I don't exactly know the correct reason behind this. But it is my understanding that the French for one, do not like Americans very much. I've heard this from a few people. That may be part of the reason, especially if you're an American stranger why they may not respond with a smile. I personally took 4 years of the French language in school and enjoyed the language very much and from the Frenchmen that I did meet, they seemed decent enough people. . Auvoire mon amie!
I think like in every culture, it depends on where you are at the time. Big city, the boulangerie during rush hour, a big tourist site? Or while meandering through a small viliage, asking questions about their beautiful town, commenting on how attractive their window display of chocolates for Easter? I find that when I am friendly, respectful, and engage them, most French fall all over themselves to be friendly. if they don't, I may have encountered them on a bad day or they are just not happy people. I don't often get strangers smiling at me while I walk down my city street (ewww, what do they want from me ...) or when at the grocery store check out line. And that's in my little American city.
I personally think that they tend to be a bit stuck up. France has disliked America for a long time now, though I don't understand why exactly - it makes me feel like they think they're better somehow, more classy, refined, or something along those lines.
I'm not a big fan of this kind of behavior, but oh well, I'm over it.
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