Living in Paris and not speaking any French is actually more common than you would think. Paris is such an international and diverse city that it’s totally possible to live a full and exciting life here with just English. But, in my opinion, to fully assimilate into French culture and be a true Parisian, one must at least make some effort to speak the language of love. Here are a few essential French phrases to get you started:
1) Bonjour – Hello
When I first arrived in Paris one year ago, ‘bonjour’ was the only French word I knew. My friend, who is fluent in French, ensured me that I would survive as long as I said ‘bonjour’ in all situations: to the bus driver when entering the bus, to the server at the bakery, to the sales assistant at the clothing store. To the French, a ‘bonjour’ is not just a simple ‘hello’. It’s a respectful way to announce your presence and acknowledge that you are in their space, not yours. You will notice a significant difference in the service you will receive if you say ‘bonjour’ than if you don’t. It’s also nice to show that you’re making an effort to try and speak some French before you launch into English!
2) Je prend (insert food/drink item) s’il vous plait – I’ll take… please
This is my go-to when I’m ordering something to eat or drink from a boulangerie or café. The server will normally respond with ‘Avec ceci?’ which means ‘Do you need anything else?’. If that’s everything, a simple ‘Non merci, c’est tout’ will work just fine.
3) Avez-vous des toilettes? – Do you have a toilet?
I can’t count the amount of times I’ve been enjoying drinks with friends along Canal Saint Martin before my bladder feels that sudden urge! It always seems like it’s impossible to find a public toilet when you need one most. But maybe if you say a nice, hearty ‘bonjour’ followed by ‘avez-vous des toilettes?’, some café or restaurant may appreciate your effort and be nice enough to let you use their restroom without having to buy some unwanted drink or food item.
4) Pardon – Sorry
This is a necessity for riding the metro. Whether you accidentally step on someone’s foot or hit them with your bag, a soft ‘pardon’ should be enough for all to be forgiven. It also works when the train is crowded and you need people to step aside so you can exit.
If all else fails and your brain freezes when you’re in the spotlight and have to speak French, just ask ‘Parlez-vous anglais?’ (Do you speak English?) and go from there.
Knowing these French phrases will go a long way in Paris. Bonne chance!
By Patrick Dougherty, Le Repertoire de Gaspard childcarer 2018/2019