Sunday, October 10, 2004

THE FRENCH are arrogant, rude and surly to foreign visitors. Hey, don't you come bitching to me, I didn't say this! (though frankly, I wouldn't object much). It was a French senator:
For once - quelle surprise! - the thought comes not from an embittered tourist but the leading French politician behind a damning report on how the Gallic welcome leaves much to be desired.

Senator Bernard Plasait, a member of France's upper house of parliament, has concluded what millions of visitors have known for years. "Our bad image in this area, the arrogance we are accused of, our refusal to speak foreign languages, the sense we give that it's a great honour to visit us are among the ugly facts of which we should not be proud," reads the first paragraph of his report, commissioned by the government.

"Certainly these accusations don't date from yesterday," the report continues. "In the 18th century, Horace Walpole wrote that he couldn't stand the French. 'I detest them for their insolent and misplaced air of superiority,' he declares.

"Where does this detestable reputation, which is like a ball and chain, come from?"
Well, I can think two or three thousand reasons...
His conclusion is that the French have only themselves to blame for their notoriety.

Mr Plasait's report was commissioned by the prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, after a drop in the number of tourists visiting France last year.

France is still the world's number one tourist destination in terms of numbers. But the report concludes that this is meaningless as a considerable proportion are just passing through on their way somewhere else.

"To claim we are the 'number one tourist destination in the world' doesn't count for anything," says the report. "Among the 75 million visitors counted in 2003 were those who were only crossing the country, once on their way to Spain or Italy and a second time to return home."

The report says a more realistic way of judging is by the annual income from tourists that places France in third position with €30 billion (£20.4 billion) after the United States - €73 billion - and Spain, on €33 billion.

It also says an Ipsos survey of world travellers who were asked which countries they would most like to travel to placed France fourth behind Italy, Spain, Britain and equal to the US.

The government was particularly alarmed by the 21 per cent drop in spending by US visitors to just under €5.2 million, The report focuses on visitors' first impressions of French airports, ports and railway stations - which, it concluded, were "often negative".
Better to focus in this, because if the Senator dealt with things like these he wouldn't stop!