Before embarking on your next trip to Paris, it's a good idea to learn some very basic French words and expressions.
Even if speaking the language isn't your strong suit and you're certain you can get by with English, learning a few opening greetings and polite expressions in the "Gallic tongue" will go far in easing your exchange with the locals, especially with those of an older generation who are less accustomed to English.
For those with a passion for learning foreign languages, spending a few hours learning this French vocabulary and these handy phrases will help you to bolster your French enough to feel confident navigating a variety of everyday situations in Paris and other francophone places.
Basic Greetings and Polite Questions in French
The first step to feeling comfortable in France is to learn how to address people politely in French, which will often significantly improve the quality of service you receive and your exchanges with Parisians in general. There are a number of basic French words and expressions you can use to begin a conversation:
- Bonjour: hello
- Parlez-vous Anglais: Do you speak English?
- S'il vous plaît: please
- Merci: thank you
- Madame, monsieur: madam, mister
- Excusez-moi: excuse me
- Au revoir: goodbye
It's important when interacting with French natives, especially those who are several years older than you, to make sure you address them with the proper titles of madame or monsieur, but younger locals rarely care about such formalities. Additionally, being able to ask a French person if they speak English in their native language will also go a long way in diffusing the tension of meeting a stranger.
Eating Out at Restaurants : Basic Vocabulary and Phrases
Food and dining in Paris is no joking matter, and aside from restaurants that are generally (and obviously) tourist traps, most eateries in the capital won't offer English-language menus. While it's true that most waitstaff at Paris restaurants and bistros speak at least basic English, knowing basic Paris restaurant vocabulary will help make your dining experience more enjoyable and relaxing
- Bonjour, une table pour une/deux/trois personnes, s'il vous plaît: Hello, a table for one/two/three people, please.
- Où sont les toilettes: Where is the restroom?
- Avez-vous un ménu en Anglais: Do you have a menu in English?
- Quels sont les plâts du jour: What are today's specials?
- Je prendrai: I'd like...
- Je voudrais: I would like...
- L'addition, s'il vous plaît: Check, please?
- Mais l'addition n'est pas correcte: This bill is not correct.
- Acceptez-vous des cartes de crédit: Do you accept credit cards?
Remember when dining out in Paris and the rest of France, tipping is not expected at most establishments. However, you should still be courteous to your server and using some French phrases will likely result in better service overall.
Getting Around The City: Asking For and Following Directions
The Paris metro can be a bit overwhelming to use when you first arrive in the city, especially if you don't know French. Before you travel to Paris, get acquainted with some of the signs you're likely to see around the metro and learn basic words and expressions for getting around the city:
- Comment aller à la station X: How do I get to X station?
- Est-ce le bon sens pour aller à X: Is this the right direction to X?
- Où est la sortie: Where is the exit?
- La Sortie: Exit
- Correspondance/s: connection (transfer line)
- Passage Interdit: Forbidden passageway/Do not enter
- En Travaux: Under construction
- Plan du Quartier: Neighborhood map
- Attention, Danger de Mort: Warning, Danger of Death
While many signs in the Paris metro have been translated to English and most metro workers also speak a little bit of the language, knowing how to find exits and transfers (connections) will make your transit easier. You'll also need to purchase tickets for your transit and, of course, how to say thank you once you've paid for your trip.
Expand Your French Travel Vocabulary Even Further
While knowing the right French phrases for getting around, dining out, and meeting Parisians is important to make the most out of your trip to Paris, you may also want to know how to engage with the French culture in films, songs, and other media, too.
Check out Sandrine de Paris: A Resource for French Language and Culture for an engaging, entertaining and always informative site run by a talented Parisian writer of the same name. Her site is packed with fun and thoughtfully curated resources and exercises that involve French songs, film, and other media that allow you to learn much about French culture while you tighten your language skills.