Friday, May 30, 2014

French Friday: Speaking French on My Trip to Paris


For me, part of the fun of traveling internationally is speaking as much as the local language as possible. I studied the most basic French words and tested my pronunciation out on a friend prior to my recent trip to Paris. As a result, I did manage to say a few words repeatedly.

Even though I took a semester of French in college, I don't really remember/know much. Unfortunately, when you don't use it, you lose it. I didn't continue my study of French when I found out I was actually going to study abroad, thus able to earn enough Italian credits to satisfy the requirements for my major. Plus, French is frustrating to me. It's not a language where words are basically pronounced how they look, like they are in Spanish and Italian.

Greeting the employee and even other patrons when you enter a store is part of the culture. It's respectful behavior. In the morning or early afternoon, it's either Bonjour, Madame or Bonjour, Monsieur. I would attempt to switch to bonsoir later in the day. In fact, the guy selling us museum passes sincerely thanked me for my greeting. It's easy to get into the habit of greeting before ordering. I, of course, say it in a rather sing-songy voice accompanied by a big smile, which is more American than French!

I also slipped in s'il vous plaît for "please," oui for "yes," merci for "thank you," or merci beaucoup for "thank you very much," d'accord for "okay" or "I understand" and au revoir for "good bye" whenever appropriate. I might have started a sentence with Je voudrais... which means "I would like..." but I left out articles and other small words like "and" completely. Knowing me, I probably wished Elizabeth a bon appétit every time we ate. Pain au chocolat... Nailed it!

tumbler via Pinterest
[I found this image by following Carin, the amazing photographer behind Paris in Four Months, on Pinterest. 
You definitely want to search "vocabulary" on her blog for the prettiest ...flashcards ever!]

I really like Rick Steves' phrasebooks. They are easy to actually use and small enough to fit in a little handbag. Everything is written out phonetically. (I own the sixth edition, but check out the seventh on Amazon.) Referencing it, I was able to ask a few more complicated things. I would politely request the bill by saying "L'addition, s'il vous plaît." I even asked for my birthday dinner steak "well done" or bien cuit. (The French prefer meat on the rare side, so it came out medium well at the edges but medium in the middle, which was fine by me.)

I didn't understand much of what was said to me, so I definitely was not communicating at even a beginner's level! Language doesn't happen to be a strength for my travel partner, but I knew this going in. I encouraged her as much as I could to order a café crème instead of "coffee with milk" and to greet with bonjour. I also let her know that it was fine to speak English in such touristy areas of a major city.  It was just fun for me to say about a dozen things in a language foreign to me. Out of the ordinary.



8 comments:

  1. I also tried the same....Bonjour/Bonsoir, etc....that was ok. But, almost every time I'd order something, even in the d'Orsay museum cafe`, "je voudrais....blah blah blah" the people responded in rapid fire French asking me something else, and I was left standing awkwardly with, likely, a blank look on my face. hahaha. I guess it was a complement my 3-4 words sounded so good, at least. I also like Rick Steves and watched some Youtube videos for pronunciation and other phrases.

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    1. At least you've mastered those words! That blank look is what you frequently read about in travel writing. I listened to a lot of Rick Steves before my trip, but he doesn't give himself much credit for language. He creates such wonderful imagery however. I couldn't stop picturing myself sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris thanks to his interviews. Anyway, viewing YouTube videos is a good idea. I'll have to try that for my next trip.

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  2. About the only thing I know how to say in German is "the bill please", always said with great gusto and to the amusement of the waitstaff. In Paris I managed to conduct a few basic conversations in French, usually around the purchase of something.

    Jess

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    1. People often ask me if I speak Italian since I've spent some time there. I, unfortunately, confess that I do not. When you don't use it, you lose it. I usually add that I able able to order a meal though. Maybe not for the table like Julia Roberts did in the movie Eat Pray Love.

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  3. I am studying French for my upcoming trip and bought the Steves phrase book too. I like how it is organized by themes....dining phrases and shopping ones for example. I have heard that the French appreciate tourists who make the effort to speak the language even if it is not perfect so good for you !

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    1. I love that you're studying the language prior to your trip. Like I said, speaking the local language is part of the fun for me. Rick Steves' phrasebook was actually easy for me to use while there. They do seem to appreciate the effort, as well as a respect for the culture like the greeting mentioned in my blog post.

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  4. Many French people speak English but they all appreciate an attempt by visitors. The polite phrases make every interaction better in Paris.

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    1. I found that they appreciated my attempt. I want to experience the place and that includes a bit of the language.

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