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Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

We were sitting in a cafe in Paris today having a meeting. The service was somewhat rude and as we sat around, a waiter came and said he wanted us to either agree to stay for lunch or leave to make room for people coming to have lunch. (Even though there were a lot of extra tables) My friend mumbled something and shrugged. The waiter walked away. He explained that when you go to the post office in Paris and you're really in a hurry, but the postal worker really doesn't feel like worrying about your problems, they shrug and sort of ignore you. He said he perfected this body language and it seems to have the effect of making people give up on you. It seemed to have worked, although I doubt I could do it...


Yes, service in Paris is somewhat rude.
Anyway, you have laws with you as long as you know them.

ie: you can order a simple glass of water sitting on the frontside. And they can't refuse or ask you to pay.
It's the law :)
Anyway, I know some good bars too when needed.

eh ?? Body language, is, body language in any language!! Read between the shrugs is the msg.. methinks!!

...or maybe you just ran in to an impolite waiter? Being an ex-pat (Dane) living in France, I must say that the stereotype about the French being arrogant is sometimes a bit out of control. I don't know what life is like in Tokyo, but I bet you can run in to impolite people there as well.


You never see service like that in Tokyo or any other place in Japan. I haven't so far.

In order for a foreign to become a french citizen, you need to prove that you have assimilated the french culture.

I think Joi was just making an observation about one specific incident and did not make any generalizations about French people, service in France, service in Japan, etc.

Let the guy share an opinion without turning everything into generalizations.

Thank you bug. I wasn't trying to generalize about service in France. My point was this funny passive aggressive body language, which was labeled by my friend as a Parisian postal shrug, but I suppose there is a similar shrug in many cultures. I was just surprised by how effective it was.

Don't really know about service in Paris. But I would say that I am not surprised that we are discussing differences in expectation of service between Japan and France.

I am going to do some wild generalisation now, but I think with 2 years experience that it is rare that a Japanese service provider will blantantly displease a customer. Do you agree that the form of the vendor/client relationship is embedded even in the language Joi (keigo)?

With 3 years experience in France, I'd say it is not infrequently that you'll find a service provider behaving as if you, the customer, were interrupting their routine.

Talking of service providers, can you believe that an online application to an ISP requires you to print, sign and then physically post 2 copies of a pdf form, together with all sorts of other photocopied documentation? And that's for one of the best ISPs (freebox).

I bet the french waiters have mastered the parisian spit in your next cup of coffee response to the postal shrug.

As far saying that Japanese servers would never ask you move chairs or do something silly, next time you're in a restaurant, try getting salad dressing on the side or asking for something to be made vegetarian. It probably won't happen and at the least you'll send the waiter scurrying back to ask their boss. Heck, the next time you're at a popular place with a few people in line, try sitting down in the waiting area out of order (i.e. so that the person closest to the restaurant is not the earliest person to arrive)..They might not seat you.

Everywhere in the world, people are still people. Being respectful of that is a good thing :)

In Japan, ordering vegetarian food tends to be a problem and it is quite common to be asked to move to accommodate others in a crowded restaurant, but waiters have impeccable manners.

A Japanese colleague who doesn't really doesn't feel like worrying about your problems might tilt his head to one side and, while frowning with strain suggesting deep consideration, say "musukashii desu ne" (its difficult isn't). I think this is the polite, Japanese equivalent to a parisian shrug.

About French waiter rudeness:-
I once asked a surprisingly garrulous waiter at the Rainbow Room in NY (or is there a fancier word for waiters of places which are in that league?)about this trait in his French counterparts.
It turned out that he was from France, and he said French waiters are an unhappy lot because they have to be return their tips to the managers!

After 10 years spent in Asia, I came back to France, with kinda news eyes, and I have to say that there is Paris (and, admittedly other big cities, to a certain extent), and the rest of France. I live in a biggish city, Bordeaux, and such behaviour, while not impossible, would amuse the locals immensely; this is the South, after all, they be cool ;-)

However, Paris, where I spent (too) many years before leaving for Asia, and still visit every other week, is another story. Incidents, like Joi calls it, are numerous. Joi doesn't have to generalize, really. Such a story does ring a bell for anybody who's spent any amount of time in the City of Lights... Whether it is stress, the offer and demand thing, a lack of education (or a very specific education), or a mix of all that, people tend to accept this as a given. Having spent the last 10 years in Korea and Japan, it is a bit of a choc, of course. Not that I have never been badly treated by clerks or else, but they were exceptions, not the rule.

And Joi, as for the French shrug, it's like learning to say "yes" and mean "no", while looking truthful and polite, BUT still convey clearly your refusal: takes a lot of practice before you get it right ;-)

lost in translation...

It's all in the tone. I should know, I'm postal ;)

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