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!
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.
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..
Not surprisingly, the French language is an important aspect of the French culture and their national identity.
Trying to learn at least a few phrases and using them will take you very far in interacting with locals. "Hey pal, you speak English" is not going to elicit the most positive response! The vast majority of the French speak excellent English, but they really appreciate when you at least make an attempt at communicating in the local language. But don't worry about needing to get through an entire conversation. Upon hearing that you are foreign, most will switch to English.
The website below is one (of many) in which you can find a few basic phrases that will prove very useful in Paris.
Je parle le francais un petit (I speak a little French)
You don't need to know fluent French in order to get around in Paris. I think not knowing French scares alot of tourists but this intimidation is unfounded really.
I believe it's because the French are very proud of their language and really they do not visit other countries and expect the natives to speak French to them. Therefore, they expect visitors to reciprocate.
Believe it or not, a simple "Bonjour madame" or a "Bonsoir monsieur" will be appreciated and you will find that the Parisians open up more to you. Be sure to say these greetings when entering any store, hotel, restaurant, anywhere. It is a matter of politesse too. The French are very formal and polite so they expect that you should be polite as well.
Do not ever launch into any conversation in English immediately. Instead politely ask "Bonjour madame/monsieur, parle vous Anglais?". Most times the person does know English but if not will be glad to help you out in any way he/she can. But not if you are rude and expect him/her to speak English to you immediately-you might receive a chilly reaction!
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....
My French is horrible, but I've never been subjected to the alleged rudeness of Parisians.
I've found that there's a sentence that unlocks French friendliness:
"Excusez moi, j'ai un problem>."
When they say, "Oui?"
I say, "En Englais, s'il vous plait?"
They say, "Oui"
And we move forward in English.
I'm not even sure that the grammar (gender etc) is correct, but it's always worked.
In fact, I tested it once in Bon Marche. The first time I used the phrase, and the help was immediate and friendly.
The second time, I just said, "Bonjour" and then, "Je ne parle pas Francais..." and there was a distinct difference.
Here are a few useful phrases and sentences that may be helpful if you're visiting Paris:
1. Quelle heure est-il? = What time is it?
2. Je voudrais___s'il vous plait. = I would like___please.
3. Je prends un chocolat chaud = I'll have a hot chocolat
4. Ca coute combien? = How much does this cost?
5. Vous fermez a quelle heure? = What time do you close at?
6. Parlez-vous anglais? = Do you speak English?
7. Prenez vous des cartes de credit? = Do you accept credit cards?
8. Je ne comprends pas = I don't understand
9. Combien = How much
10. Aujourd'hui, demain, hier = Today, tomorrow, yesterday
11. Comment allez-vous = How are you?
12. Merci, pardon, excusez-moi = Thank you, pardon me, excuse me
If you really think you want to learn French, I would recommend the "10 Minutes a Day Series." It helped me learn German, when I bought the German version. They come with stickers, flashcards, and are very easy to learn from. You can buy them at any Chapters, and in most bookstores. They're available in several differnt languages. They cost just under $20 CAN. If you want to order one, here are the numbers. You can also visit their website.
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!
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 !!
Ederly people don't speak English, but younger (let say 50's) speak English.
The younger they are, the better they speak foreign languages including/especially English.
So if you talk in English, most of the time they'll really try their best to understand you and to answer your questions.
Sometimes, they don't understand very well English and they don't want to concentrate a little bit. So they wan foreigner to try and speak a little of French... a lot of French.
Just bring you Frenc book with you ;-)
Eve if you don't speak French, French people (unlike anybody in the world) appreciate when you say just a few words, whihc you learned before you left your country.
No matter if you don't speak properly, nationals (in any country in the world) always love to hear foreigners talk their language. It's cute, and that makes them keener to help, because you made the effort to learn some words from the coutrny where you're going !
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.
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.
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 doubt anyone would expect a tourist to be fluent in French.
I met virtually no difficulty with language in Paris, which was a surprise, given how often you hear people say the French refuse to speak English etc.
The key is to be polite and know the basic 4 phrases:
S'il vous plait
You'll get around just fine with these;)