When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in France, speak as the French do.
The French are much friendlier if you approach them in French. Yes, speaking in French if you’re a tourist is harder, but consider the opposite end of the equation. If you’re French and barely speak English, you’re not going to be happy about the situation either.
If you’re both struggling, the conversation is on a level playing field.
Besides, when in a foreign country, it’s only practical to learn at least a few basic phrases. So, to help those of you coming to beautiful Paris, here are a few handy phrases you should learn.
“Je parle (un peu de) francais.”
“I speak (a little) French.” The phrase is useful if you do speak a little French, or if you can talk the language. You’re letting the local know that he won’t be confusing you by using his native tongue.
If you admit to speaking only a little, you’re giving him a heads-up. You’re telling him to keep it simple. Anything complicated will need to be in English.
“Do you speak English?” A phrase you’ll be repeating, so you’d best get to know it intimately. Not everyone in Paris can talk in English, so this question can help filter them out. Whether lost or you’re looking for something specific, if you can’t speak French, you will need this phrase.
“Je ne comprends pas.”
“I don’t understand.” This phrase is essential, because chances are, you won’t understand everything. Admit to that and hope the person you’re talking to is willing to explain.
Usually, you’ll be following it up with…
“Que veut dire ____?”
“What does ____ mean?” If you don’t know what something means, you should ask before assuming anything. French can be a complicated language, and there are Parisian terms that you might not be familiar with even if you can speak French.
“Repetez, s’il voul plait.”
“Repeat, please.” French can be dizzying to listen to, especially if it’s spoken quickly. You’ll be saying this a lot if you’re new to Paris.
Usually, you’ll be adding “Plus lentement,” which translates as “more slowly.”
If you’re slow, you’ll also get mileage out of “Encore un fois.” “One more time.”
“Comment dit-on ___ en Francais?”
“How do you say ___ in French?” This phrase is going to be very useful for you, especially if you think you can get around Paris easier if you use French more than English.
“Je ne sais pas.”
“I don’t know.” You will be using this a lot.
Finally, we’ll have two related phrases. The first is “J’ai une question” and the second is “J’ai un probleme.”
The first translates as “I have a question” and the second is the more severe “I have a problem.” Depending on the situation, you might want to use the second over the first.
There are, of course, other phrases that you’ll want to learn. However, these should be enough to help you get through being a tourist in Paris.