Hating on waiters in Paris

Waiters in Paris

When it comes to service, Parisians all wished they lived in America. They all long for torrents of smiles, deluges of friendliness and avalanches of first names. But reality is stubborn.

They live in Paris.

And Paris is no America.

In France, torrents of smiles, deluges of friendliness and avalanches of first names do not mean good service. It means you’re surrounded with drunken people. And drunk people rarely wait tables. Parisians are quite categorical when it comes to waiters in Paris. They know for a fact that they are all “pas aimables”. Most of them are actually “des gros cons”.

That reality is non negotiable. Parisians will never accept for anyone to pay a compliment about Parisian waiters. Being able to b.itch about them is one of the rare things that connect Parisians to the rest of the world.

The Parisian never wonders about the causes of what he reckons to be poor service. He will systematically dodge the question by a “c’est pas de ma faute s’il a un job de merde”. Usually adding “y a 3 millions de chômeurs. S’il est pas content, qu’il fasse un autre boulot, putain”. Parisians are people of compassion. They will never put their own rudeness and absence of smiles in question. Neither will they ever include tipping in the beautiful scale of their transatlantic comparisons.

In Paris, clients and waiters don’t think much of each other. In an admirable whirlwind of reciprocal passive aggression, tensions add up and poor service usually ensues.

For that matter, when one day, for some peculiar reason, the Parisian or the waiter happens to be in a good mood, the interaction feels like a fresh breeze in the desert, a lightning bolt of conviviality. The waiter will immediately be qualified as “hyper sympa”. The Parisian will enjoy the moment immensely and ultimately pass on the address to all of his friends.

The idea to try to be more friendly in order to make happier moments less rare never crosses the Parisian’s mind: “C’est pas à moi d’être aimable, putain”.

Clearly, the Parisian is not ready for America.

Stuff Parisians Like

Useful tip: Parisian waiters like dirty jokes.

Sound like a Parisian: « Il est vraiment pas aimable, c’est dingue…»

Want more? Get the full story here…

Coming to Paris soon? Make sure to put O Chateau on your list. Join us for a wine tasting, a nice glass of wine or simply to meet the author of this silly text. It’ll be a pleasure to have you. And we promise, our waiters are actually nice and friendly!!

28 replies
  1. stephan
    stephan says:

    that’s true, “c’est pas au parisien d’être aimable”.

    one thing that also makes you realize that you are in Paris not in “Province”.

    When I first left Paris after more than 20 years and started living in Toulouse, I was almost scared the first time I entered a shop and was granted a “bonjour” that had never reached me in 20 years of Parisian well shared “mépris”.

    For America, I’d be a bit more critical than you do. Sure most american people are welcoming, still, in restaurants, the width of the smile is somewhat related to the potential tip they’ll get from you. Waiters are not paid decently in the States, and expect money from us…

  2. JoAnn
    JoAnn says:

    The food is so superior in Paris compared to most anywhere in the US, most of do not care about how rude they are. I must say, the rudeness to other Frenchmen is funny.

  3. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    Stéphan… Waiters end up making much more money in America than in France. As in MUCH more. That being said, it’s true that things, once again, are different (as in better) en province.
    Diane… Yup – heard that too. But guess what… Americans are friendly people in general.
    Poulette… A positive national campaign? You dreamer…
    JoAnn… It is a bit funny but a bit sad too. France could use a bit more simple generosity and genuine friendliness all around. But some of us resist. :-)

  4. Jeanne
    Jeanne says:

    I’d vote for the one who said that the food in Paris is very superior. However, in the US now, you can really find some good food if you know where to go. Be nice to the waiter – they’ll treat you right.

  5. Julien
    Julien says:

    So true! My family are guilty of this and it makes me smile every time. “Y a 3 millions de chomeurs” – they all say that.

    On a tenuously related note, the group of people Parisians hate most is other Parisians.
    It’s endearing and I have yet to meet one who doesn’t share this love-hate relationship with the place.

  6. Leesa
    Leesa says:

    WHAT?! Okay, I know the service thing is true, Olivier…
    But, I’ve lived here for over 4 years now and RARELY have a bad experience with a waiter in Paris– On the contrary– I can only count on about 1 hand the bad experiences I’ve had with waiters– I have had exceptional service at regular cafes and restos– and have found the service to be very good– and YES! I am talking about Paris— I think that if you are polite/friendly– unless the waiter is really a ‘gros con’ – you’ll be just fine!

  7. Leesa
    Leesa says:

    Waiters in America make minimum wage and there tips are projected/and taxed! America is a HUGE service industry – i.e., “The customer is always right,” etc… so retail/resto workers are expected to bow down and cater to customers– no matter how much they are paid/or whatever tips they hope/expect to make– remember TIPS- (to insure prompt service) are NOT automatically added into the bill – as they are in France (15%) and so the waiters have to be nice to get a tip, whereas in France – they don’t ‘have to’ be nice because they’ll get their tip, no matter what–
    Also, ‘waiting on tables’ is a ‘career’ in France- whereas in America– many people use this job position as first jobs/jobs in college.. not as a ‘profession’ (though it can be to some).
    Also, as regulated by tax laws in the U.S. – salaries are taxes according to projected tip earnings so if a waiter doesn’t earn that projected amount in tips- they still have to pay taxes on it!

  8. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    Jeanne… Word!!
    Julien… Maybe you’ll enjoy reading this one then: http://www.o-chateau.com/stuff-parisians-like/criticizing-parisians.html
    Leesa… Well we agree then. I’m not saying Parisians waiters are bad. I’m just saying Parisians like to b.itch about them. That being said, some waiters in the right restaurants or bars (or with the right looks) earn absurd amounts of money in the US. As in absurd. (yes, I can hear the – “they work hard” line. Absolutely. But still). I believe that the logic that I describe in this article tends to shape much more than the client-waiter relationship in this country. It is a discrete plague, a little cancer of today’s France. Resistance is all I call upon.

  9. WRG
    WRG says:

    It’s been much too long since I’ve been in Paris, however I must say, some of my best Paris stories are related to the nastiness of wait staff.

    I remember arriving back in Paris in 1992 after having spent a week in Italy. My partner and I were tired and hungry and instead of taking our bags back to the friend’s apartment where we were staying, we headed straight for the nearest restaurant.

    The time was approximately 11:45 a.m.

    We entered the restaurant and were about to sit down when the waiter arrived and told us in no uncertain terms that we were too early and that we should get the hell out (we both speak French, but I honestly can’t remember his exact words).

    Being polite Canadians, we meekly left the restaurant, but were immediately accosted by the owner who was arriving back with a panier de provisions.

    “Mais où allez-vous messieurs-dames?” she asked with concern.

    We told her what had transpired and she shooed us back into the restaurant and re-seated us. Then she went off to the back and gave the waiter a good tongue lashing.

    Ah, Paris ! Tu me manques !

  10. Mary
    Mary says:

    Sorry, but I’m an American AND a southern Californian, so I hugged and gushed over my waiter in Paris (Guy Savoy), and tipped American-style. Seriously, you’d have thought I had ebola from the look on his face and the backup he took, but he looked blushingly pleased, so I felt confused and thought, ‘Did I make him uncomfortable? Didn’t my hug mean that he was fabulous? Why did he shrink from my physical reaction?’ Then I forgot about it and went about being myself, which happens to be a ‘hugger’ and ignored it. Then?

    Then I left my lovely hotel in Paris. The entire staff had been fabulous. I believed there was an intimacy between us and felt that their generous handling of all of my idiotic issues was worthy of, you guessed it, a HUG. Well, I raced to the front desk lady and hugged her and, again, stiffness. I felt let down about that and it still bothers me. Maybe I should’ve just left my envelope of gratuity and graciously shaken her hand, but she meant more than that to me. Perhaps, to her, it wasn’t as intimate (?). Are we Americans just that open to stranger-love? Aaah. We hug, get used to it.

    Frankly, all I know is that I bought some chocolate in Paris and found the same stuff in La Jolla and brought both choolates into my local store and asked them to taste each one. Same company, same chocolate. GINORMOUS difference. The french chocolate? His eyes rolled back into his head. Local? Not so much. Gotta get me some more of that french chocolate.

    That’s all I know so far.

    One Cafe Story. My French is fractured so I mis-ordered, but the waiter picked up on it, so all was well. But then another waiter didn’t, stopped by, said a bunch of stuff I didn’t understand and I received two dinners. Honest. They gave me two sets of silverware and everything., but….Guess what? By their standards, it was MY mistake. I was even gently slapped by the waiter’s menu, but they were darlings and gave us an extra bottle of wine for ‘my screwup.’ LOVE you guys.

    OH! Olivier!!!!! I’m down here under the volume of text. Are you gonna do some book-signing at Warwick’s on Avenue Girard???? Ya gotta. Ya just DO. THEN, we do dinner and vino. Your staff was marvelous on our Seine tour and at the cave. I’ll brag ya up on TripAdvisor. Hang on. XOM

  11. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Oh my goodness Mary, you made me laugh. Hugging everybody in a country where they don’t hug! I suppose they would tend to go a little stiff. I wish I had seen it. Too funny!

    With respect to Olivier’s post, I think I remember reading that friendly waiters in North America can actually make French diners uncomfortable because they think that it must be artificial! They feel like the waiter is a kind of a “dancing bear,” performing to get a tip, with ‘fake smiles’. As a Canadian, personally I’ve never seen it that way. Smiling and being nice to strangers is normal behaviour in just about any context, and I think that our waiters have enough pride to forgo a tip if they feel they need to, rather than cater to a really obnoxious client. They do their best but they’re not desperate!

    I really want to go to France some day. I wonder if I will notice the lack of smiles the way some people do.

  12. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    WRG… I like stories that make the owner of the company look good. Not that frequent on our side of the pond…
    Mary… I’ve always been an advocate of more hugs. That being said, French people never ever hug. If you want to break the coldness, you’ll do a bise. But hugging resonates a bit like a space invasion to French people. I’m not surprised of the stiff reactions. They were probably thinking “What the hell????”. But you did well. Humans are not close enough. We need more physical proximity. And always, always – that extra bottle of wine. Thanks for your kind words Mary. The book tour in the US is not planned yet. I’d love to do one in the US next Summer… to be continued…
    Margaret… Oh you will. But it can be overcome. Frenchies tend to be defensive in general and calling anything from North America “superficial”. Just don’t mind them, really.

  13. vlr
    vlr says:

    I don’t care what the rest of you say, I love Parisian waiters. Maybe I’m floating around in a cloud of newbie-ness since moving to Paris, but they’re always incredibly nice to me.* In fact, I have found service people to be really nice in general (let’s not discuss the people at Orange), to the point a few of them have asked to exchange numbers and we have become friends.

    *I have learned from previous visits not to ask them to recommend something on the menu. They tend to do that French thing where they raise their eyebrows and expel air through their pursed lips.

  14. Messine
    Messine says:

    All of my bad service experiences tend to happen in Metz, where I live. I’ve had one or two grumpy waiters in Paris (actually yes I count two experiences and I’ve been to Paris frequently and for long periods of time). It’s always great going to Paris because I know that my accent won’t be made fun of and people will treat me nicely whereas here I’m lucky if I get a bonjour.

    Actually I had a little break through a few weeks ago. There’s a cafe I go to regularly and the waiters are awful. One day there was a new guy who was super friendly and I told him how lovely it was to be treated with such kindness as usually the other waiters are so mean. He was quite surprised and the next time I went there I was served by one of the usual meanies, and he was nice as well! I guess management changed or something!

  15. Minette
    Minette says:

    Well I recently had the most wonderful experience at Chez Dumonet… Wait staff and Chef — yeah, the CHEF — couldn’t have been more friendly, fun and sincerely warm and engaging. Really, a treat, beyond the great food, the service was grand — ok, pricy restaurant, but still… I tipped American style and went back for a second visit in a week… can’t wait to go again!

  16. Bebel
    Bebel says:

    I’m a Parisian who has traveled a lot, and every time i am back home, i enjoy the sustainable rudeness of Parisian waiters, the ‘garçons’. It is like an everlasting icon of the city. They are rude, at a café or a brasserie they come to your table and wait exactly five seconds for your order after what they leave even if you start to open your mouth, they throw the change coins in front of you while looking somewhere else and carrying a big plateau full of other tables’ orders, never say something nice (a grumble can be accepted as a smile from them) it is all rude. But strangely, they are ultra efficient. They are generaly fast, they can remember all your order and two three other tables without writing it down, and barely break anything, opening your Perrier with one hand. If you meet one of these waiters, you can be sure you are really in Paris, not somewhere else. I wish the Poste office employees were like them.

  17. John Agee Paris
    John Agee Paris says:

    As usual, I laughed heartily at your post and at the very true interaction between waiter and waitee. Passive/aggressive it certainly can be! But I’ve told my French friends something about American service: that sugary sweet, folksy attitude in US restaurants is just to get a big fat tip. When a French waiter likes you (it can happen), he REALLY likes you, because he’s certainly not working for your tip!

  18. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    VLR… Let me guess: you’re attractive and engaging.
    Messine… Most Parisians would say that living in Metz is good enough a reason to be grumpy. Though, great image breakthrough with the Pompidou. Metz this year almost became cool in Paris for a few weeks.
    Minette… Bonne adresse en effet.
    Bebel… Love the one-handed Perrier opening. Talk about unfriendly and unefficient, did you try les impôts? or la préfecture? These guys make Parisian waiters look like comedians.
    John Agee… Amen. That being said, I’m not opposed to the friendly vs. tipping policy. Tout le monde est content in the end.

  19. Gwan
    Gwan says:

    I’m kinda surprised to see you say that all Parisians which they had American-style service. I can’t really argue, since I’m not Parisian (or even French), but I’ve always been with the camp that thinks the sort of gushing, overly-familiar American-style service is often over the top and fake… And before all the American readers jump down my throat, I’m perfectly willing to accept that that might not be true in all circumstances, but people from different cultures see things differently, k? That said, there is a happy medium between full-on rude and fake-friendly!

  20. K.
    K. says:

    I definitely agree with Leesa on that one… I’ve been leaving in Paris for a couple of years, and I never understood the reputation it has for unfriendly waiters and shopkeepers. Nearly all my experiences in restaurants or shops have been good (the only consistent exception are supermarkets, the people at counters are generally grumpy). Maybe it’s because I mostly go to “petits restaurants” 😉 (i.e, smaller, less crowded places, away from touristic areas) ?

    One thing that’s definitely true in any case is that politeness obligations are symmetrical in France – the customer is expected to be just as polite as the salesperson. I haven’t been to the US, but I’ve been to Asia in places where waiters make their livehood from tips and where they’ll generally be polite even to rude customers; that never happens in Paris.

  21. Anita
    Anita says:

    Regarding Le French and hugging — my mother-in-law was born in the U.S. to two French parents in the 1920s. She does NOT hug. It’s very weird and taken me years to get used to this. She doesn’t even hug little babies.

    Although the good news is, my DH and I were in Paris this past July and did not meet one hostile waiter. They were all magnifique and I could have almost hugged them all. One of them even brought a bottle of Calvados as a special gift to us for an after meal drink. It was so strong it knocked me out, but it was his “gift” to us. Non hug.

  22. Athena
    Athena says:

    Loved reading all your posts! lol – Mary that was hilarious, loved your story – OMG, I just cannot imagine hugging any French or other European person unless I already know them very well and even then… the kiss on the cheek works much better like Olivier said. The French are definitely not the huggy/touchy type in general. I’me Greek-American by the way and have lived in Luxembourg for many years and have been to Paris many many times – I think I can honestly say I can count on one hand the truly rude experiences I’ve had with waiters or salespeople. 99% of the time I’ve only had good and friendly service. I’ve often thought that maybe it’s because I speak French to everyone, not sure if that makes a huge difference.
    But thing is those things that are considered a bit rude or standoff-ish to Americans visiting Paris, to me they seem acceptable – I guess I’m used to THIS kind of service (which is sometimes even worse in Luxembourg I might add….) as opposed to customer service in the States which although very good in general, can be a bit OTT sometimes especially in restaurants.

  23. JM MUYL
    JM MUYL says:

    Most useful tip :
    Talk about Aubrac or Aveyron, tell the waiter your French greatmother is from here, and you’ll enjoy a first class service.

  24. Olivier Magny
    Olivier Magny says:

    Gwan… True. But as you know, that grass..
    K… Can happen in super fancy places.
    Anita… Ah… le petit verre pour la route… makes such a difference!! Love restaurants that still do this (usually only to clients who’ve earned it).
    Athena… OTT: sweet acronym!! Like that!!
    JM… Good tip. Sneaky but good. So, since your gramma is so obviously from there… where do you find the best Aubrac meat in Paris?

  25. Athena
    Athena says:

    acronyms are so practical sometimes…

    I do remember one very rude waiter I had at a café called Les Deux Magots (I think…?) in St Germain-des-Près many years ago. I ordered a coffee thinking that it would be accompanied by a tiny pot of milk or one of those coffee creamers. The waiter brought a plain cup of coffee, deposited it on my table and left. He already at that moment looked very displeased and unfriendly – he obviously had much better things to do than to serve some female tourist. And then I totally ruined his wonderful day when I dared to ask him if I could have some milk. The displeasure and snarly look went up a few degrees, he muttered while storming off to fetch some milk : in that case, you should have ordered a “café au lait”. Putain!! ok he didn’t say that but I’m sure he thought it.

  26. Tereza
    Tereza says:

    Athena : Hahahaha, that’s exactly what I was going to say. Les Deux Magots used to be known for Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir, now it is famous for its lovely waiters (and cafés for 10 euros)!

    By the way, the second illustrative photograph of Parisian waiters strangely reminds me of this amazing place :)

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