Speaking English in France

Old Jan 13th, 2000, 09:11 AM
  #1  
RK
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Speaking English in France

For all the experienced travellers to France: What has been your experience with language use, both French and English? I am studying beginning French now, and am hoping to use a little when I go in April. What is the truth? Have you found the French to prefer use of their language, however amatuerish? Do most speak English? We will be in Paris and Cannes/Antibes. Thank You!
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 09:20 AM
  #2  
Carol
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My experience has been that in Paris, everyone speaks English, and that the French like to practice their English as much as I like to practice my French. I have had only encouragement in my attempts with their language, but don't try it in a crowded, busy place. Also, most Parisians will switch to English if they see that you're struggling with French. By all means, use your French! Bonne chance et bon voyage.
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 09:26 AM
  #3  
TJ
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I agree, use as much French as you can and are comfortable with. They'll appreciate the effort. However, at a minimum, and this goes for Americans who have never had a day of French in their lives, start every conversation with the following: "Bonjour, Madame (or Monsieur). Parlez-vous anglais?" You'll most likely get a faux-sheepish reply "a little," and then you'll find that Madame/Monsieur actually knows quite a bit of English and enjoys speaking it (at least in Paris).
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 09:54 AM
  #4  
Al
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A smile and a little French go a long ways to break the ice. You will find your fears are groundless. Enjoy!
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 10:56 AM
  #5  
elvira
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These are two different cultures with two views of language; this is not about right or wrong, it's about different:
Native English speakers, especially Americans, are just so glad people speak their language that any accent is acceptable. We also have virtually every nationality in our culture, and are used to hearing vee pronounced wee and ex as eck. Add in 3000 miles of country with the accompanying regional accents, heck, how could we be fussy?
The French, on the other hand, are language perfectionists. One of the reasons they don't readily say they speak English is that it isn't 'perfect'; in their minds, if it isn't perfect, then don't speak it. So, you say, how can you get perfect if you don't practice? So the poor French guy is caught between the cultural "don't say it if it isn't perfect" and his desire to practice to make it perfect. This is where you jump in....if you try out your French, the French guy will feel inclined to practice his English.
And give the guy a break; Americans are good at slurring "whaddjeat?" Speak clearly, try not to use slang, and slow it down. Smile a lot (we're very good at this) and you'll do fine (the French can be snotty, but think of it as an endearing trait - I do - it's a welcome change from smiley faces and "have a nice")
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 11:16 AM
  #6  
howard
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Many years ago, I learned a useful phrase, which I would preface my French speaking with: "Je ne parle pas beaucoup de Francais, mais je voudrait [spelling?]......", which translates, "I do no speak much French, but I would like...." It never failed to elicit a positive response, since I was trying to speak their language, but was also admitting that I wasn't doing it very well!
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 06:21 PM
  #7  
carol
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I lived in a tiny suburb of Paris for a few years and occasionally had "door to door" salesmen and even beggars at the gate. I spoke English on purpose, saying I don't know what you want and thinking I'd get out of the situation (hand outs, donations, etc.) and EVERY time the person at the gate spoke English. Darn it!!
 
Old Jan 13th, 2000, 08:27 PM
  #8  
Joe
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Many of the French in their teens and twneties seem to have a great sense of humor about language. In November I asked (in French) the attendant at the welcome desk at the Gare de l'Est if he spoke English. He replied, "A little, but I would be charmed if you practiced your French on me." I did, and while I doubt if he was really charmed by my tin ear pronunciation, he was affable and helpful. And I had fun.
 
Old Jan 18th, 2000, 12:03 AM
  #9  
Barbara
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Keep studying. It really helps to know some language basics. Also, buy a simple phrase book that has English-French and French-English translations designed for tourists. Although I had 4 years of high school French, it was quite rusty and I found the books helpful. The French are very polite people and I have heard they considerate impolite if you do not approach them in French first, even if only to ask if they speak English. I always did this and it worked out quite well. In fact in many cases I practiced my French while they practiced their English! I also had a few people use the French to English part of my book to help me out with what I was trying to ask when they did not speak English, especially in restaurants for menu translations. Knowing even a little of the language will greatly enrich your vacation experience.
 
Old Jan 18th, 2000, 07:12 AM
  #10  
Carrie
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RK-
I have to agree with most of these posts. My very first time in France was while I was in high school and I was a bit overwhelmed by the French speaking back to me in English when I tried my French. But don't be insulted, they really do want to practice their English, and sometimes find it easier to communicate. However, as in ANY country, it is important that you start the conversation in French, asking if they speak English if you need them to. It is just the polite thing to do. I know that Americans would not appreciate a foreigner in the U.S. asking where the bathroom is in their native tongue. And I also agree, it's all about "difference". Although you may be trying hard to communicate, you may not get the typical American "friendly" response. (smile, tone of voice, etc). However, this doesn't mean that they don't appreciate your effort. It is just a cultural difference. This is the way the French our brought up (being overly "friendly" to a stranger is considered artificial). But with a little effort and understanding, many French people will go out of their way to help you out!
 
Old Jan 18th, 2000, 08:15 AM
  #11  
Carol
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TJ's post reminded me to also note that in French culture, a premium is placed on politeness--being comme it faut, and I have always followed the advice I received on my first trip: it is considered disrespectful if you do not greet a French person (salesperson, ticket taker, concierge, conductor--you get the picture) with Bonjour Monsieur or Bonjour Madame (Mademoiselle is only used for young women and girls)and by saying Merci Monsieur/Madame and Au Revoir Monsieur/Madame upon leaving. I don't know exactly why, but it is important to include "Monsieur"/"Madame" in these circumstances. Hope this is helpful.
 
Old Jan 18th, 2000, 03:31 PM
  #12  
alan
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Hi! I had an interesting experience in France several years ago, that ties into this. I don't speak but a few words in French. We were in a restaurant [not in Paris] and the couple next to us were using high school French. The waitress brought out the wrong items and and the people were attemting to communicate, she looked over at me and winked. She then came over to my wife and I and dommunicated in French that we ordered the wrong items and she suggested what to order. We agreed and had a wonderful meal and a good time as she continuously "misunderstood" the other couple, and would smile at us.
alan
 

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