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Learn some French
The sterotype of rude Parisians is just not true if you try and use a little French. I only speak a rudimentary amount but I did try to speak French first. In almost all cases I was rewarded with a Parisian who spoke better English. The most useful phrase I mastered was, "Pardon, non parlez Francais. Parlez vous Anglais?" That opened a a lot of conversations.
Learn to count, ask for basic directions and yes, no, thank you, etc.
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Avoid using English, if possible
If you don't speak French, then I strongly advise you to buy a survival french phrases book and study it before you go. Parisiens don't like English speakers tourists and I could see it in different ocasions.
I speak little French and it helped me A LOT! and Parisiens helped me much more than the ones who didn't try to speak their language; I bought a calling card using my french and the vendor was very helpfull to me, but the guy behind me, in English told her he wanted the same card and the lady got mad and told him not to speak English to her so, if you speak a little French, USE IT! doesn't matter if you just speak some words, they will help you better than if in English.
English in Paris :S
French are not very happy when you address them in English. I was with my friends in Paris in May 2008, and we asked some French to tell us how can we get to some place, and we asked them in English. They got angry and started waving their hands as they were saying "Don't talk to me. Just go away. I don't speak English". Now that was rude indeed. :(
Bad French better than no French at all!
I have heard from countless other Americans (who didn't even try to speak any French) how rude the Parisians were to them, and how few Parisians spoke any English... but that wasn't my experience at all, probably because I tried to speak as much French as possible in Paris when I visited there last year.
Now, my French is very bad -- I can only use verbs in the present-tense, for instance, and I'm always getting confused about noun gender -- but the French were delighted to reply in their own bad English! (Maybe it's comforting to know that you're not the only one who doesn't speak the other's language terrifically well?)
Whatever the reason, countless French people would respond to my bad French by asking me if I spoke English, and could they practice their English with me? So we'd have long conversations with them speaking bad English while I spoke bad French, and it worked very well! You see, it's easier to understand one's own language, even spoken badly, than to understand a foreign language spoken fluently.
Consequently, my week in Paris last year was delightful, and everyone I met was kind, helpful, and courteous, without exception.
I'm going back with a friend in six weeks, and I've encouraged him to learn as much French as he can before then. It doesn't matter if he only speaks a few necessary phrases -- I know that with only a little, even very-bad, French, he'll have a MUCH nicer time than he would with no French at all.
Alors, au revoir en Paris, tout le monde!
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Do not insult the Parisians!
If you really have to ask any questions from a Parisian, please DO NOT let your first question be "Parlez vous Anglais? (do you speak English?)". They might be easily offended and immediately clam up!
I'd suggest greeting in french first, and try asking your question in french from your guide book. If you cannot make yourself understood, then you can ask if they can speak/understand english.
I wish you good luck in trying!!
Vuitton Bags wanted (tons of)
If you happen to walk in front of the Vuitton main shop 22, avenue Montaigne (or its temporary relay 38 avenue George V), you may be approached by Asian tourists(?) (generally a couple or two young women) asking "Do you speak English ? Can you help us ?"
If you say yes, they will take you on the other side of the street (or around the corner), present you with a large amount of cash and show you a page of a Louis Vuitton catalog.
They will then ask you to go enter the shop and to buy them one or two bags, explaining that LV would only sell one or two item(s) to a customer and that they really need to bring this present home .
It is not really a scam but a bit of a grey zone: it happens that the LV products are highly in favour in their country where the official store sells them a higher price than in Paris (and if they are bought in France the VAT can be claimed back at customs by private buyers).
A "traffic" has thus been organized (buy in France, resell in xxx at an intermediate price), in order to reduce this, LV has limited the number of items private people are allowed to buy.
In order to go around the restriction, some (and it has become an organised activity) have taken to ask other tourists to purchase the so-conveted bags for them (in order to be still able to supply their buyers home at a 'good price)'.
It is not absolutely illegal (they pay the bags, it's not 'dirty' money (the bags are pre-purchased by the final buyers), i never heard about the police called (after them telling YOU stole the money).
So why do they only ask tourists ? Because they are less likely to call the police ? Perhaps, but more likely because no respectable Parisian would be caught dead with a Vuitton bag (they are considered ugly, pretentious ("nouveau riche") and vulgar and LV shop assistants know this.
At any rate, better not tempt the devil and say politely NO.
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Parlez-vous anglais ?
It's an easy sentence to pronounce ("parlay voo anglay") and it can change your stay in Paris.
There's also "s'il vous plaît" ("seel voo play") and "merci" ("mare see").
But it all starts with a cheerful "Bonjour !" ("bon joor", with eye-contact), and ends with a no less cheerfull "au revoir" ("owe ruh-voo-are").
This is especially aimed at American (sorry!) travelers: _please_ use these phrases. The French never have enough of them, and they're essential if you want to improve your battered (sorry!) reputation.
Don't take it for granted that the whole world speaks English. Respect the local customs and politeness. Make the effort of saying hello, thank you, and good-bye in French. And if you have to use English, first ask the person if he/she speaks the language...
If you've been doing this for ever and this tip hasn't taught you anything new, give yourselves a big pat in the back: you can be proud of yourself.
Not speaking French
Although most Parisians we encountered spoke English quite well, I think it is polite to ask (Parlez vous Anglais?) before rambling on in English. I think it is also polite to learn a few words in French so that you can say hello, goodbye, excuse me, etc.
One of the places we encountered someone who did not speak English was at the SNCF train ticket counter at Gare d'Est, I would highly recommend checking with the information desk first if you do not know which train you want and then writing down your destination, the time and date of the train (remember month and date are reversed from the US) and which class you want (1st or 2nd). This is actually a good tip for any foreign country where English is not the first language as this happens often at train stations in my experience.
fake train tickets
Whilst standing in a queue for my train ticket back to CDG airport I was approached by a young chap, "parlez vous Anglaise"? he told me I was in the wrong queue and he would show me how to get my ticket from a machine. I had done this on the way into Paris so I knew it was ok to do this. I had no change so he proceeded to insert a "credit card" then passed me the tickets and I gave him 15euro. The tickets got us through the barrier so I thought nothing more of it until the inspector got on the train. He had given me cheap day tickets not the ones I really needed and we were fined 20 euros each!!!Not a good end to an otherwise fantastic holiday. BEWARE some people are there just to con you.
I actually thought, that since I'm speaking three languages fluently, among them "the close to-french"-italian language, I would actually be able to make myself understood in Paris.
Nothing could have been more wrong...
In one way I guess I should be thankful that the people in Paris just speaks one language, since it forced me to remember the few french words I learned in school a long time ago, but on the other hand it made me quite scared, that so many french people just couldn't stand the fact that there actually exists people who doesn't speak they beloved language fluently...
Fortunately, that was the only bad thing in Paris.
Trouble buying metro tickets
I speak limited French but tried hard to ask politelty and correctly for train tickets only to find the vendor seriously unhelpful and very rude. Finally a kindly French man helped me purchase my tickets only to have the Vendor be very rude to him for helping me. Customer service with a serious snarl.
English spoken there?
Parisienes have bad opinion not to speak any foreign languages and not to be very sympathetic for tourists.
Hmm... I can't agree at all, I met many very sympathetic people on a street who were very usuful giving me info although their knowledge of English was as poor as mine, but enough to communicate.
So DO NOT BELIEVE that they can't speak English and that they are unfriendly. Who did say it?
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