of 60 percent cited rudeness as their number one source of stress in a survey last year on social trends.
“We’re so rude,” admitted 34-year-old French teacher Stephane Gomez, as he comes out of a Paris metro station. “France lacks the civic sense that you find in Anglo-Saxon countries.”
“It’s so easy to be polite, but we don’t do it,” said 30-year-old Zahia Sebahi. “I never see someone give up their seat for an elderly person.”
But Paris’ public transport authority is leading the fight back in a summer-long publicity campaign against rudeness. Billboards depicting Frenchmen with animal heads have dominated metro stations; they target passengers who are rude to staff and push and shove. “If you shove five people getting onboard,” the posters say, “it won’t make us set off faster.” Bus ads read: “One bonjour doesn’t cost a penny, and it changes your day.”
Transport officials say they’ve tried to keep a light touch on a serious matter.“We used humor to not be moralistic,” said Isabelle Ockrent, RATP communications director. “But we’ve been alerted by our staff that there is a real problem.”
Public transport staff even held “rudeness forums” over three days in late June in 20 metro stations, in which they exchanged views on correct etiquette with passengers. Among other things, people were asked what they thought the root causes were for pushing and shoving: Lack of time? Unhappiness? Many Parisians attribute the decreasing tolerance to rudeness to the fast pace of the Internet age, with iPods on the metro and mobile phone noise in public spaces.
“It might seem obvious, but when stressed for work, Parisians forget ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ when asking for a ticket,” Ms. Ockrent said.