They are rude. They are arrogant. They hate foreigners, specially foreigners who don’t speak French. These are just some of the descriptions attached to Parisians, enough to make anyone develop anxiety about how to survive in this busy city.
From the top of Notre Dame
If you’re hoping your lack of French language skills will get you killed, I hate to tell you that you can actually continue your existence in Paris using only one phrase aside from “Bonjour” (Hello) and “Merci” (Thanks). And no, I’m not talking about the popular song lyrics “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” (Do you want to sleep with me tonight?).
Basically you only need to learn “Excusez-moi, parlez-vous anglais?” (Excuse me, do you speak English?)
This proved useful to me as soon as I arrived in Paris. I have to be honest I was really scared to talk to these Parisians. I didn’t want to find out for myself how rude they were, so I was determined to survive my first day without having to talk to any random French. Alas, some signs in Paris are confusing, and the translated English signs sometimes aren’t the best, so talking to a local was necessary.
Speaking French To A Random French For The First Time
I mustered enough courage, went up to someone who didn’t look like a confused tourist, and in my best French accent (courtesy of Duolingo application) fluently asked them in French if they could speak English. I (hopefully) didn’t show any sign that I was afraid they’d turn me away or bite me.
As it turns out, French people are helpful and lovely. They would answer your question with “A little”, but truthfully, they could understand a lot of English.
I mentioned this notoriety of not speaking English to some French friends. They told me French people are normally perfectionist and don’t want to make mistakes, hence they often say they don’t like speaking English.
Lack of English Skills and Duolingo Application
A few can’t really speak English, however. I couldn’t find red wine at a shop so I had to ask the seller. He answered me with “I’m sorry I don’t speak English”. I hesitantly said “Uh, rogue vin?”, thanks to my stock knowledge from Duolingo (yes this app is a life saver!). Never mind that I actually pronounced it incorrectly and that it’s supposed to be vin rogue. The seller understood me and I got my bottle of wine. (It’s worth noting that the wine is goddamn cheap in Paris and exceptional. 3€ a bottle? Yes, please.)
At the supermarket, apparently the cashier was asking me to scan and put the price sticker on the banana I was buying. This was new to me since we never had to do that in New Zealand and Australia. I couldn’t understand her, but this old woman behind me took the liberty to walk to the scanner and scan the banana for me, which was extremely nice.
I’m sure there are also legit rude Parisians (even their fellow French from other cities and towns say this), but of course there are also lovely ones.
Just make sure to at least show them you’re trying to speak their language even by simply saying Bonjour (people always say this when entering shops), Merci (whenever the opportunity presents. There will be a lot.), and Excusez-moi, Parlez-vous Anglais, before proceeding to speaking clear English.
Duolingo also taught me “Je peux vous offrir un bierre?” (Can I get you a drink?) but never got to use it. Maybe How I Met Your Mother‘s Barney Stinson would, just before he asks “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce-soir”.