How to speak like a true Parisian

This post is by Kay Pfaltz, Founder of Beyond Ordinary Travel. 

Traveling to Paris? I offer these tips to the first time traveler.  A few French phrases will get you far along that chic boulevard without having to rent a Yorkie or poodle or shell out the Euros on the Hermès scarves. And a few dos and don’ts never hurt either.

The French are polite, and the French are more formal than we Americans.

Therefore when entering a boulangerie or shop of any sort, always say, “Bonjour.” If there is one woman behind the counter, even if she giving your tattered clothes a disdaining eye as you dare touch her elegant rows of lingerie, say, “Bonjour Madame.” If there are several people waiting in line in the boulangerie when you enter, say in your best singsong voice, “Bonjour Mesdames, bonjour Messieurs.” A smile is optional if not all that common, but I have found in France as elsewhere on the journey of life, that a smile has taken me farther down that same boulevard than mere politesse, flattery or any other sort of adulation ever has. Upon leaving utter the simple words: “Merci” and “Au revoir.” These simple words are the gold keys with which you’ll begin to narrow the chasm that yawns between the American mentality and la mentalité française, and banish for a few moments in time, if never forever, the image of ugly American.

A typical French patisserie

A typical French patisserie

Please. Your mother may have taught you this one, but she was, mais bien sûr, right again. S’il vous plait or please. Saying please, like a smile, will not hurt and will in fact if not exactly open doors, help you to keep them from slamming in your face. If asking for a coffee, you can do it many ways but the easiest is: Un café s’il vous plait. If someone does you a favour, say thank you, merci. And if you do someone a favour for which you are thanked you may reply, Je vous en prie, formal for, literally, “I beg of you.” Or if it is a friend or someone you know casually, you reply, Je t’en prie or De rien, it’s nothing.

The French are very logical. And by that I mean, of course, illogical. Never mind that theirs is fundamentally a Cartesian society, their very thought, intellectualism to the tenth degree, founded, for better or for worse, by Descartes.  Therefore, you must be prepared for their illogical logic. For instance if you have business to do in a France Telecom office and are told to wait, beware the small increments of time. If you are told to wait for “un moment” (a moment) you’re probably okay. But beware the moment that “un moment” becomes “un petit moment” (a  little moment)  for that is longer still or, horrors of all, “un tout petit instant” (a very little instant/moment). You might as well get out the sleeping bag.

Coffee, black or white.  Where coffee is concerned I have to admit I think the French are quite logical. In the morning, they like it with milk or cream, as in café au lait or café crème. (If you are a cream lover, be warned that many café owners will simply give you steamed milk no matter what your desire.) An express (short for espresso) or un café are also acceptable at breakfast. These are small, strong coffees…espresso. At what hour is the bewitching hour when you would never find a Frenchman asking for a grand crème? Well, at tea-time it is still permissible to have the milk, although a thé, tisane or infusion is often more fashionable. (But don’t look at me, I love my crèmes as much as my doubles.) After dinner, however, you always order un café or un express, unless of course you order un double or un double express in which case we know you’re either an insomniac who wanders the streets of Paris instead of sleeping or that enviable youth who can still imbibe large quantities of alcohol and strong coffee and sleep like a bébé.

Awaiting a cup of coffee in Provence

Stay tuned….

This is the blog of Beyond Ordinary Travel, an organization providing tours and experiences for travelers who enjoy high quality travel.  If you’d like to join our group of travelers, please visit beyondordinarytravel.com.  

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