The fact that there is for Paris, most popular destination in EU, a tip group "Parlez-vous français? on local customs with about 100 reviews mostly by Anglophones, shows that many visitors in Paris feel, maybe in their subconscious, somewhat uneasy not speaking French.
They see the splendors of Paris and would like to know a bit more about the French culture or just be able to exchange a few words with the taxi driver or the waiter at the restaurant and there is the barrier of the language.
My congratulations to all those who start with "bonjour" instead of "Hi"; most observed that this makes things easier in Paris.
Now between speaking French and writing it there is a serious gap. French grammar and spelling is quite difficult because there is not a rule in French without many exceptions.
This difficulty has also an advantage for the foreigner; many Frenchmen, even university students, are unable to write French correctly!
I went to France to learn French and I wanted to use it as much as possible. But so often I got English back. I just pressed on with my beginner's French anyway. So it is not always true that the French want you to speak French. I think that may be an idea left over from the old days.
This is an interesting fact that I read in a French paper. The French speak the poorest English in all of Europe because the requirements to teach English in the schools is so stringent, that is, they must almost perfectly pass a French language test (not English, go figure) that no nonFrench mother tongue person can pass it. Thus all the English teachers in France, according to this article, are French mother tongue speakers. If any of you had a person, whose mother tongue was Enlish, teach you French in grade and highschool, as I did, you know how that goes.
The French school I attended while in Paris was Ecole Eiffel. It was very small and a very good environment. Not too expensive. 8/2013 update. It has since closed.
A few phrases in French will help you navigate the city better. Most people are friendly enough to help and honestly I think it very rude to expect someone to know your language when you are the visitor.
English is a widely known and spoken language, but most Parisians appreciate foreigners to be polite and at least try to say a few important phrases. Jot them down on a piece of paper and use them as needed. Or, with so many electronic tanslaters there really is not excuse.
On the many visits that I have paid Paris a visit I have never come across any rudeness or unfriendly people, on the contrary, they have all been very helpful.
1. To the French, there is nothing ruder than approaching and blurting out questions or demands in English. I had heard this before I went overseas, and it is truer than true.
Make an effort to learn the following :
Excuse me, I'm sorry I speak only a little French, do you speak English please?
Excusez moi, je suis désolée je parle seulement un peu Français, Parlez-vous anglais sil-vous plait?
Or something along those lines.
2. Always Greet.
"Bonjour Madame" or "Excusez-moi Monsieur" etc. Don't just rush in with "Are you open for business yet?" Always greet, it takes two seconds and you will be treated so much better!
Before our trip to Paris, my French vocabulary consisted of "croissant" and "crepe" - pronounced improperly, I may add. Armed with just these two terms, I figured we wouldn't starve but wouldn't be making any friends either. And a week of bread and pancakes would not do my waistline ANY favors?
The good news is that the many Parisians who work in the hospitality/tourism industry have an excellent command of English and are more than willing to use it - especially if you try to meet them halfway. Learning how to be polite, in French, will often bring a smile and an immediate switch from French to English without even a "Parlez-vous anglais, s'il vous plaît?" - although that is a useful phrase to know. Additionally, you may be surprised at the amount of words used in signage that are easy to figure out.
It is respectful to address people by title (madam, mademoiselle, monsieur) and to incorporate as many manner phrases and terms as possible. It isn't difficult to learn "please" and "thank you" and your hosts will appreciate the effort.
So have some fun learning a little French! Here are two good websites which provide audio pronunciations to help you along:
Most guidebooks also provide some translation and phonetic pronunciations, and bookstores offer CDs useful for polishing your skills while stuck in traffic. Some museums and attractions also offer audio tours and guidebooks in English.
1) It is customary to say bonjour/ bonsoir (you can use google translate if you want to know how to pronounce them), as well as merci et au revoir when you enter/leave a shop/restaurant. Everyone you meet will do the same thing, so please do the same, with a smile pls, as courtesy. It makes everyone's day happier.
2) Cab drivers usually only speak French, so prepare a slip of paper with the address you want to go to as a guide in case you need it. Don't expect them to understand even if you say the place's name only; you may not pronounce it correctly the way the french do. (eg. Eiffel tower = Tour Eiffel - too ee fell) Learn how to pronounce the important places' names you have to go to, like Gare D'Austerlitz, Gare Montparnasse, Champ Elysees etc.
Perhaps the most important thing in Paris is to observe 'la politesse'.
ALWAYS start with 'Bonjour Madame/ Mademoiselle/ Monsieur.' And say 'Au revoir' Madame/ Mademoiselle/ Monsieur' as you leave the store. I have learned through many visits that the French formality is cultural, rather than a coolness towards outsiders.
It is often said that Parisians are rude...I have never met a rude Parisian.
What is most important in Paris is etiquette.
DO NOT try to speak anyone before greeting them..."bonjour, monsieur/madame"...after that you can ask a question and you will most likely get more help than you expected.
It is also helpful to learn the phrase "do you speak English" in French.
This lets the local know that you are at least interested in trying to communicate in the language.
Most everyone speaks some English in Paris these days...so learning French is not a necessity. But using the simple greetings... Bonjour or Merci (thank you) au revoir (goodbye) will make you less of an "ugly American".
A small Paris/French dictionary is also useful in deciphering menus!
As with any country in which the native language is foreign to you, take the time to learn a few key phrases in French before you depart. This will go a long way, trust me. You show respect for their culture (something that many tourists ignore) by making the effort to use their language.
Learning how to say "Do you speak english?" ("Parlez-Vous anglais?" Par-lay voo ahhng-lay) in French shows respect for their language. They will appreciate it.
When entering a store, shop, or restaurant, you will most likely be greeted with a "Bonjour!" (Hello!) or "Bonsoir" (Good evening/night). It is customary for you to reply, and if they do not realize that you don't speak french, they may think you are being rude if you do not reply. Simply reply back what they said to you (Bonjour or Bonsoir), and say "Merci" (Thank you) when you are finished a transaction.
Quel pays est ceci?
What country am I in?
Nous regardions le Télé et il a explosé soudain.
We were watching the TV when it suddenly exploded.
Cela a été cassé avant que nous spyons sois arrives.
It was broken when we got here.
Quel est la plus grande chose sur le menu
What’s the biggest thing on the menu?
Où est l'hôpital le plus proche?
Where is the nearest hospital?
My first-time trip to Paris went without a hitch, probably because I made the effort to speak my pathetic excuse of French to everyone I encountered. Contrary to popular belief that Parisians are snobbish towards anyone who doesn't speak English, bullocks I say!
I will usually approach policemen/women or officers like soldiers ( patrolling parks and tourist attractions like La Tour Effiel), staff at the ticket or information counter or any passer-by with a nice,willing face...
I will first greet them " Bonjour madame/monsieur/mademoiselle or Excusez-moi", and ask "Pouvez-vous m'aider, s's vous plait?" ( Can you help me please?" They will then give you their fullest attention with "Oui." Then you can launch into " Parlez vous anglais?" ( Do you speak English?" This never fails to let get me all the help I needed. I had never encountered a Parisian that has refused to help me.
Parisians will either reply " A little bit" or "Non (No)" and then proceed to provide help/ give directions in perfectly good and understandable English. Its Amazing! Even if they really could not speak English, they will find someone (colleague, friend) can speak it to help you or just provide hand gestures when giving directions.
You end off with "Merci / Merci beacoup and au revior" and voila! you will be on your merry way to wherever it is you are going. Parisians are really a helpful bunch and the service staff are quite friendly as well, speaking to you in English ( in tourist places like the Galeries Lafayette) when you have at least made an attempt to speak French.
Other useful phrases which will do wonders in getting you by:
C'est combien? ( How much?) although when the staff rattles off the price in French, I often gave them a blank look and I looked at the cashier price display instead. hahah.
Je suis de sole mais je ne comprends ( I'm sorry but I don't understand)
Au Secours! ( Help!)
L'addition, svp ( The bill, pls)
Je voudrais..... s'il vous plait) ( I would like ..... please)
Ou est le ( Where is the ....)
I use these two phrases all the time when I want to buy something or ask for directions. I started off with these French phrases then I inserted whatever nouns I needed ( sometimes in English, just tried it with a French pronounciation. haha)
"Je voudrais ... Meal Combo 5" ( and i'd show the number 5 with my fingers", at a fastfood restaurant)
"Ou est le .... toilettes ( toilets)
"Je voudrais .... deux cafes ( two coffees)
"Ou est le.... La Tour Eiffel"
Try speaking French in France and you'd enjoy the your travelling experience even more! I actually kinda miss speaking it when I'm back home..
This is amazingly important. Whether you are entering a shop, restaurant, the bus, etc. the French are offended if you do not say bon jour, bon soir or whatever depending on the time of day. It is equally important to say au revoir and bonne journee or bonne soiree and merci when leaving or exiting. You will be amazed at how appreciated this is.
i have heard people say condescendingly that its not really essential to speak french in paris, as most people speak english.. yeah well, we would not like it if they came into our country and started rattling off in french either. it is nice to preface every query with excusez moi-m'sieur/madame, parlez vous anglais?? they then open up a whole lot more and are a truly friendly and helpful people.i really dont know much of francais- but i frenchified a lot of english words and got a lot of amused looks, but they really appreciated the fact that i made the effort and were very tolerant of my guaranteedly stupendous errors.it helps to have a laugh at oneself , once in a while too.
Before our trip, my daughter and I both read French or Foe by Polly Platt. A very informative book about the French. We both tried to always speak French when asking for directions etc. We found almost everyone spoke English back, but they appreciated our attempts. Most menus had an English translation as well. We found everyone to be most helpful and polite. An employee at the post office got all 20 postcard stamps for me from the machine. (I never would have figured that out) and the uniformed doorman at the Musee D'Orsay knelt down and buttoned my granddaughter's coat for her! The French LOVE well behaved children. They went out of their way to assist us. Because we had a collapsible stroller (which my granddaughter had no intention of using - left it in the hotel after that ), we were ushered to a separate entrance and were wisked down to the bottom of the pyramid at the Louvre ahead of everyone!
If you go EXPECTING them to speak English, you are going to be disappointed. When in Rome....
French people do NOT expect non-francophones to speak perfect French. However, just like every other nationality, they appreciate a bit of effort. Do not be afraid to get out the phrase book, pronounce things and generally look silly. Trust me, this will get a much better reponse than just asking "parlez vous anglais ?" immediately, which is not much better than saying "speak english please".
Lots of French people enjoy the chance to practise their English - I speak good French (with lapses) but most French people will automatically revert to speaking English with me, even though I always start the conversation in French. If you actually want to try and improve your French this can be irritating.
And to everyone that automatically expects people to speak English, how many of you could speak French if a French tourist came to your home town and said "parlez vous Francais" ? Or would you expect them to be able to manage to have learnt enough of the basics of the language of the place they were visiting to get by ?
Just a thought...