5 French Expressions That Will Help You Survive Paris

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.

Cafe in Paris

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.

Paris Menu

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.

What other phrases do you think are important to know while visiting Paris?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

11 thoughts on “5 French Expressions That Will Help You Survive Paris”

  1. I spent a year traveling around Europe and perhaps a month in France… I have to say I absolutely loved it. Paris is quite intimidating at first – as you mentioned, it’s a busy city!

    Perhaps it was because my French was SO bad that they had pity on me but I really never got much attitude apart from someone on the Metro, who went off on the most insane and bizarre rant at me ever (I still have no idea why – my French was still quite poor at the time).

    It didn’t help that Paris was my first destination in France. Other places, especially in the South like Montpellier and Toulouse, I was given a lot of patience. Of course, my French had improved considerably by that point too.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever leave San Francisco permanently – it’s an incredible city but if I do, I’d love to live somewhere like Annecy for a year. Not too sure about Paris though, that would be intimidating!

    • You’re so lucky, San Francisco is my absolute favorite city in the world! I used to work summers there for my uncle who owns restaurants in the city. Annecy would be great because it’s not far from good skiing, I’m hoping to go skiing near there this winter. And I have noticed people are a lot more easygoing in the small towns in France.

  2. Great post, I agree especially with point 1 and 5. there is really no excuse to not atleast know these basic phrases and be polite. Paris sounds like an interesting city, always wanted to visit there

    You already know more french than me and I’ve been living in Montreal Canada for over 2 years, granted I find it harder to learn french here seeing as everyone speaks english and french so its too easy to get away with just speaking english. alot of people I talk to even switch to english even if I try speaking french haha because they notice how bad I am at it

    • Thanks! Haha that’s doubtful, I assure you my French is terrible. I’ve always wanted to visit Montreal, it looks beautiful and I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun. Maybe visiting will help improve my French as well :)

  3. I’m with Brendan, I don’t think you can overstate the importance of 1 and 5. I think for the most part Parisians will give you exactly what they perceive you’re giving them: if you display poor manners, you will get it back in spades. If you are polite, friendly, and show you’re trying, it’s been my experience that they will be very friendly, polite, and helpful. I love the place, and go back at every chance. What else? The house wine is usually quite good, the bread is fabulous as you say, and Parisian taxi drivers have nerves of steel and usually panache that has to be seen to be believed. Nice post, thanks for sharing

    • That’s exactly true with Parisians, most are very kind but when crossed they can be rude back. And yes, I should’ve written about the very good and very inexpensive house wine, oops! Good call.

    • Your list is amazing! I feel like all Parisians say is, “C’est pas grave” and “Ce ne marche pas.” Good work!!

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