Paris Travel Guide

Talk

First and foremost, French (français) is of course the country's official language. Any native French person will speak French and it helps if you can speak a bit of it. In the parts of the city that tourists frequent the most (Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, Champs-Elysées), the shopkeepers, information booth attendants, and other workers are likely to answer you in English, even if your French is advanced. These workers tend to deal with thousands of foreign-speaking tourists, and responding in English is often faster than repeating themselves in French. This is not the case for the rest of the city.

For most Parisians, English is something they had to study in school, and thus seems a bit of a chore. People helping you out in English are making an extra effort, sometimes a considerable one. Parisians younger than 40 are much more likely to be fluent in English. Immigrants, often working in service jobs, are less likely (often, still struggling to learn French.) If it's your first time in France you will have some problems understanding what people are saying (even with prior education in French). Unlike most language education tapes, real French people often speak fast, use slang, and swallow some letters.

When attempting to speak French, do not be offended if people ask you to repeat, or seem not to understand you, as they are not acting out of snobbery. Keep your sense of humour, and if necessary, write down phrases or place names. And remember to speak slowly and clearly. Unless you have an advanced level and can at least sort of understand French movies, you should also assume that it will be difficult for people to understand what you are saying (imagine someone speaking English to you in an indiscernible accent, it's all the same).

When in need of directions what you should do is this: find a younger person, or a person reading some book or magazine in English, who is obviously not in a hurry; say "hello" or "bonjour" (bon-zhor); start by asking if the person speaks English, "Parlez-vous anglais?" (Par-LAY voo on-glay?) even if the person can read something in English, speak slowly and clearly; write down place names if necessary. Smile a lot. Also, carry a map (preferably Paris par Arrondissement); given the complexity of Paris streets it is difficult to explain how to find any particular address in any language, no matter how well you speak it. If anything, the person may have an idea as to the place you are looking for, but may not know exactly where it may be, so the map always helps.

On the other hand you will probably get the cold shoulder if you stop a random person in the métro (like, say, some middle-aged hurried person who has a train to take), fail to greet them and say "where is place X or street Y".

Now, if you speak French, remember two magic phrases : "Excusez-moi de vous déranger" mwuh duh voo day-rawn-ZHAY ("Sorry to bother you") and "Pourriez-vous m'aider?" voo may-DAY ("Could you help me?") especially in shops; politeness will work wonders.

It is considered polite to always say "bonjour" or "bonsoir" to employees when entering any type of shop even if you have no intention of buying anything. Upon leaving you should say "merci" to thank the shopkeeper for allowing you to browse and say "bonne journée" (bun zhur-nay) or "bonne soirée" (bun swa-ray) to wish them a good day or evening. "Bonne nuit" is only used when telling someone "goodnight" when going to bed.


source: Wikivoyage

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