So, now I get it. When Americans say that the French are rude, they mean the Parisians. Most Americans have only been to Paris, or they only know people who have been to Paris, and it's a different beast entirely. Comparing it to Nantes would be like comparing Virginia Beach to Manhattan. And imagine if you wanted to convince your foreign friend that Americans are really kind and open-hearted people (which I believe)- would you prove this by taking them to Manhattan to ride the subway at 8 in the morning during rush hour? Probably not.
People in big and important cities are up their own ass in a way that they're not elsewhere. Even a medium-sized city like Baltimore just can't compare to the vibe of a place like Toronto or NYC or Paris. Big cities are fast and impatient, and they're not exactly unfriendly, but they're not especially friendly either. They have mad dashes and people who take themselves very seriously, and nobody has the time for you and all of your small-town nonsense!
And the Parisians are not really friendly if they have no reason to be. But, is this worse than I've seen elsewhere? Not really. Sure, I've had a few 'French moments' like the older man who loudly scoffed at me on the sidewalk for my ratty college tee-shirt, but again, those were just too silly to care about. You adjust to the local tenor and tempo and deal with it.
And tourists really are terrible. I say this as a tourist, but it's true. They walk into Paris and bitch about how little air-conditioning there is here, they walk through the subways with their frat brothers beating the walls with their fists and yelling in midwestern, they don't understand anything, and because they have money, they expect that Paris will accomodate their special needs.
I've seen epic obnoxiousness here, from the college kids who walk through residential streets at 3 am on a Tuesday night screaming in midwestern, to moms bitching out the hostel staff because they have to make a deposit on a sheet even though they have children (always the damned children...). Yesterday, Claire and I pissed off a mother from Louisiana on the subway because we didn't move for her stroller. I didn't actually think we had to since we weren't really in the way and she had plenty of room for the stroller, and we didn't actually have anywhere to go. But, she kept bitching about how "I love how people here don't even care that you have a baby!" like a petulant child. Apparently, she thought we didn't understand English, so Claire made some comment to me, solely to piss her off (that's my girl!), and we laughed about it later.
Are westerners just so rich and bored that they have to remake the world in the image of the Marriot? Why do they need this endless cultural simulacrum to feel safe in? A sprawling air-conditioned mall where everyone kisses your ass because you have a credit card and pretends that their own lives just aren't as important as whatever stupid thing you want to buy to make yourself less bored and miserable for fifteen minutes. 'We want the world and we want it now!' Where is the shopping district?
Besides, I love all the parts of travel that irritate most tourists. I love the hot sweaty rooms and the languid pace of meals (which is the real reason that French waiters are so 'aloof'! People spend two hours eating meals here, and they're being polite.), and the dog shit everywhere, and the body odors, and the urine alleys, and the women with hairy armpits who glare at you, and the snotty clerks and all of those things that exist solely because people are asserting their right to be human and to exist outside of the simulacrum. And to not play a role in your stupid 19th century colonial re-run. The endless variety of human life and expression is stunning. Even more stunning than the simulation.