The French – Parisians, in particular – have a reputation for being rude. But the behavior that foreigners perceive as rudeness is often the result of a cultural misunderstanding. France has its own standards of politeness and these may differ from those of your home country. In fact, when a Parisian seems rude, he or she might actually be reacting to a perceived rudeness on your part, even though in your eyes you’ve acted perfectly normally.
To avoid any such misunderstandings – and experience the best side of Parisians – learn the following 7 French phrases before visiting Paris. These phrases will show that you’re polite, respectful and have some understanding of French culture. In return, we think you’ll come to see that Parisians are much more friendly than they’re reputed to be!
- Bonjour – Good morning/hello
Seems obvious, right? But many people don’t realize that “bonjour” is probably the most important phrase in the French language. In France, you should say bonjour to whenever you enter a store, restaurant, elevator, or bus (to the driver; whenever you start a conversation with a stranger (i.e., asking for direction, asking for help at a store), or when you encounter a neighbor or hotel staff. For extra points, you can say: Bonjour Monsieur/Madame/Mademoiselle.
- Excusez-moi de vous déranger = Excuse me for bothering you…
Pronunciation: Ex-kue-zay / mwa /duh /voo /dey-rahn-zhay
If you’re asking a question or making a request of a stranger, preface your request with this phrase. Use especially if the person is engaged in another activity at the time of your request, such as talking to someone, reading, etc. You would not use this phrase with waitstaff or a salesperson at a store. In those cases you would simply say: “Excusez-moi…”
- C’est très gentil, merci = That’s very nice (of you), thank you.
Pronunciation: Say /trehay / zhawn-tee / mare-si
Use this phrase when someone does something especially nice for you. This may include giving you directions on the street, helping you (or offering to help) in some way, or giving you a compliment.
- Parlez-vous anglais? = Do you speak English?
Pronunciation: Pahr-lay /voo / anhn-glay?
Want to get on a Parisian’s bad side? Start yammering away in English before asking whether or not he or she speaks the language. You’re in France. The national language is French. It’s what’s taught in schools. It’s what spoken at home. Many Parisians do speak English, but not everyone does. And of those that do speak English, not everyone speaks it very well. So, even if you feel in your bones that the person speaks English, just be polite and ask first. If you show this courtesy, you’re likely to get a warmer, more thoughtful response to your query.
- Desolé(e), je ne parle pas français (très bien) = I’m sorry, I don’t speak French (very well).
Pronunciation: Deh-zo-ley / zhe /nuh /pahrl /pa/ frahn-say /(treh bee-ahn).
Another way of getting into a Parisian’s good graces is by apologizing for not being able to speak French very well. The French do not expect the entire world to speak the language. Still, it’s nice to hear someone making the effort to speak it and apologizing for not being able to do more.
- Excusez-moi, pouvez-vous me dire où est… ? = Excuse me, can you tell me where ______ is?
Pronunciation: Poo-vey /voo /muh /dear /oo /ay…
If you need help in a store or on the street, this phrase will certainly come in handy. Of course, you’ll need to fill in the blank with the name of the place or street you’re looking for. And it’s almost always a good idea to preface the phrase with “Excusez-moi…”.
- C’était très bon = It was really good.
Pronunciation: Say /et-tay /treh /bohn.
Get that Parisian waiter to smile by complimenting the fine meal you’ve had (if it’s deserving, of course!). Often after you’ve eaten, your server might say: “Ça a été?” meaning “How was it?” If you liked it, deliver your compliments in French and with a smile. Remember that “bon” is always used for food, never “bien”.
Is there a French phrase you’d like to use during your trip to France, but don’t know how to express it? Ask us in the comments below and we’ll get back to you!