From an Associated Press article:
France has long had a reputation — particularly in the English-speaking world — for being a bit difficult to visit. We love to hate it, with its surly waiters and superior shopkeepers. But we also love to love it: More people visit France than any other country in the world.
The rest of the article is fairly interesting, focusing on how France can attract visitors for longer periods of time, i.e. more than a day or two for European visitors, and making itself more of an attraction for those overseas visitors who might just visit Paris for a day as a part of a larger tour, but there is still this persistent idea that France is full of surly waiters and generally unpleasant people.
Are there surly waiters? Sure. But I could say the same of every country I’ve visited, and a number of restaurants in my hometown, too. The only occurrence of surliness I witnessed during my ten days in Paris was an occasion where I think the waiter was entirely justified in his behaviour (however much one wants to argue that a waiter should always be the perfect model of manners, they are human too). In his case, a tourist had come into a café (I was there eating lunch), and once he was seated, proceeded to order his food and drink in a very pushy manner, with no courtesies, in English. Then, he demanded low-fat butter, and loudly complained about how slow the service was. Well, the service he received was absolutely glacial in speed due to his manner. Sitting nearby, I cringed in embarrassment, wishing that he could at least use ‘s’il vous plait’, or ‘merci’, or, in fact, any French at all. In the end, the tourist left disappointed, and the waiter was put out, though he still received a tip.
The France I experienced was full of friendly people: the shopkeeper in the (somewhat touristy) shop attached to the Cafe de Flore, who chatted to me about jazz; the charming waitress in the restaurant in Chartres who was run off her feet serving the entire place, but still had a smile and a kind word; the staff of a lingerie shop who, when realizing my vocabulary didn’t extend to lacy dainties, communicated as best they could in English; the man on the metro who gave up his seat for my mother and gave us a friendly ‘Bonsoir’; and the post office employee who helped me figure out how much it would cost to send postcards to the UK and overseas.
Actually, there were a lot more lovely people, and I’d say that even the fellows hawking souvenirs at the Eiffel Tower (and the courtyard in Versailles, and pretty much every ‘big’ tourist attraction we went by in Paris), were pretty nice.
I only have two small pieces of advice on how to make the most of a trip to France: 1) learn a bit of very basic French, including courtesies (s’il vous plait, merci, bonjour, bonsoir, etc.), and 2) visit knowing that France is not like your hometown. Make the most of your new experiences, and enjoy the differences in culture. A bit of adventurousness can go a long way.