You don’t necessarily have to have been the victim of bad service in a Parisian restaurant to subconsciously embrace the stereotype of the rude French waiter; Hollywood has projected the stereotype in enough films to leave most Americans believing the image is accurate.

In March of last year, an article appeared on the New York Times web site with the title, “Is Your Waiter Rude, or Merely French?” []. The story was about a French waiter who was fired from a restaurant in Vancouver, British Columbia, for being “combative, aggressive, and something of a bully” to both customers and fellow staff. Had the matter ended there, it would not have been particularly noteworthy. But the waiter, Guillaume Rey, filed a complaint with the restaurant’s owners in which he defended his behaviors as being quite natural for a Frenchman. In the complaint, Mr. Rey asserted that he was merely being a “direct, honest and professional personality” in his work behavior (standards that he had learned working as a waiter in Paris) and maintained that the restaurant’s management was discriminating against his cultural heritage.

When he took the job, Mr. Rey signed a letter stating that rude behavior towards customers or co-workers was grounds for dismissal. Legal considerations aside, who was being culturally inflexible in this case, Mr. Rey or the restaurant’s owners? In a cross-cultural situation like this, where should the burden of cultural adaptability lie, with the French immigrant or with his Canadian employers?

When in Vancouver, do as the Parisians do?

According to the Times article, several writers came to Mr. Rey’s defense, citing the “singular style” of French waiters and the fact that Mr. Rey was “just being himself”. But the key consideration here should be that Mr. Rey was not being himself in Paris, he was being himself in Vancouver. This put the burden of adjustment on him, and much less so on the restaurant management. Mr. Rey did not demonstrate a very high level of cultural intelligence (CQ). Indeed, from a CQ perspective, his attitude and actions reflected a failure to adapt along several dimensions of CQ.

CQ Drive (the motivational dimension of CQ)

• Extrinsic Interest – The incentive here for Mr. Rey should have been keeping his job, especially after having signed the letter that spelled out the consequences of rude behavior.
• Intrinsic Interest – Mr. Rey showed virtually no interest in learning about or adapting to Canadian culture. Until he changes one or both of his sources of motivation, it is unlikely that he will have much interest in changing his behavior.
• Self-Efficacy – Mr. Rey comes across as being highly self-confident about the superiority of his own culture and “hospitality” skills, but we know nothing about whether or not that confidence spills over to his skills for cross-cultural adaptability. If so, he chose not to show it.

CQ Knowledge (the cognitive dimension of CQ)

• Specific Cultural Knowledge – Here, too, we just don’t know if Mr. Rey took the time to learn anything about Canadian culture in general, or the cultural expectations of Canadians (and especially Anglo Canadians in Vancouver) when dining out.

CQ Strategy (the metacognitive dimension of CQ)

• Planning, Awareness and Reflection – There is no evidence that Mr. Rey engaged in any of these three components of CQ Strategy. If he was aware of the verbal and non-verbal cues he was getting from customers and management, he apparently ignored them. And if he engaged in reflection after confrontational incidents, he apparently did not learn from the experiences but only used them to re-affirm his core cultural belief in the validity and superiority of his own cultural values.

CQ Action (the behavioral dimension of CQ)

• Verbal Behaviors, Non-Verbal Behaviors and Speech Acts – One can surmise from the article that Mr. Rey probably reinforced the impression of rudeness and bullying that he left with customers and co-workers through his speech tone (verbal acts), body language (non-verbal acts) and the words he used to convey messages of disagreement and denial (speech acts).

As Edith Boncompain, of the French Institute Alliance in New York, observed in the article, “They (stereotypes) are reassuring. That is why they persist. But you don’t have to really get to know a person, understand them, if you rely on a stereotype.”