Apparently, Paris needs tourists.

Displaying the special brand of wisdom only marketing whizzes possess, we now get to see a rather classic French issue confronted head on. To market travel to France the powers that be are actually using the, shall we say, standoffish (some would say rude, insensitive and boorish, but not me) behavior of the average Frenchman as a specific sales technique in a new series of print and internet ads. Through the use of sophisticated listening equipment and a judicious imagination I am able to provide a partial transcript of what exactly took place in the French Tourist Bureau.

“Gaston, tourist visits are down. Whatever can we do?”

“Mon Dieu, don’t tell me we have to actually ask those filthy Americans to visit?”

“Oui, it brings tears to my eyes also.”

“I simply refuse to entertain any more questions about that moronic Da Vinci Code”

“Surely we’re not expected to beg?”

Sigh, “I can’t even begin to figure out what to do.”

“Gaston, its 9:30am!”

“We’ve nearly missed lunch, vite, vite, let’s go.”

The website they eventually created can be found at and it is a thing of beauty. They have created an interactive ad campaign to assist in the “understanding” of the Parisian “flavour.” There are photos, along with detailed instructions as to the recognition and use of the “Bof” (Gallic shrug) which is used to deny knowledge or responsibility, the “Camembert!” (a rude hand gesture used to tell someone to shut their mouth) and my personal favourite, “Repetez” or say again, used to ask someone to repeat themselves, which when used in noisy settings must be accompanied by a scowl to express displeasure.

You have to be impressed at the overall idea behind this ad campaign. It is nothing short of amazing that France basically threw up its hands with regards to any expectation of basic courtesy toward its visitors. It’s a lot like advertising a holiday in sunny Iraq and trying to use car bombings and the risk of beheadings as examples of local color and ethnic pride. Talk about playing to your strengths.

I guess they are using the example set by Las Vegas and the phenomenally successful “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” series of promotions. It crass, and it’s in bad taste, but it is Las Vegas through and through. And truth, good or bad, often makes for the best advertising money can buy.

Even still, I just can’t get past the idea that even as the French do their best to convince me they are poking fun at their image that in reality the whole campaign is a lot more cynical than one would believe. There is no way the average citizen of France believes for one second that they are improperly rude towards anyone. I guarantee, the first time some smart-mouth tourist attempts to demonstrate his version of the “Camembert” for a local he will receive the shock of his life when a sneering Parisian deposits a baguette where the sun don’t shine.

While I appreciate the sentiment in trying to suggest that tourists try to blend in, I tend to think it’s a recipe for disaster. The odds that Perry the Pensioner is going to urbanely chat up locals in an outdoor café are about as long as those betting that the Seine is safe to swim in. Smiling and apologizing a lot would likely be the best method of survival in a country that, from the outside anyway, appears to cherish its ability to humiliate and shun outsiders.

No, I think France is truly intended for two types of visitor. First, those totally enthralled with the French lifestyle and are willing to believe that everything they see, eat, and do is both impressive and superior. The other is the oft-maligned bumpkin American, who approaches the entire country like a zoo exhibit and marvels at their bizarre methods of “communication” and odd hygienic habits. It might be just a tad safer than unleashing hoards of internet educated “Faux-French” tourists, each convinced they are somehow blending in by forgetting to bathe and sneering at anyone that crosses their path.

I’m dying to see what Germany might dream up to attract tourists.

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