Parisians taught to behave in public
Paris' public transport authorities launch tongue-in-cheek poster campaign
Paris – the glamour destination – evokes images of elegance and refinement in people’s mind. The ‘City of Light’, which draws more tourists than most world capitals, ironically does not have a rosy reputation among the visitors.
The Charles de Gaulle international airport was ranked the world's worst on a CNN blog in 2011, which complained of a warren-like layout, grimy washrooms and above all "dismissive staff".
"Waiting for a connection here is like being in custody," one traveller complained.
Not only are Parisians contemptuous of travellers to their town, they also behave badly towards each other, so the reputation goes, and the city's waiters treat patrons like dirt.
A Japanese psychiatrist practising in Paris for three decades says, "They arrive with an image out of sync with reality."
The latest to join in on-again-off-again attempts by the city to persuade locals to mind their manners, Paris' public transport authorities, have launched a tongue in cheek poster campaign on the SNCF rail and RATP bus and metro networks, featuring pushy animals.
One shows a hen squawking into a mobile phone in a crowded bus, one a buffalo barging into a commuter train, another a messy warthog leaving snacks and trash on the next seat.
"This is a very French problem," said SNCF head Guillaume Pepy, who says the issue extends beyond the capital.
He said the SNCF will recruit 100 "mediators" to remind passengers "that no, you do not smoke on trains; no, you do not put your feet up on the seat opposite you, and no, you do not destroy the fittings because they belong to the public."
An old French term, "incivility", is increasingly heard in public speech as the euphemism for plain old inconsiderate behaviour.
The worst, said bus driver Tarik Gouijjane, are passengers on the late-night buses.
"Spitting, openly drinking alcohol, putting their on the seats are common,” he said.
"I don't know if these campaigns will have any effect but they're definitely responding to a need," said sociologist Dominique Picard, author of a 2007 book on manners and "savoir vivre".
Paris has not always such an image problem. "When good Americans die, they go to Paris," famously said Thomas Gold Appleton, a 19th-century Boston wit.
Yet today, "everyone complains that these incivilities are on the rise. And in all social classes," said sociologist Picard.
French news weekly Marianne blamed Parisians' perceived boorishness on stress.
It said people were under more stress than in other parts of France, faced with longer commutes and working hours in a fast-paced and increasingly overcrowded city which with its suburbs is home to more than 11 million people.
Figures released by the RATP bear this out. A study, it said, showed 97 percent of the dense crowd who use the bus and metro daily had witnessed "incivilities" in the previous month, and a surprising 63 percent admitted having been "incivil" to fellow passengers.
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