Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Europe
Reload this Page >

How hard to spend time in Alesia/Paris w/o knowing French?

How hard to spend time in Alesia/Paris w/o knowing French?

Feb 14th, 2015, 01:56 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2015
Posts: 6
How hard to spend time in Alesia/Paris w/o knowing French?

I know, I know, another American who never bothered to learn another language. In my defense i did try the Pimsleur French several years back and made it through 2 or 3 CDs and thinking I was getting really good made the mistake of going to a French Movie in NY and getting lost from the first word. Humbling.

In any event business is taking me to Europe and I planned on for part of the trip to sublet and found a really nice place in a neighborhood called Alesia. Apparently cafes, metro, boulangerie, patisserie, cafes, etc so it can be quite livable. I will of course do some exploring of 'central paris' but this seemed a nice way to experience the city (as when I tell people visiting Manhattan to get off the beaten path and experience 'the real city').

In any event, seeing as I speak maybe 10 words in French these days, will I be able to manage for a month? Will locals be pissed if I say I don't speak french (I'll learn to say that well) or do you/can you speak English or will it make my life unpleasant even if I do find bilingual Parisians (or Alesians)?
msnyc is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 02:27 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,631
You can do just fine in Paris without knowing French. It does help to memorize a few words and phrases, and knowing you always greet the shopkeeper when you do into a store "Bonjour." Most people you have contact with will speak a bit of English (at least). Being gracious and not assuming everyone should speak English for you will help a lot. 90% is attitude.
Kathie is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 02:48 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2015
Posts: 6
Hi thanks, yeah I was planning on the basics, for me this is pretty much:

Bonne nuit
Au revoir
de rien
Je vous en prie
merci (and of course merci beaucoup)
mon petit chou (though I don't see this getting much use but heck you never know it is Paris and I am single)
je t'aime (definitely not getting used)
beaux reves

I can count as high as I need to order bread, wine, coffee/espresso. I definitely am not coming into it as a 'Damn it I'm an American doesn't anyone speak a real language around here' type of attitude. I just want to make sure with the above phrases spoken decently and perhaps 'sorry I don't speak french' and 'please, do you speak english?' I won't offend anyone and will be able to make it through a month.
msnyc is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 03:02 PM
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 8,607
Staying in the Alésia neighborhood, you'll be close to Jim Haynes' place for Sunday dinner. I recommend it, great fun:

MmePerdu is online now  
Feb 14th, 2015, 03:07 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2015
Posts: 6
MmePerdu thank you THAT sounds perfect and my type of event. Sounds like I'll need to brush up on 'hello, please, thank you' in several languages for that
msnyc is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 03:35 PM
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 8,607
Msnyc, don't bother. You'll find more English-speakers per square foot at Jim's dinners than probably anywhere else in town.
MmePerdu is online now  
Feb 14th, 2015, 03:58 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Feb 2015
Posts: 6
Ok I'll just bring along some good anecdotes and avoid discussions of politics then
msnyc is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 04:57 PM
Join Date: Apr 2010
Posts: 2,552
I traveled through about 13 or 14 countries on my first trip to Europe when I was backpacking solo. I didn't speak the language of any country that I visited but just learned the courtesy words: please, hello, thank you, good bye, you're welcome. That was it. After that I got along by smiling, pointing and doing mime. Lots of people in Paris speak at least enough English to help you with whatever you need. If you're in a touristy area/restaurant/establishment it won't be a problem at all. Learning a bit of French is useful but you could get by with just the 5 courtesy words I mentioned. The only thing you really need to know is always say bonjour/bonsoir when entering a business establishment. And also saying "parlez-vous anglais?" will earn you points as you'll establish right away that you don't speak French but will have shown politeness by not just starting off in English.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 07:53 PM
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 8,827
I've been getting by all my life with the French I learned Morocco as a child, a lot of slang and mixed words, and have never progressed much beyond that. The French tend to tolerate me and normally switch to English when doing business.
Robert2533 is offline  
Feb 14th, 2015, 10:13 PM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 1,051
Even when I try speaking French, they invariably answer me in English!

Even if the person you're trying to communicate with doesn't speak English, there's usually someone else nearby who'll step in and help with communication.

I agree that you should always begin with 'bonjour (madam or whoever)' - it's the way the french people begin conversations, and it's nice to respect their traditions.. . . and helps you to feel a little bit french as well!

di2315 is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 03:58 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,820
One "investment" you might make is a food glossary. Yes, many menus will be in English, but if not, you'll want it translated from a FOOD glossary, not a French-English dictionary. Some things ARE lost in translation!! LOL
Gretchen is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 04:00 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 15,820
And, I've never done it, but why waste the possibility of a great meal in Paris to have it with a bunch of Americans--and I assume, and American menu! Just me. ;o)
Gretchen is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 04:25 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 5,995
I know the Alesia neighborhood well -- I've stayed with a friend on the rue Didot 8 or 10 times.

The neighborhood is terrific (mostly) for a Paris visit. The main street (rue d'Alésia) is filled with off-price shops (called 'stock' shops) where you can buy last year's styles for decent prices, and the side streets lined with the shops that a residential neighborhood needs: bakeries, specialty markets, restaurants, and the like. Just a great area to live like a Parisian. The biggest downside is that it takes a while to get into the center of the city.

Compared to the neighborhoods that most people talk about in these forums, though, English is much more rarely seen and heard. It'll be rare to find a restaurant where the menu is available in English. Shopkeepers have far fewer anglophone customers than do shopkeepers in the Marais or Latin Quarter, and consequently you're more likely to run into shops where English alone won't get you very far.

Still, I'm sure that you'll manage, and those 10 words that you know will help more than you think.
DonTopaz is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 06:00 AM
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 8,607
I think it makes sense to disregard uninformed opinion that leads to false assumptions, as in the pointless post, 2nd above. Attendees at Jim's dinners are, as you gleaned, msnyc, from around the globe. It isn't so much "dinner" as an event.
MmePerdu is online now  
Feb 15th, 2015, 08:15 AM
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 6,628
I've stayed in that neighborhood twice, really enjoyed it. Great bus and metro connections, fun shopping, lots of restaurants, cafés, prices slightly lower than just a bit closer to the river.

Having only a small amount of French won't be an issue. Politness trumps almost anything bar fluency and you can carry a discrete menu-translator if you want.
Cathinjoetown is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 08:22 AM
Join Date: Jul 2005
Posts: 287
I am a French speaker (well, I have a BA in French) and have much more success with my French outside of Paris than I do in the city. It's a tough crowd to speak French to: the Parisians serving you are busy, and a lot of them are accomplished English speakers who want to practice their language skills (other language study is not optional but mandatory in the French school system).

I agree with all above that a few basic phrases will get you far in Paris. I also agree that if you say "bonjour/bonsoir madame/monsieur" when conducting transactions in shops/bakeries, etc., if you say "s'il vous plait" after ordering/asking for something, and if you say "merci" afterwards you will go far! With those phrases my husband, a non-French speaker, comfortably navigates Paris.

What I have observed during my trips to Paris that it is the people who begin conversations in English who annoy the Parisians. If you start out your conversation in French it shows respect for the person you are speaking with and for the language itself, and your interaction generally goes well after that.

I would bet that during your month in Paris you will start to pick up the language because you will be bombarded with rich linguistic input. Try seeing another French movie after you come home and see how much more you understand. Maybe you'll pick your French studies back up, who knows? I didn't begin my French BA until I was 47, so it's never too late!
dlejhunt is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 08:24 AM
Join Date: Aug 2011
Posts: 428
One thing to know about Alesia and the less-touristy areas in general is that on Sundays (and often Mondays), you will find that many things are closed. It's really much quieter here - which can be nice, if you know what to expect.
Supermarkets and other food stores currently have the right to stay open on Sunday until about 1:30, but after that, you'll be at the mercy of the little corner convenience store. So it's a good idea to plan ahead for food, anyway. There will always be some cafes and restaurants open on Sundays, so you won't starve - especially on the main boulevards in Alesia.
I agree about the language thing - you won't be able to have a conversation with anyone, but you will get what you need. Be polite, smile a lot, and point.
manouche is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 09:41 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,425
I'm not a big Jim Haynes fan, having been there, but it's something to do if you don't expect great food or drink. The attendees were certainly not "from around the globe", the vast majority were Americans, of course, a few from Great Britain and then a few local French people, friends I guess, who just kept to themselves and chatted amongst themselves. As far as I know, there wasn't anyone from anywhere else. And it is geared to English speakers, I imagine that's why.

I've been in that neighborhood a lot, it's a typical middle class Parisian neighborhood, so while local people in stores, waiters, etc may not speak English quite as much as the thickest of tourist areas, of course one can get by. Locals don't may that much attention to tourists, or transients there for a month to really care that much what you speak. Some may get annoyed with you or not be helpful, but there really isn't that much to do where you couldn't get by anyway. You go to a supermarket, put stuff in your cart and check out, you don't really need to speak that much. If you go to a cafe/restaurant, you can point to things on the menu and only have to say a few words, stuff like that.

YOu know Alesia is only a few metro stops from the Seine.
Christina is offline  
Feb 15th, 2015, 10:20 AM
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 8,607
"As far as I know, there wasn't anyone from anywhere else."

I'm still in touch with an Australian woman I met there, if that's meaningful. Not sure why the gathering seems to require denigration. As with anything, it's subjective, some will enjoy it, some not, possibly saying more about the attendee than the event. I'm generally on my own in Paris and I found it congenial and fun. The point isn't the food, to be sure, but the gathering and talking with a variety of people I would not otherwise have met. But then I admit to being short on cool.
MmePerdu is online now  
Feb 15th, 2015, 04:05 PM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,168
I agree that Alesia is a good place to stay, and I agree with both manouche and Christina about navigating the local scene in an area where tourists have little reason to go. It's pretty easy to get to the usual sights if you have time on weekends.
Ackislander is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:10 PM.