Minimal French in France

Old Apr 7th, 1999, 12:45 AM
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Minimal French in France

I am getting really excited about my trip to France this summer but after reading a long post about the unfriendliness of the French, I am now not too sure! I will be travelling alone and can't speak a word of French (I live in Asia where the second language taught in schools is English)... all I know are the polite greetings (hello, thank you etc). Will this be a serious problem? I would love to hear some opinions and experiences. Thanks!
Old Apr 7th, 1999, 01:07 AM
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I just came back from my two-week vacation in Europe (Paris included).
Before I left I tried to learn to speak a few French phrases and words from a Fodors guide to speak French with an audio tape. It really helped me a lot. For example, it was good that at least I know what is left and right in French and they always say Bounjour (pronounced as bohzhoor) as their greeting during daylight time and bonsoir (bohnswah) in the evening. I tried to listen to the tape everyday to get accustomed to the French accent and it worked!

I tried to speak in French whenever I could and most of the time they were patient to understand you. If I didn't know how to say something in French then I said it in English and they could understand. So just do your best. But try to speak French without your native language accent. Speak French like a local. You have to learn a little. Remember that French is considered by many as the world's most beautiful language.

Good luck.
Old Apr 7th, 1999, 01:39 AM
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I'm fluent in French myself so this has never been an issue for me or my travel companions. However I do have a number of good friends who speak little to no French who have traveled alone or in couples to Paris and other parts of France. They were all very happy with their trips and had no complaints about the French or stories about it being difficult to get by with no French skills. I think you will be fine. Just smile and never just start talking to people in English without first asking * if they speak English*'s only polite. Most French people do understand basic English (although they don't like to speak it on the whole).
Old Apr 7th, 1999, 07:29 AM
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May, put your fears aside. The long post about the unfriendliness of the french is really overstated. This does not mean you may never encounter a rude or unfriendly person ... that can happen anyplace, but in general the french are very warm, and friendly people and are accomodating to tourists. Paris is a little different than the rest of france ... I can just hear french persons not from Paris saying, "a little different?", but they are not bad at all. I think if you read all the posts about Paris you will find that the positive comments about Paris and it's people far outweigh the occasional negative comments.

Paris is the number 1 tourist destination in the world. I would guess it is also pretty high up on the list, if not number one, in the category of return visits. So I think the verdict of the world's jury is that it is a pretty good place to visit.

As far as not speaking french, Juan has made some good points. Of course, the more french you speak, the more enjoyable your visit will be, but you will be surprised how well you can get along in france with very little to none french.

Take Juan's advice about always being polite. The french and their language is very polite. Learn to say hello or good morning and always add Madame or Messieur to it rather than just Bon Jour. And as Juan advises, don't talk english without asking in french if the person does speak english. It isn't that hard to learn. And if they say no, then reply, in french, thank you, goodbye.

If you have trouble remembering, write it down or read it from a phrase book. The french really appreciate an effort by someone to speak their language.

English is also the required 2nd language of the french. However, as Juan points out, many are reluctant to speak it out of the fear of making a mistake. It is not uncommon to hear someone speak english after days of telling you they do not speak english. If they get to know you a little, I guess they become more comfortable and will try to speak english which many do quite well.
Old Apr 7th, 1999, 11:17 AM
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The Parisians are a unique breed; I love them dearly, because they aren't like "us". Firstly, the French as a whole are language perfectionists; they consider it anathema to speak ANY language less that perfectly. That's why they get very uppity about how non-French speak the language. It's for that same reason they won't speak English (because they can't speak it "perfectly"). If you're friendly, and smile, and try a little French, they will feel more comfortable about speaking their "imperfect" English. They like to 'practice my English', and, I think, are dying for chance. Most restaurants, souvenir stores, museums, train stations, etc. have employees who are fluent in English, so for English- speaking tourists, there's no problem.
Believe me, smiling and being friendly carries you through EVERYTHING!
Secondly, Parisians have a strict (unwritten) regimen of manners. For example, greet the shopowner when you go in, say "au revoir" when you leave. I don't remember where I read this, but the explanation is that, to survive on a dinky little island (which is what Paris was until just a few centuries ago), this code of conduct had to be initiated to keep the society running smoothly. When you look at other large cities (I can name one in the U.S., but I won't) that don't have this unwritten code of conduct, life is pretty stressful. So what a non-Parisian might view as cold and stiff is actually one brick in the foundation of their society. In the U.S., we have waiters who say "have a nice day" but glare at you if you don't pay up and leave as soon as you're finished eating. Parisian waiters don't bring the bill until you ask, and if you sit there til closing time, it's fine by them. Hmmm...which is more 'friendly'?
Thirdly, Paris is not Disneyworld. This is a living, breathing, working city whose business extends well beyond tourism. If you need directions, don't ask a waiter with a tray full of dirty dishes! The people of Paris are citizens, not employees of a theme park. Too many tourists (Americans are probably 90% of the guilty) treat Parisians as if they were Mickey's gang,
and then get upset when they are rebuffed. For the most part, I've had fine interaction with Parisians. Every trip, though, some French person does something "French", and I get a laugh out of it (try it: stick your lower lip out, draw down the corners of your mouth and speak like Pepe La Pew while imitating the transgressor).
Don't fret; you'll have a wonderful time. Oh yeah there are a lot of Asians in Paris so you may have luck in finding someone who speaks your first language.
Old Apr 7th, 1999, 10:10 PM
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I was in Paris six years ago, and, unless things have changed a lot, I agree with many of the other responses! I taught myself quite a bit of French vocabulary before the trip, using audio and video tapes and a workbook. I did surprisingly well. I recognized many words, signs, directions, etc., but still couldn't understand a French person speaking. It was just too fast for my Southern drawl,I guess! It is important to attempt some words and phrases. It served me well, and I was able to convey, sometimes, what I wanted. The people do appreciate your trying to speak their language. I found the people friendly- not aloof. I saw an American woman being very rude to a waitress who spoke little English, and felt she was the "Ugly American". She expected the waitress to conform to her language, which was ridiculous! Would she feel obligated to speak French to a French tourist visiting the U.S.?
Don't be intimidated by learning some French. I had never studied a language before, and really enjoyed it. It is a beautiful language, and a joy to say "Bonjour","Auvoir", "Merci". Give it a try. Though you'll get by without it, speaking the language will make for a more pleasant trip. Bon Voyage!
Old Apr 8th, 1999, 02:34 PM
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" A little different ???? "this is exactly what i was thinking about the french living and working in Paris when i was reading JOHNīs message.......but of course iīm French
Anyway i donīt have very much to say because John said it all !very true !
Good thinking..
Alors May pas de probleme et bon voyage.
Old Apr 8th, 1999, 08:39 PM
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We are also going to Paris and I am trying to memorize French words and phrases! Secretly hoping they don't laugh their heads off at my accent! I'm not quite as worried now after reading all the replies. (The reference to Disney Theme Park is too funny, but true!) !Merci beaucoup!
Old Apr 9th, 1999, 06:10 AM
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Elvira, you are right on. Your reference to Disney world and Mickey's gang did give me a chuckle, but it is so true.

How could you say you've been to Paris without getting "frenched" at least once? I, too, get a kick out of it especially when I get to give it right back to them, all in fun.
Old Apr 12th, 1999, 01:09 PM
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I agree with all that has been said. We've traveled twice recently with minimal French and have had no problems. A book that will give you little hints about French culture -- so you're not viewed as rude -- is 'French or Foe,' which discusses why people don't smile on the street, and the need to say 'Bonjour' in stores. It will make your trip much more fun!
Old Apr 12th, 1999, 01:25 PM
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Phrasebooks can be helpful, but an audio tape along with the phrasebook will be much more helpful if you really don't have any familiarity with the language. It's a great way to spend time on the plane.
Old Apr 12th, 1999, 08:20 PM
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Sounds like you have plenty of people telling you to go, not to worry, and have fun! I had such a wonderful time all by myself in Paris last July, that I had to write. The people were always friendly and helpful. I always started with Bonjour, Madam/Monsier, parlez vous Anglais? They ALWAYS said "a little" which turned out to be quite fluent for our needs. Then they would direct me or assist me in whatever way they could. In fact, when I first arrived and was fresh off the plane in the metro looking befuddled, gawking at a map on the wall, a small old woman who spoke not a word of English motioned to me to point on the map to where I was going, then stayed with me and put me on the right car. What a welcome to Paris!
Old Apr 12th, 1999, 08:44 PM
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Just got back from our first trip to Paris and my wife, who knew almost no French had a better method of communicating then me, with a year of college French. She simply asked "parlez vous anglais?" and went on from there. When they said "a little" she asked in simple incomplete sentences what she wanted to communicate. When I spoke a little French, the person responded speaking so fast, I couldn't comprehend much at all! I would then have to ask, "Parlez vous anglais?"!

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