News / Europe

France's New Passion: All Things Chinese

Lisa Bryant
PARIS — Not so long ago, Americans and Japanese tourists were the major spenders in France. During these summer months, France's tourism industry now is courting additional clients with major purchasing power: the Chinese. For some French, that means going back to the classroom to study Mandarin.

Teacher Meifen Chen swears it is easy to learn Mandarin, the official language of the Chinese mainland. Maybe she is right, though it is daunting to watch her jot down the characters on a flip chart.
One of her students is a journalist. Another is just curious about China. The third, Julie, a business-owner who did not want her last name published, travels frequently to China. She said she is studying Mandarin to make sure she strikes good deals.

"But otherwise I just want to understand the culture. Because I go there really often," she said. "Because I want to understand... to try to help myself, to take a taxi or coffee."

The French are not just doing business in China. Chinese business is coming to France. Today, about half-a-million Chinese visit France every year. Tour operators predict that number may reach two million or more by 2020.

With incomes rising in China, middle-class Chinese can now afford to go abroad. English teacher Chester [his Western name] poses for pictures near the Louvre museum with a group of colleagues. He is enjoying Paris ... in a language he understands.

"We see some signs in Chinese everywhere. In shops, in restaurants. We went to some palaces and we saw Chinese everywhere, I'm afraid."

Chinese are not only flocking to cultural attractions, but also to French clothing and perfume stores. Even those on a budget, like university student Wang Yi.

"I am going to the Champs Elysee to have a look if there is anything I might be interested in.  The makeup, things for women," said Wang.

The Chinese are France's biggest foreign shoppers, accounting for one quarter of all duty-free business, according to shopping group Global Blue. Some major stores are responding by hiring Chinese-speaking staff. And last year, France's Le Figaro media group launched a luxury magazine targeting Chinese shoppers.

Interest in the Chinese language also is growing. Roughly 30,000 French school students now study Mandarin, making it more popular than Russian and Portuguese. Some French business schools make learning Mandarin mandatory.

Chinese also are snapping up French vineyards and expensive wines. At specialty wine store De Vinis Illustribus in Paris' Latin Quarter, owner Dominique Michelin showed off some of his rarest bottles. One young Chinese client recently bought one - priced at more than $10,000.

Michelin said that many Chinese buy expensive wines to give as presents, especially during the Chinese New Year. He said they buy the big French wines because they've heard they are luxury items.

Michelin hasn't learned Mandarin - he uses interpreters. But, he has learned something about Chinese customs.

He said Chinese will stay away from wine bottles dated 1968, because they believe that combination of numbers brings bad luck. But they will buy bottles from 1958… or 1978.

Other French want to delve more deeply into the Chinese culture by learning Mandarin. Roughly 30,000 French school students now study the language, making it more popular than Russian and Portuguese. Some French business schools make Mandarin classes mandatory.

Chen said the interest is immense because China is now a leading economic power. The French business and tourism industries realize learning Mandarin is vital. She said speaking the language also helps Westerners seal friendships more easily with Chinese.

Chen said her classes are not all hard work. She said every one of her students becomes passionate about the Chinese language,  without exception.

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Comment Sorting
by: Indochine from: Etats Unis
August 10, 2012 6:18 AM
French people does a smart move for business! American chauvinism is stupid!

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
August 07, 2012 7:55 AM
What a trap! How cheap europeans can be! I see these people can be captured so easily. How I wish the rats and mice in my house behave like them! It would have been very easy to eliminate all of them in a short time. But those rats are very resilient and intelligent, they are wary of everything: they even avoid foods these days as a precaution to avoid poisons. But I know that China is poison, unless it is not the same thing out there as it is in Africa where every imaginable fake product is imported in the name of cheap products that end up being far much costlier than reasonable.
In Response

by: ali from: uk
August 15, 2012 11:31 AM
why i'm i not suprised ignorant uneducated americans have a backword views about china. the average chinese earns five tims less than the average american but yet the chinese travel the world in order to understant other peoples culture and way of living. the time i checked a survey it showe less than 20% of americans have a passpord more than 70% or so have never left where they were i guess we should not be suprised to see so many naive americans to have a backword views about anything.
In Response

by: Anonymous
August 10, 2012 11:22 AM
Don't confuse the Chinese with the "Chinese" Communist Party. It is a disease, and an insult to the Chinese nation, which has a glorious civilization of 5000 years until the last century. It has been poisoned by communism and the country only has money because of the sheer numbers of underpaid/slave laborers that die for that regime and that is why any Chinese person with money is trying to get out fast. And now France wants a piece of that action. Don't follow the rest of the deluded west into that trap. Godwin is right. You will only become a regretful accomplice to the destruction of world morality and peace.
In Response

by: be polite from: China
August 08, 2012 12:32 AM
Please be polite. I respect your opinion so please respect Chinese.

by: pierre corso from: new caledonia
August 06, 2012 11:23 PM
it's all about power and money. Earlier decades , France and other western countries used to be particularly interested in japanese when Japan was on the peak of world economic position and Japanese tourists were everywhere around the world ; what language will be the next ?

by: CK from: Viet Nam
August 06, 2012 10:43 PM
It is the time of China. And we think it is all right to let a new power to lead the world economy instead of increasing the fear of the Chinese threat theory.
In Response

by: Julia from: Sweden
August 09, 2012 8:47 AM
China is the most poisonous fume in the air. Wake up, poor fellow CK!
In Response

by: Hoang from: Canada
August 07, 2012 2:48 PM
CK is not from Vietnam but Chinese. The Chinese threat is real. Read the book 'Death by China'.

by: Anonymous
August 06, 2012 6:02 PM
Too bad for French who have to learn RED chinese for living. Out of control animal who invaded Tibet, Mongolia; and dared claiming sea, islands theirs. French - Communist china likes disease, a spreading virus must be contained, destroyed before it too late.

by: Godfrey from: USA
August 06, 2012 2:58 PM
Pity the United States does not embrace the rising power of the Chinese. Americans should likewise begin to offer cultural programs and instruction in Mandarin at schools/universities.
In Response

by: stella lee from: CHINA
August 12, 2012 12:07 AM
China is not threat!!!kill the monster in you these fellow‘s heart!you are just jealous about chinese rapid development.
In Response

by: Godfrey from: USA
August 08, 2012 8:15 AM
I said that AMERICANS should offer educational programs, not the Chinese. I'm quite familiar with the Confucius institutes, which in my opinion do not affect public opinion at all anyway.

As for your comment about China being "the biggest threat to world peace," last time I checked it was the United States that was fighting overseas wars. It is also the American threat of nuclear war in the Middle East that likewise proves their disregard for humanity.
In Response

by: Hoang from: Canada
August 07, 2012 2:45 PM
It is called Confuscius institute in some Universities across North America for Chinese communist propaganda.
The French are weak. The world is beginnining to wake up to the biggest threat to world peace and humanity from this totatarian Communist country, China.

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