(Parlez-vous français image via Shutterstock)
The other day in my Grade 6 class, I heard one of the boys saying “Oh my god!” In my classroom, the rule is you can chat as much as you want (well, within reason) as long as it’s in French. So, when they come out with expressions like “Oh my god”, I like to teach them the equivalent in French. In the context it was used, Oh mon dieu would not have been the appropriate equivalent – so I taught them Oh là là! (not Oooh but Oh – real French people do not say OOOOh là là like many people imagine – here’s a great explanation of the difference). Although I almost immediately regretted it (since for the rest of the class, that’s all I heard!), I do like to teach the boys “real life” expressions so they recognize and understand them when they are in French speaking environments.
Then I got to thinking that it might be fun here on French Fridays to highlight some French language as well as food and travel (because you need the language to order the food, right?!). And while there are so many interesting French language stories I could tell you, I figured it’s best to start at the beginning with:
Must-know expressions for your trip to France
(French speech bubble image via Shutterstock)
You’ll notice in France, when people enter a store or restaurant, they will greet everyone with a general Bonjour or Bonsoir depending on the time of day, sometimes followed by Messieurs-dames (meaning ladies and gentlemen). It’s a common courtesy that so many visitors to France neglect and can often make the difference between someone treating you with courtesy and someone being dismissive. On that note…
(goodbye) Don’t forget to say Au revoir when you leave a store/ restaurant etc… and maybe even add a:
Bonne journée/ Bon après-midi/ Bonne soirée (Have a good day/Have a good afternoon/ Have a nice evening depending on what time of the day it is) When you leave a store or restaurant or maybe you’re just saying goodbye to a person, don’t forget to add this on the end of your “Au revoir”. Don’t make the mistake of saying Bonne nuit in the evening as it actually means “Good night” in the sense that you are going to bed.
In all of the above usages, it’s polite (and “done”) to add Monsieur or Madame as you’ll see people do when they greet you.
(in the sense of “sorry”) Useful when you bump into someone on the street or métro, realize that you have cut a queue or stepped on someone’s toes.
(in the sense of “Excuse me”) Useful to get someone’s attention (i.e. in a smaller store when the shopkeeper is not facing you) or you can start a question with this (i.e. Excusez-moi mais j’ai une question…)
(Sorry) Use this for any number of reasons – even to the point of adding it onto Excusez-moi … désolé(e) to show you’re really sorry!
(Pardon me, excuse me) When you’re trying to get through a crowd, pardon is your friend.
S’il vous plaît
(Please) Don’t forget to say please! It’s also useful to get the attention of your server in a restaurant (don’t make the terrible tourist mistake of calling a waiter garçon and certainly never snap your fingers!). In this usage, you’ll want to make it sound like a question (so the intonation goes up at the end).
(Do you speak English) While the answer might very well be non or un peu (the French can be harsh on themselves – they sometimes will speak much better English than they give them selves credit for!), at least you know what to expect. Much better to know that you can speak (even a little) English than struggle with your French. Always a good idea to ask this first.
Je ne comprends pas
(I don’t understand) A sentence you might find yourself using a lot (and it’s ok to use it!). By telling someone you don’t understand what they are saying, you’re giving them options to perhaps communicate in another way (draw a picture, mime an action). It’s better to ‘fess up that you don’t understand than nod and say Oui. I always tell my students that answering “Yes” to a question they don’t understand can be dangerous (i.e. “Do you think we should have a French test tomorrow?” 😉 )
Pouvez-vous répéter s’il vous plaît?
(Can you repeat please) You might find that even if your level of French is good and you can “get by”, native French is a lot faster than you are used to hearing (or the person speaking will have an accent that makes it hard to understand) so this will come in handy. Sometimes it’s even a hint for the native speaker to speak more slowly, however, if it’s not…
Pouvez-vous parler plus lentement s’il vous plaît?
(Can you speak more slowly please?)
(Where is…) Helpful if you are looking for a well-known landmark, street, métro station etc… Even if you don’t know how to pronounce the name of what you are looking for, if you have it written down, you can simply say Où est… and point at where you need to go.
Où sont les toilettes?
(Where is the toilet?) Possibly the very first thing I teach my 7-8 year old first year French students how to say is “May I go to the washroom?”. For a tourist, this is the equivalent phrase. Important to learn because sometimes the toilets won’t be obviously marked. If you can’t remember the Où sont part, you can simply say Les toilettes? with a questioning tone (or even, Les toilettes s’il vous plaît) and you’ll most likely get the information you need!
Je vais prendre/ Je voudrais … s’il vous plaît
(I will have/ I would like). I use Je vais prendre when I’m in a smaller store – butcher, cheesemonger, bakery, produce store where the shopkeeper chooses the produce for you etc… In a restaurant that’s less formal you can use Je vais prendre as well but somewhere a bit fancier, you’ll likely go for Je voudrais when ordering a meal. Don’t forget to say s’il vous plaît!
(How much is it?) In most stores and restaurants you go to, you’ll be able to see the price of something but on the odd occasion you can’t, you’ll need to ask how much. Don’t forget to say s’il vous plaît!
(Thank you) Never underestimate the power of saying thank you. Applies to life as well as trips to France!
Happy (French) Friday!