If you need to say something private to friends in your travel party, I always found I could even talk about the french person standing next to me on the Metro if you speak in a HEAVY Southern accent and quite quickly. Most French people are more accuctomed to Queen's english and don't really catch what you say if you sound like you are from the deep South. Remember, they can talk about you and you might not understand, but their English is probably better than your French.
How polite you are in French to Parisians will most likely determine how polite and helpful they are to you.
Every time you encounter someone you meet or do business/pleasure with, begin the conversation with "Bonjour" and when your conversation is finished and you are ready to leave, end the conversation with either "Merci. Au revoir, monsieur." or a less formal "Merci, bonjour."
"Bon soir " if the sun has gone down..
It doesn't matter if you just saw or spoke to that person half an hour ago.... do it every time.
Everyone except intimate/close friends is to be addressed formally as "Madame, Monsieur, vous", etc.)
Please (sil vous plait ) and thanks (merci ) cannot be over-used.
I try never to initiate a conversation in Paris without first saying:
"Excusez-moi de vous deranger" ("Excuse me for bothering you")
and I almost never fail to actually get giggles, even hugs, and lots of extra warmth, help & attention when I tell someone who assists me how kind/pleasant/helpful
"Vous etes tres aimable"
or how kind/nice they are (if they really go out of their way for me):
"Merci, c'est tre gentil de votre part. "
Granted the usage above is my terrible french, but even the most tourist-hardened Parisian citizens and merchants seem to melt & "light up" just because of the effort.
Using polite, formal conversation seasoned with lots of sil vous plaits and mercis will grease the wheels greatly for you.
Here are some excellent videos
that literally spoonfeed you all you need to know.
If you practice the phrases listed at the video link above or the website below on this tip, I think you will find out how truly polite, helpful, and special Parisians are.
I've heard that the French don't like to speak in English. Well, do you blame them? English is not their language after all. Well, for a tourist like me who could barely speak French, I learn a few basic french words to be polite. How polite you are in French to the Parisians will most likely determine how polite and helpful they will be to you.
Every time you meet someone french, begin the greeting with "Bonjour" and when your conversation is finished and you are ready to leave, end the conversation with either "Merci. Au revoir, Monsieur/Madame". In the evening, you say "Bon soir ". Saying goodbye at night is "Bon nuit".
In my experience, when I tried to ask questions in my very bad broken French, the Parisians will resignly asked me to revert to English ~ just so I don't destroy or blasphemize with their lovely language more... LOL !!
Before I visited Paris last year I took some French lessons and I think they really paid off. I will be the first to admit that my French is very limited but making the effort was often all that was needed to get a happy (most of the time) response. Many small shop owners didn't speak any English whatsoever so my few words were the difference in getting what I needed. At the Musee d'Orsay I got very prompt service (plus pronunciation help from the maitre de) whereas a couple that came in after me were astonished that the same man didn't understand their increasingly loud requests for a table.
Before I went, Angie bought me a French phrase fridge magnet set. I had the challenge of putting up a new phrase each week to help me learn a few vital words. A bit of fun when trying to learn the lingo.
Have a go!! It will make things more interesting. and probably less frustrating.
I think that like most of us in the English speaking countries, most French people assume that if you come to their country, you must know their language. If you do not know their language, or do not know it well, the best thing to do is probably to say so right off the bat.
Pardon. monsieur/madame, parlez-vous anglais?
"Pardong, msyer/madahm, parlay-voo anglay?
Excuse me, sir/ma'am, do you speak English?
Pardon/Bonjour, y-a-t'il quelqu'un ici qui parle anglais?
"Pardong/bonzhoor, yateel kelkunn eesee kee parl anglay?
Excuse me/Good morning, is there anyone here who speaks English?
French politeness is legendary, what with the frequent use of "monsieur," "madame," etc. My sense is that this politesse is the French way of maintaining reserve.
Try to learn some phrases in French if you do not speak the language. I strongly recommend it because French people hate being asked questions in English (I can understand that, they aren´t English, so why should they speak the language?).
The slogan of the French Revolution was "Liberté, égalité, fraternité, ou la mort!" ("Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death!").
This slogan outlived the revolution, later becoming the rallying cry of activists, both militant and non-violent, who promote democracy or overthrow of oppressive governments.
There are many, MANY strikes in modern Paris using this slogan.
Check the news before stepping out!
When foreigners come to the United States many Americans would say that they should speak English. However, these same people are the ones who go to other countries and refuse to speak the language of that country. This has given Americans a bad reputation in France because so many Americans adopt this arrogant attitude that assumes that everyone should speak to us in English. Why should they? We are in THEIR country! In France they love everything FRENCH - their food, their wine, their culture, and especially their LANGUAGE. You would be amazed at how differently the French will treat you if you even just ATTEMPT to speak French! Learn some French before you go, or at least brush up on the little bit that you remember from high school. It will be worth it! Even speaking broken, poor French at least shows them that you are trying to fit in and break their stereotype of Americans. They will appreciate it and will respect you all the more.
Be respectful and try speaking French to people before you use English. At first it can be so intimidating and nerveracking to try especially when you have heard that Parisians aren't friendly but it is sooooo worth the effort!
Always always start with "Bonjour" when starting a conversation anywhere - at the restaurant, at the ticket counters etc.. even though you don't speak the language. From then onwards you can enquire if they do speak English (Parlez-vous anglais?). Learning some French phrases would really help out as not all French people are conversant in English. And if you ever choose this path, do pick up an audio guide and not a French phrase book as english speakers sometime fail to connect the pronounciation and the spelling of words. So on an audio guide you memorise by entire sentences...
Our French friends love their language, and who doesn't love French. It is a thing of beauty. Now, as you have learned from your friends that have been there - the kind people of France know you can't speak French and that does not bother them at all. What is considered rude is when English speaking folk - primarily Americans - don't even try a few words. Those people that try to speak a few words of French are going to have a better time than those that do not.
Here are a few key phrases to help you out:
Please S' il vous plait (ceil voo play)
Thank You Merci Beaucoup (mer cee bow coo)
Excuse Me Excusez-Moi (excuse a maw)
Pleased to meet you Enchantez (on shan tay)
I would like.... Je voudrais (je voo drey)
Where is the.... Ou est la/le (ooo a la/lay)
How much? Ca coute combien (sa coot com be yen)
The bill/check (as in bring the) L' additon (le dee teyen)
Bottle of water Une bouteille d' eau (oon boo tee el de o)
If you're planning to visit Paris, make sure you learn some French words, once the French people don't speak much English or, as it happened to me, refuse to speak any language but the French. However, I found the Parisien nice people.
Why is there so much discussion on this topic? Can you imagine going into a shop in Boston, Chicago or St. Louis (I exclude NY) and speaking any foreign language? What would be the reaction? Yes, my friends, even in Paris, English is a foreign language.
If you would like to get off on the right foot with retailers in Paris (well...anywhere, for that matter) always say hello when you enter an establishment in Paris and thank you and goodbye when you leave. It is considered polite and de rigeur.
Leaving: Merci, au revoir
Since French is not a worldwide spoken language, most of the people do speak english, so don't worry about language. You should know at least the usual words (merci, bonjour, bonsoir, s'il voul plait, etc) so you don't look like the rude tourist. It's always good to know some local words.