Greetings dear readers and friends. Well, I’m writing this post from a very chilly South of France. Even though the snow hasn’t reached us yet, many towns to the north have had more than a bit of a white-dusting.
Today’s post comes from a comment I received on the blog that really got me thinking about speaking French while traveling in Provence (or the rest of France for that matter). And although I don’t claim to be an expert, it’s true that by trial and error (a lot of error), I’ve come to feel more at ease using French and hope I can provide some positive feedback to future travelers. Here is a snippet of the original comment as I think a lot of readers might have the same questions in mind:
“I am curious how the locals treat people who are not fluent in French. I took two years of French in college, but I am always hesitant to use it and mess up! Should I still try, or will it annoy people there? Will it annoy them more if I *don’t* try?”
Well, first of all, I say you absolutely should try – no matter what your level. And in my opinion, if you sprinkle around the 3 “magic words”- bonjour (bonsoir in the evening), s’il vous plait, and merci, you are sure to impress the French and most likely be treated a bit better. And hopefully you’ll have a more enriching travel experience.
Because, when it comes down to it, the one thing that the French value almost above all else is politeness. And the more polite you are, the more likely you are to receive the service you desire. That being said, *bad* service exists in France, but, in my opinion, it has nothing to do with speaking the language. It’s simply the people working / running the place.
In shops and boutiques, or even at the market, I used to wait for someone to say “bonjour” before I felt obligated to respond. Sometimes, the American in me, just wanted to get “in & out” with my purchases so I would make a beeline for what I needed and then quietly walk to the cash register. Well, over time, I learned that when you enter a shop, boutique, restaurant, or approach a market stand, etc, a greeting of “bonjour” is absolutely essential. I still have to remind myself, but now I make a point of saying Bonjour Madame or Bonjour Monsieur in my daily routine. You can think of “bonjour” as your proverbial “foot in the door” with French people, and from there the exchange is indeed usually very pleasant.
And if you don’t speak a lot of French, it doesn’t matter! Think of yourself walking into a bakery (I myself am thinking of lovely Pâtisserie Béchard in Aix-en-Provence) and you would like to sample some of their tasty breads or pastries. All you need is your “bonjour”, and then you ask for what you would like. Bonjour, une baguette s’il vous plait. Hello, a baguette please.
Then you can add on the final touch, a nice “merci” at the end of the exchange and, equally important, a simple “au revoir” when leaving. Often, people will wish you a “bonne journée” (Have a good day) which is another easy way to be polite. Au revoir Madame / Monsieur, bonne journée. The most important thing here is that you’ve got to have the guts to do it! Believe me, it took me more than a few tries… but the result was well-worth it.
Of course, if you are a more advanced speaker of French, this may only serve as the start of a longer conversation, but these standard phrases are a perfect door-opener and also allow basic speakers to have simple, pleasant interactions on their travels.
Honestly, I feel like I spend half my day just using this few phrases. I’ll ask for something at the bakery, cheese shop, or the market, and then usually I’m on my way. Occasionally someone might ask where my accent is from or perhaps make a comment on what I’m buying, but generally this is as far as it goes. And I find I get treated much better than my previous “duck & cover” method.
If you do want to go a bit further in your exchanges, here are a few more helpful phrases to use around town:
-Excusez-moi… Excuse me…
-C’est combien s’il vous plait? How much is it please?
-Je voudrais deux (trois, quatre,…) s’il vous plait. I’d like two (three, four, …) please.
-Vous prenez les cartes de crédit ? Do you take credit cards?
-Un sac s’il vous plait. A bag please.
-Avez-vous… ? Do you have… a table for four, (un table pour quatre) a restroom (une toilette), a double room (une chambre double), etc.
-Comment allez vous? How are you (formal)?
-Bonne journée Have a good day.
-Bonne soirée Have a good evening.
Of course there are many more French expressions that are helpful, more than I even have space to list, but I hope this will give you a good start… and a boost of confidence in your travels.
Have you used French while traveling? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!