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Non-French speakers visiting Paris... help!

Non-French speakers visiting Paris... help!

Old Nov 6th, 2003, 01:44 PM
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Non-French speakers visiting Paris... help!

Dear all,

My husband and I will be in Paris for three days this Dec. ? first time. Adding this stopover to our trip was a spontaneous decision and one I don?t want to regret, but I?m worried because neither of us speaks French, and I?m wondering if this was a really bad idea. I speak enough German, Spanish and Arabic to get by quite well, and thus haven?t had trouble when traveling in Germany, Mexico and the Middle East. I?ve already stocked up on conversational phrase books and CDs to help us master the basics of French, but I?m quite certain we won?t become fluent in the 6 weeks we have before leaving the US.

It seems like of all places, Paris is not the one to go to if you can?t speak the local language ? from everything I?ve read and heard, it appears to really offend Parisiens if you can?t speak French. I don?t want to get into a debate about that per se. I would just like your advice about restaurants and hotels that are more friendly to visitors who don?t speak French. (I was operating under the assumption that the more touristy areas would be more tourist-friendly and accepting of non-French speakers, but other threads on this board (?french is a dump? etc.) have made me think otherwise.)

Any advice? Was adding this stopover a terrible idea? Is Paris only meant to be enjoyed by those fluent in French?
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 01:52 PM
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Being a non-French speaker in Paris is only a problem if you combine that with general rudeness and closemindedness. I do not speak French and have not had any problems in France, neither have my parents. Just make sure you know the neccessary words like please, thankyou, hello, and goodbye and carry a phrase book for tight situations. Lots of people speak English in France, but don't assume a person does. Ask politely in French if a person speaks English. If they do they will usually speak English for you, if not they will often find someone who does. If you run into college students who are studying English they really enjoy the chance to practice. The fact that you have already taken the initiative to buy language books and CDs tells me that you will not have any problems. Paris is a wonderful city even if you don't speak French.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 01:56 PM
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don't worry so much. its not as bad as people say. millions of english speaking people visit paris every year and do fine. besides for that when germans, spanish and italians visit paris they also use english to communicate as not many speak all the different languages of Europe
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 01:58 PM
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Oh, also... learn some basics like the hellos and good-byes. it would hurt to learn how to order a glass of wine, ask for a menu or request a check. It alsways helps to use a bit of French, even if it sucks.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 02:20 PM
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I have visited Paris many times and have been treated rudely maybe two or three times. I'm rather ashamed to admit I still don't speak French, but always manage to do a half decent bonjour, merci and a few other phrases. My manner and look tends to offer an apology for not speaking French. Oddly enough a couple friends of mine who really do speak fairly decent French are always complaining about how rude the French are to them. Now I'm going to go way out on a limb here, but I sometimes think that many French see Americans trying to speak all French as something to almost make fun of. They seem to love correcting them for example. Or maybe sometimes they see it as an American "showing off" so they like to show their superiority. Another possibility might be the manner with which my friends speak their French -- maybe they really do give the impression that they think they are speaking beautifully or showing off. Believe it or not, sometimes I think I'm better off with a smile and a poor attempt to say hello, and they then help me out -- and are more willing to speak English than if I babbled on in half proper French.

But to your basic question. I really wouldn't worry about your lack of French skills. Do try to learn a few words, but smile a lot and act like you are trying. I rarely run into a real problem with not being able to communicate at all.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 02:30 PM
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So many people in Paris speak English that I don't have as much opportunity as I would like to practice my French. What happens in most conversations is that I begin in French, my accent gives me away, and the other person, eager to use his or her English, responds to me in English. I don't see this as rudeness or arrogance, but as friendliness and helpfulness. I end up many times in conversations where people want me to correct their English and I want them to correct my French. The corrections I take as pure helpfulness. The same people who make these corrections are usually the ones who compliment me on my French. The only way to learn a language is through correction. (I wish my kids had this attitude about learning language, but they don't, and it is therefore harder for them).

Right now I am trying for the third time to learn enough Italian to go to Italy. I found there were far fewer people who understood English in Rome than in Paris, and my lack of language ability seemed more of a disadvantage there.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 02:38 PM
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I agree with Patrick. I speak French fairly well, but am often being corrected in Paris. Maybe that says a lot about my pronunciation and accent, or maybe it's just that the French find it funny when Americans try to speak their language. I've never really been able to figure it out.

Anyway, I think you'll do fine in Paris. English is widely spoken, and when in doubt, a few key phrases and good manners should bail you out.

Good luck!

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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 02:43 PM
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As of 1 Nov, all Americans are given an extensive french grammar and conversation test in the customs area at CDG. Its a fill in the blank test with no multiple choice sections. You must also translate correctly several portions of the movie Gigi. Fail it and you have to return to the USA on the next departing flight.

Semi-seriously, I am not ashamed to say I don't speak French, but that has not stopped me from having many great trips there. Relax and stop worrying so much. Wave some big Euro bills and you'll find most of them speak perfect English. You might offend some snotty waiters at an expensive restaurant, but that's half the fun of going there. And always demand a no smoking section and lots of ice in your super-sized cokes at dinner.
 
Old Nov 6th, 2003, 02:45 PM
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Hmmm, regarding Nikki's comment about Italy, I don't know that I've found that. I've had no more problem in Rome than in Paris, perhaps even less. We have traveled fairly extensively into the far reaches of Southern Italy where certainly fewer people spoke English, but even then no real problem (but I must admit I'm a whiz at charades -- you should have seen me perform the "squeaky door -- oil it -- and the squeak is gone" dance at the hardware store to buy some WD-40 for my squeaking luggage wheels).
I think the most problem I've had anywhere with language is actually rural Germany. And the place with the least problem -- all of Scandinavia.
The places I thought might be the most difficult -- Croatia, Turkey, and Slovenia, for example, were also no problem. Those countries learn to speak English more because they figure no one is going to know their language!
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 03:07 PM
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I agree with Patrick. French is my mother tongue. I don't live in France but I have many friends in Paris and Bordeaux. Anyone trying to show off with French people won't get very far. Patrick's way is the best. Learn the basics such as merci, bonjour, aurevoir. And keep smiling. Enjoy your stay in Paris!
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 03:16 PM
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If you speak those languages fluently, you'll have no problem at all. You are right that there will be English speakers in the main tourist areas, especially in restaurants and hotels.

I speak French fairly well and don't agree with the opinion that you have to speak French in Paris because they don't like it if you don't. I agree with Patrick's friends, and think it may be because they know French that they can tell more what people saying to them. Also, if you don't speak French at all, you never get into how they do treat you if you speak French.

In Paris, I would say they don't really care if you speak French and almost don't want you to. I think not letting someone speak French and interupting and "correcting" them is indeed arrogant and rude. I would never presume to interrupt and correct a tourist in the US who was speaking English but with an accent and perhaps an occasional wrong word. I live in Wash DC and do encounter tourists downtown a bit where this happens -- if I can understand them, I am polite to them. I don't "correct" and interrupt them.

There is a big difference between helping someone with English (or conversely, French) because they can't communicate, hesitate, and appear to need your help to finish. That is one thing, and maybe that is helpful. It's another thing when you won't even let them speak French because you think they aren't good enough to speak it and because you think they aren't pronouncing words correctly enough. I've had Parisian service people (just waiters or salesgirls) do that to me even when I know French better than they know English and we get into a thing where I am then helping them with their English because they don't know grammar and vocabulary as well as I do. I just think a total stranger lecturing and "correcting" you, even when they understand you, is rude and arrogant unless you asked them to.

This doesn't happen to me hardly anywhere but in Paris -- it doesn't happen in Provence, nor in less urban parts of France, nor even in French Caribbean Islands, nor even as much in Quebec City (where they truly are bilingual) as in Paris.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 03:22 PM
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degas, I failed that tough test, but slipped a 20E bill to the rude inspector and got sent to the head of the customs line where a surly clerk stamped my passport and gave me a limp-wrist wave into the country.

I think the french started it to generate money since the Iraqi bribes and weapons purchases have dried up.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 04:36 PM
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Man, this trip is going to be a hoot. We are going in February. I got slightly snookered on my air fare; I don't know whether to try to learn some French or let my husband try to communicate with his high school French. Now I find I am going to have to grease the palm of the test-giving gate-keeper to get in the country. Not to mention that men are going to be urinating all around me, except not on trees, because there are none. (I have been studying these postings most carefully!) Oh hell, I'm going anyway: que sera sera.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 04:52 PM
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This board never ceases to amaze me. I was ready to bet I'd really get slammed for my suggestion that those of us who don't speak French are actually often better off in Paris than those that do. I am surprised so many agree with me.
A lot of friends ask me since I spend so much time in Europe, why don't I really work at learning to speak the language. I must admit a lot of it is laziness, but I often say, "it's because they all make it so easy NOT to have to speak the language." I can't deny that a real mastery of any of the European languages would add to my total enjoyment, but I really feel it's not such a big thing that I don't speak it. In fact maybe it's that sense of "not understanding" that makes it all so foreign and that much more intriquing to me.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 05:16 PM
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I try with my French because I have 5 years from school and I enjoy trying. Yet, I don't try much in Paris. I try in the countryside where my efforts are more appreciated and the people seem to be genuinely helping me. I'll pause and they'll kick in a word. Or I'll ask if it's "grand ou grande" and get some help.

I'm completely with Patrick on the idea that maybe a language fluency would really enrich my experience. But which language am I supposed to pick? German? French? Spanish? Italian? Swedish? Finnish? Norwegian? Dutch? Danish? Portuguese? Never in my wildest fantasies would I ever be fluent in more than two languages (heck, let's face it I'll never be fluent in French) besides English, yet I can easily visit more than two countries on a single two week vacation.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 06:26 PM
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Might I suggest a wonderful tool?

Living Language puts out a series called "In Flight French" (German, Italian, Polish, Thai, Dutch, etc.). It's a single disc and gives you only the most basic vocabulary for travel. When people try to learn a foreign language, they go for too much. Extraordinary conjugations that tie up the mind and the tongue as well. These single discs don't try to overload. Just the basics, which is really all you need.

When my friend and I drove through Central Europe, we used the ones for Czech and Hungarian and found them extremely helpful. Especially in the countryside where a lot of people didn't speak English and we tended to get lost quite often.

You can order them at a discount from Amazon.

Since you already speak Spanish, you should be able to pick up sufficient French. BTW, it's called "In Flight" because the assumption is that, by listening to the disc during your flight over to Europe, you will arrive "fluent" with all the basics! Really easy course, try it!

Good luck! And you will enjoy your trip - wonderful country, France!

easytraveler
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 06:42 PM
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It's a great idea. Don't worry about it.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 06:50 PM
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My first time. I did not speak a word but caught on early enough to always say bonjour and au revoir.
You will love the beauty of Paris. Wishing you all good things.
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Old Nov 6th, 2003, 09:14 PM
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In recent years I have found it almost a PROBLEM to speak French in Paris because I am almost always traveling with at least one other person who doesn't speak French, and as soon as the waiter/salesperson/whoever hears us speaking English among ourselves, they begin speaking English - which is not, as a French speaker, something I want to do in Paris. I actually have had conversations with French waiters in which I told them please to speak French, as I was not going to spend my time in France speaking English when I had invested so much of my life in learning their language.
So I don't think a non-French-speaking visitor will have a problem. It IS important to recognize the linguistic niceties of always saying "bonjour, Madame/Monsieur," "Merci, Madame/Monsieur," and "Au revoir, Madame/ Monsieur." If you're concerned about the language issue, learn to say "je ne parle pas français - est-ce que vous parler anglais?" After that, I think most visitors will find that they'll work out a solution - either the waiter/salesperson/whoever will speak English or you'll manage fine with gestures and improvisation.
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Old Nov 7th, 2003, 12:10 AM
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The one problem I run into is that I've been in Germany for three years and when I try to use my limited French in Paris I sometimes come out with German instead. I have noticed a distinct difference in how I am treated when I accidently do that. So, in spite of the geographical nearness, use English and not German when in a pinch Actually, I know about 30 words of French and haven't had any problem in my three visits to Paris.

Have a great trip!
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