Paris can feel intimidating to the first-time traveler. It’s not the herds of Peugeots careening around one-way streets or the plenitude of dog droppings on the sidewalks; it’s the Parisians.
Like New York, Paris is a busy place where most people are in a hurry. Parisians just don’t have time for the poor French of us tourists (ahem, travelers). In Paris, you may find yourself getting lip from cab drivers, shop girls, and pedestrians alike.
Here are the expressions I have found to be the most vital to survival in Paris. If you want pitchers of free water and perfectly baked baguettes, keep reading.
1. Greetings: hello (bonjour), goodbye (au revoir), thank you (merci)
Manners are of utmost importance in France. Like almost as important as cheese. (Please don’t even get me started on the elaborate etiquette of French table manners.)
Upon walking into a store it’s polite to greet the shopkeeper, and a simple “Bonjour” is all you need. Make sure to say “au revoir” (bye) and “merci” (bye) on the way out as well.
2. A carafe of water (Une carafe d’eau)
This is far and away the expression most critical to survival in France, at least for a thirsty American like myself.
Once while dining alone at the famed Café de Flore, I ordered an omelet and as the waiter walked away I shouted, “Et une carafe d’eau s’il vous plait!” Moments later, he returned with a large pitcher of complimentary tap water. The Scandinavians seated next to me turned and asked, “Excuse me, but how did you get that?”
Note: ‘d’eau’ is pronounced just like ‘dough’.
3. A lightly baked baguette (Une baguette pas trop cuite, s’il vous plaît)
If you are like me, you will often be seen ordering at boulangerie several times a day. And ingesting a scary amount of carbohydrates.
While there is some debate on whether baguettes are better cuite (well-done, if you will) and pas trop cuite (softer), it has seemed that most French people under 70 years old are ordered their baguettes ‘pas trop cuite’ these days. So if you aren’t a senior citizen I would follow suit.
4. I’ll have… (Je prends…)
‘Je prends’ translates to ‘I’ll have.’ Instead of looking like a witless buffoon (cough, me) you can casually say, ‘Je prends le _______ ( insert dish name here),’ while gliding your finger down the menu.
5. Do you speak English? (Parlez-vous anglais ?)
This one’s a bit self-explanatory, but it’s polite to ask others if they speak English before unleashing a barrage of rapid-fire anglais. Most Parisians, especially the younger ones, speak English quite well, but it’s still a good idea to ask.