I have learned that the best way to avoid being treated like a rude American tourist is to not be one. It takes 5 seconds to accomplish this transformation:
Start the conversation with at least one word in the local language. The word can be as simple as “Please.” If you try more words, you will probably give them a chuckle, and people like someone who makes them laugh, so do that to!
I speak less than a dozen French words and understand almost nothing, but trying to use what I know pays dividends.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. You’re just relying on the fact that people are basically nice and want to help others. Warm hospitality is the default everywhere unless you mess it up!
Our first night here we only made it to the apartment around midnight. Carlos the check-in guy greeted us with a smile, used what English he could, helped carry our stroller (complete with toddler) upstairs, and was friendly and helpful throughout.
We were now ensconced in our temporary vacation home, but we had two starving children and no food. I ventured out.
At one in the morning.
In Europe, where there are no 7-11s or 24-hour grocery stores.
A nearby restaurant packed up a bag of croissants and pain au chocolat even though they had already closed and the guy had to struggle to get to them. The host at a brasserie just flat out gave us a carton of milk. I tried to pay and he waved the money away saying, “Just bring me another tomorrow.”
He wasn’t there the next night but the bartender remembered me with a smile.
The security guards at the Eiffel Tower saw our sleeping toddler and made a point of being careful, even ginger, when they checked the bag jammed under our stroller, so as not to jostle him.
And all this even though I’m from the country that brought you freedom fries.
Anyone who thinks the French are rude is just suffering from the wrong end of the Golden Rule.