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.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs