Polite French Greetings and Phrases to Use on Vacation

Two women speaking to server at a cafe outside
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Parisians have acquired a less-than-flattering reputation for being unforgiving with tourists who don't know at least a few basic French words and expressions. Though there are many myths and stereotypes about Parisians, it would be dishonest to say this one doesn't hold a grain of truth.

While younger generations, exposed to English from a young age and acclimated to the effects of globalization, tend to be more than willing to demonstrate their English-speaking skills, many Parisians consider it impolite when tourists don't at least attempt to begin an exchange in the Gallic tongue.

As a result, and in turn, they can sometimes respond in ways that are perceived as cold or even rude by foreigners who aren't familiar with French cultural norms. 

To avoid rude service in France, learn a few basic French expressions before your first (or third) trip to Paris. What's the main reason for this? Most locals will appreciate even small efforts to use their language if only to exchange niceties. Please don't worry about being fluent, though: Paris is the world's most-visited city, so very few people will hold it against you if you can't manage more than simple exchanges in French.

The Importance of Polite Honorifics and Titles

Especially when interacting with French natives who are several years your senior, make sure to address them with the proper titles: Madame for women and Monsieur for men.

Younger people rarely care about such formalities, on the other hand, and may even find it a bit strange if you address them this way, depending on the age difference between you.

Essential Polite French Phrases to Learn 

  • Hello, Madam/Sir (Good Day): Bonjour, (Madame, Monsieur). (Bohn-zhour), (Ma-Dahm, Muh-syeuh)
  • Good evening: Bonsoir, (Madame, Monsieur). (Bohn swah, " ")
  • Do you speak English?: Parlez-vous anglais? (Pahr-lay voo ahn-glay?)
  • Excuse me, Madam/Sir?: Excusez-moi (Madame, Monsieur)? (Ex-kewzay mwah, " "?)
  • Thank you very much: Merci beaucoup. (Mehr-si bo-kou)
  • Goodbye: Au revoir! (Oh-ruh vwah!)

More Essential French Vocabulary and Phrases

When you first get to the French capital, trying to wrap your head around its public transportation system can be a real challenge. Make sure to learn basic Paris Metro vocabulary in French, and you'll soon be getting around the city like a pro. 

When eating out, it can be really daunting to sit down for a meal in a local restaurant, contend with French-only menus, and perhaps have to communicate with servers who speak only limited English. Beef up on typical Paris restaurant vocabulary, including useful phrases and words you'll need to eat out with ease. 

Visiting one of the best Parisian boulangerie (bakeries) is one of the most memorable experiences you can have—but the vocabulary issue can leave you tongue-tied. What is the difference between a "croissant ordinaire" and a "croissant au beurre"—and why do the baguettes have so many complex names?

It can be difficult to know how to order at the Parisian boulangerie, but if you stride into that pastry shop knowing exactly what you want—not to mention how to say it—you'll fit in just fine.

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