Mon père était fonctionnaire et ma mère ne faisait rien non plus.
Colluche – French comedian and actor, famous for his irreverent sense of humour
(fonctionnaire – civil servant  non plus – either)

….. a tongue-in-cheek look at the French ‘accueil’ 

Customer service in France a tongue-in-cheek look at the French 'accueilI’ve lived in France for a large chunk of my extremely privileged and happy life. It’s home…and for the most part, I wouldn’t change a hair on its hexagonal head. But, like all that is human, life in France is not perfect, particularly on the administration and customer services front.

Reputable French admin and retail outlets will tell you that ‘le client est roi’  (the customer is king) – but we all know what  France did to its  kings  don’t we?

Now don’t get me wrong, I have had good service as well as bad, smiles as well as frowns, thoughtfulness and cooperation as well as unpleasantness and rigidity – but the ‘customer is always right’ banner frequently sags under the weight of a nation of retailers and civil servants, (fonctionnaires), who tend to believe that, actually, the customer is usually wrong.

Some might even suggest that the least likely place to get satisfaction, or assistance in the French retail or admin sector is the desk marked ‘Service Clientele’.

When up against blank faced disinterest, complaints made  with irritation, anger or indignation in France simply do not  work. Nor does being smiley, warm and friendly. Far better to tell a sad hard luck story of broken hoover, parts missing, papers lost or non-functioning Internet,  in a defeatist, ‘how-useless-am-I’ manner, with a pathetic little smile to prove that you are not blaming the item or the person.  Appeal to your opponent’s sense of pity and pray for absolution, I mean resolution.

Unfortunately, once a job offer comes with a full time contract or CDI (Contract Duration Indeterminée), French law makes it virtually impossible to get rid of a lazy, incompetent or uncooperative employee, which is why we may regularly come across bored looking receptionists, cashiers or admin clerks. They don’t NEED to please us. Their job is assured forever and a day, so why make that extra effort?

So do I have any useful advice to ease your passage along the thorny path of admin, exchange and return?  Heck no!  I would like to tell you not to take ‘no’ for an answer, to fight your corner – but  in truth, I’m not sure that would improve your situation.  Maybe the best solution when faced with poor customer service, rather than spend the rest of the day and most of the night fuming and going over what you should have said, is to give a good old ‘Gallic Shrug’, accept that ‘c’est la vie’, and save yourself a fortune in blood pressure remedies!

What the French have to say…

Olivier, Maureillas

Ayant vécu pendant plusieurs années à l’étranger, je me suis aperçu en revenant en France, que l’idée de service n’était pas vraiment présente. Je vois souvent des exemples ou le client n’est pas bien accueilli.

J’ai souvent l’impression de déranger quand je demande un renseignement ou fais une réclamation. Je pense que la région a beaucoup à apprendre d’autres pays.

Brigitte, Le Boulou

Je travaille chez (large supermarket chain) depuis 11 ans. Franchement, il n’y a aucune motivation pour me persuader de faire plus que le minimum. Je touche le SMIC, si je fais plus  de travail, personne ne l’apprécie ou me remercie. A quoi bon? Le client est roi ? Vous plaisantez! Moi aussi, je mérite un peu de respect !

ayant – having
vécu – lived
à l’étranger – abroad
je me suis aperçu – I noticed
en revenant – on returning
accueilli – welcomed
déranger – to disturb/put out
Franchement – honestly
Je touche – I earn
Le SMIC – minimum wage
personne ne – nobody
A quoi bon – what’s the point ?
Vous plaisantez  – you’re joking


Je ne suis pas content/e (chuh nuh swee pa conton/contont)
I’m not happy

Ce ne marche pas (sanuh marsh pah)
It doesnt work

Ca ne va  pas (sanuh vah pah)
It’s no good

Je voudrais faire une réclamation/me plaindre (chuh voodray fair oon ray-clam-ass-yon/muh pland)
I want to make a complaint

Je ne suis pas du tout satisfait (chuh nuh swee pah dew too satisfay)
I’m not at all satisfied

C’est un abus de confiance (sate an abbu duh confee-onse)
It’s a breach of trust

Ca fait une heure que j’attends (sa fay oon euhr kuh chaton)
I’ve been waiting for an hour












  1. A very accurate representation of customer service in France. I’m glad to say I no longer live there. When I did what really annoyed me was how when I entered a shop I was usually ignored. The assistant, for want of a better term, would just carry on doing whatever it was until they deigned to acknowledge me. I would have been quite happy to wait if they had at least greeted me.

    My technique for dealing with this was to put an audio clip of a reception bell on my phone. If I was ignored I’d ring it which always got their attention. Then I had them. It never failed!

  2. The most truthful article I have ever read, you may have deleted some of the adjectives that I would have injected..Je suis payée au salaire minimum ; si je ne tue pas le directeur ou ne vole pas, j’enregistrerai le fait que vous êtes mécontente et ”je vous demanderai de partir” aka %%%% off

  3. My favourite was going to Leroy Merlin in Perpignan to renew my loyalty card. (Le Roi – is that “the customer is king”?) The office for card renewals is at the far end of check-out with one door outside the check-out booths and one inside. The two “fonctionaires” perhaps that’s French for “jobs-worths” were chatting outside the land-side door. Not wanting to disturb their chat, I walked through the door and sat down in the office to wait for them to finish and attend to me. I kid you not – the women came in, told me I had entered through the wrong door and made me exit again, pass into the store and re-enter her office via the air-side door. Needless to say, I did not renew my loyalty card!

  4. I agree that in general customer service in large French stores isn’t great (usually better in small shops, where presumably there is more of an incentive to keep on good terms with your customers). One exception is Maisons du Monde in Perpignan, where I have always had very good customer service – maybe not unconnected with the fact that I furnished and equipped my house mainly from there!

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