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Café Talk: 12 French Phrases for Hanging Out in a Parisian Café

Ah, il fait si beau! This spring, Paris is flirting with all of us by offering days and days of golden sun, bright blue skies and breezes soft as a caress.

When the weather is this lovely, it makes you want to do nothing more than settle on a café terrace with a glass of rosé and a pair of lunettes de soleil (sunglasses), and people-watch and daydream for as long as you please.

And in Paris, so many people do just that.

Here, les serveurs (the waiters) will never rush you out of a café. You may sit for hours with your laptop, a magazine or just un café (a cup of coffee). You can meet with a variety of friends over the hours or even have a French lessonAnd no one’s going to be angry or annoyed. In fact, once the staff has become familiar with you, you’ll likely be greeted with a smile and warm handshake and waved over to your favorite spot.

If you’re going to indulge in this classically Parisian pastime – and you should! –  you might as well “talk the talk.” Here are 12 key phrases of great use when hanging out in a Paris café:

 “Bonjour!” (Good morning/hello!) Whenever you enter a café, always start with this essential.

Pour manger?” (Are you here to eat?) – Approach a café around lunch or dinnertime, you’re likely to hear this question. If you’re eating, you can probably sit anywhere appropriate to the number in your party. If you just want a coffee or drink, you’ll be directed to a table that’s not been set for dining.

Juste un verre/juste un café” (Just a drink/just a cup of coffee) – If you’re not eating and would just like a drink or a cup of coffee, this is the response you’d give to the question “pour manger?”

Puis-je avoir la carte?” (May have the menu?) – Whether you’re eating or drinking, if you would like to see the café’s menu, this is the appropriate phrase. Note that “la carte” is the French word a listing of individual food and drink offerings, NOT “le menu.Le menu refers to fixed-price 2 or 3-course meals that cafés and bistros and restaurants offer daily.

“Je voudrais un café/verre de vin blanc  s’il vous plaît” (I would like a coffe/glass of white wine, etc. please.) Other common café drinks include:

  • un café (an espresso)
  • un café crème (coffee with milk/a white coffee)
  • une noisette (an espresso with a dash of milk. Although noisette means hazelnut in French, une noisette does not mean hazelnut-flavored coffee)
  • café américan (a cup of filtered coffee)
  • un déca (a decaffeinated espresso. You can also ask for a “déca crème” – a decaffeinated cafe crème)
  • jus d’orange pressé (freshly-squeezed orange juice)
  • un verre du vin rouge/blanc (a glass of red/white wine)
  • un chocolat chaud (a hot chocolate)
  • un thé glacée (an ice tea)
  • une citronnade (a lemonade – note that if you ask for a “limonade” in French,   you’ll get a Sprite or other lemon-flavored sparkling drink).
  • une bière (a beer)
  • une bière à la pression (a draft beer)
  • un demi (a quarter-liter/half-pint of beer)

“Est-ce que vous avez un accès Wifi?” (Do you have wifi?”) These days, many cafés in Paris offer free Wifi (pronounce wee-fee), but you’ll often need the password. In that case you’d ask:

Quel est le code d’accès wifi ?” (What is the password for the wifi?)

Puis-je avoir une carafe d’eau?”   This is what you’d say if you would like a bottle of tap water to accompany whatever else you’ve ordered. Note that if you ask for “une bouteillle d’eau” the waiter will think you want commercially bottled water and may ask: plat ou pétillant? (Flat or sparkling?)

Est-ce que vous avez des glaçons?” (Do you have ice cubes?) Americans are accustomed to being served water with ice, but in France this is not at all the custom. Some places may have ice cubes, but don’t be surprised if most don’t.

Excuse-moi monsieur…mademoiselle…madame…” (Excuse me sir, miss, ma’m). This is how you get your server’s attention. Or you may simply say: “S’il vous plait?” I think ­– I hope – that no one continues to have the idea that you call a waiter “garcon.” This means “boy” and it is not at all appropriate!

Pouvez-vous régler maintenant?” (Can you settle the bill now). Sometimes when there’s a shift change, a server may ask you to settle your bill before he or she leaves, particularly if you’ve only ordered a drink. This does NOT mean that the server is trying to hurry you out, as it likely would in the U.S., so don’t interpret it as such!

•“Excusez-moi, puis-je régler?” or “L’addition, s’il vous plaît” (Excuse me, can I settle the bill” or “the check, please.”) If you haven’t already received your check, this is how you ask for it. But sometimes you’ll get it the moment you receive your order. If you’re sitting at a café terrace, look for the slip of paper peeking out from beneath an ashtray.

Have any questions about cultural customs in French cafés ? Ask us below!