France is the world’s number one tourist destination, and the money generated by the sector accounts for 8 percent of its GDP. So anything that threatens tourism in France—like, say, the capital city’s reputation for bad manners—gets the government’s attention. What they can actually do about it is another question.
Perhaps you’ve heard of some of the recent, attention-grabbing attempts to polish the country’s reputation. Like the painful “Do You Speak Touriste?” campaign, designed to inspire greater French empathy for foreign visitors via, frankly, stereotype. (Examples include the idea that Germans are “autonomous and precise,” and Indians are “inexperienced and anxious.”)
Then there was the push to increase politeness on public transport launched by the national rail company, the SNCF, in which random Parisians were instructed to come to the aid of confused visitors. These could be identified by the fact they’d be wearing “Bermuda shorts, with a metro map in one hand and the other hand in their hair.” (The SNCF even created a 300-strong squadron of manners police—this is not a joke—though in the three-odd years since the beginning of their mandate, I have yet to see one kindness cop on a metro platform.)
But not all is maladroit where state efforts to help travelers are concerned. One initiative, the Qualité Tourisme label, is downright useful. While there is nothing more endearingly French than a stamp, badge, medal or sub-brand of dubious necessity, to earn this one, top standards of cleanliness, comfort, and some ability to speak foreign languages are required. (As anyone with a long history of traveling in France will tell you, such things are not always in evidence.)
This time, the authorities have been proactive in enforcing the scheme. Satisfaction surveys show spots bearing the logo—and there are now almost 6,000 of them countrywide, from hotels to restaurants to campgrounds—score 66% higher on the price/quality ratio compared with the French average, and are seen as 50% more welcoming.
The Qualité Tourisme distinction isn’t brand new; the label was invented in 2005. It’s just that finally, ten years later, the government decided to render it visible to the people who need it most: those who are not French. A new bilingual website, complete with a search engine, has just launched, with results grouped by region, type of establishment and star rating. Take a look before you book a Parisian hotel or restaurant; it could make a real difference to your trip.
Alexandra Marshall is a contributing editor and the Paris correspondent at Travel & Leisure. Food, design, architecture and fashion are her specialties, which means, living in Paris, that she is very busy. Follow her on Twitter and on Instagram.