Maybe you’ve seen this viral Tiktok video making the rounds from a woman named Angela (@realphdfoodie) who recently visited Lyon over the holidays as a solo traveler. She had a bad experience in France and people are riled up… so much so that it even made French news.
@realphdfoodie Solo traveling in France is such an isolating experience. Do not recommend for solo travelers and people who do not speak French. #france #lyon #lyonfrance🇫🇷 #lyonfrance #solotraveler #solofemaletraveler #solotravelwoman #frenchculture #frenchcultureshock #fyp #fypシ ♬ original sound – RealPhDFoodie
Angela says France made her cry and that “people make you feel bad for not knowing their culture or not speaking their language.”
She goes on to explain that people in the city seemed indifferent to her. Angela said she didn’t have these kinds of problems socializing with locals during her trips to Italy and Germany. She did her best to speak what little French she knew, but still, she didn’t have a great experience.
And she’s not alone.
Is it really that shocking (or newsworthy) that someone had a bad experience in France?
If you look at my recent YouTube videos about what Americans find rude about the French and vice versa, you’ll see the comments section is flooded with Americans convinced that the French are the rudest people on the planet.
But if you hang around in Francophile groups and blogs that primarily attract people in love with all things French, you’ll get a very different — and shocking — response (keep reading, I talk about it below). I saw it once again when I shared Angela’s experience via this Business Insider article just now on my FB page.
When someone speaks up to share their bad experience or to share something critical about France, people seem to get very defensive. And even resort to personal attacks.
It’s the strangest thing.
Instead of hearing what the person is saying, people go off the deep end.
I feel like the topic of France/French people is unnecessarily polarizing. I mean, aren’t there more important things in the world to get this fired up about?
You get people who fall into 3 categories:
1) People who love France and French people unconditionally and believe that life here is a paradise. All French people are all lovely and kind all the time. France can do no wrong.
2) People who despise France and the French and the very mention of it evokes major disgust or even hatred (as I said, check out the YT comments for perfect examples). No matter what you say or do, they will not listen and they hate France and would never go (or return).
3) People who fall somewhere in the middle. Those of us who are more realistic in our thinking can appreciate France and the French while also acknowledging the nuances inherent in these types of conversations.
I vibe with the people who fall into group three. You with me?
But people in group one — and there are MANY of them — seem to take any critique about France — no matter how valid — personally. It’s like they think of France as a human friend that we’ve just offended that they need to defend.
What usually follows is the person blaming the individual who spoke up with something rude like, “Oh, it must’ve been your fault because I’ve only had great experiences,” as if bad experiences don’t exist or they only happen to bad travelers. Of course they exist. Sometimes it’s our fault, and sometimes the people we encounter are having a bad day themselves, and sometimes it’s just the luck of our circumstances.
Just because you’ve had only great experiences in France doesn’t mean that bad experiences don’t exist. You haven’t spent enough time here if that’s the case.
How do I know? Because I’ve lived in France since 2012 and it’s a real place, with real people and problems. It’s regular life here and the problems you have at home happen here too. We’re all human. Nowhere is perfect. Nice people can sometimes be rude or indifferent. A vacation in France isn’t the same as living here.
I told you I hated France the first time I visited. We were spit on. I’ve had many bad experiences over the years. And guess what? If I were still living in NYC, I’m sure I would have had some bad experiences sprinkled in as well. That’s life.
I feel for Angela, I do.
As someone who doesn’t enjoy traveling solo, I know what Angela means about feeling isolated and I’m sorry she had such a bad experience in Lyon. I believe her account. France is not easy by any means, so it doesn’t surprise me.
At the same time, she was in Lyon over the holidays. People are busy with family and traveling themselves so not everyone is available and meet up apps are unusually quiet.
Also, I think it’s pretty normal to feel isolated in a country if you don’t speak the language. Most French people (outside of the tourism industry) do NOT speak fluent English. It would be similarly isolating for a French person traveling in the U.S. and not speaking a word of English beyond hello. There’s a major communication barrier.
Add to that other unfortunate circumstances and I absolutely understand how that could affect one’s perception of a place and them never wanting to return.
Anyway, Angela was clearly emotional and I wanted to give her a hug. I feel like the lack of empathy makes people not want to speak up when they have a bad experience. That’s why we have all these amazing stories and blogs and content about how great France is all the time because people get shamed and blamed and judged when they have a different experience.
So they shut up. It skews the reality and makes people think France is a utopia.
Angela, I hope you’ll give France another try…