As the English language becomes more and more widespread, it is no longer necessary to learn French before you visit France. However, I have found that many Parisians are much more accommodating if you make at least a small effort to speak their language. Here are 10 need-to-know French words and phrases!
1. “Bonjour” = Hello
Parisian people use “bonjour” with every single person they come into contact with. It may seem silly, but neglecting to greet someone in France is the height of rudeness, so never forget it! Did you just walk into a store? Say “bonjour!” Did you walk past your host family on your way to your bedroom? “Bonjour!” Did you run back by them five minutes later on your way to the bathroom? Say it again! Don’t forget to change it to “bonsoir” if it’s evening.
2. “Pardon” = Excuse Me
Nobody says “excusez-moi.” Use “pardon” instead, whether you stepped on someone’s toe in the metro or you’re squeezing through a crowd in front of the Notre Dame.
3. “Ça va!” = multiple meanings
As a question, it means “how’s it going?” As an answer, it means “It’s going fine.” If you add “bien” on the end, it means “it’s going great!” Remember this phrase, it’s used all the time.
4. “Merci” = thank you
Always say thank you. Just because your mom isn’t around doesn’t mean you can forget your manners.
5. “Je voudrais…” – I would like…
The easiest way to order your food. Say this first, then just add in the name of whatever you want.
6. “Où est le metro?” = Where is the metro?
If you are lost, this is probably easier than asking for actual directions. Ask where the metro is, and then figure out where you are using the maps inside the station. Don’t forget to say “bonjour” first when you stop someone on the street!
7. “gauche” and “droit” – left and right
Know these so you actually understand when someone tries to answer #6.
8. “Désolée” = sorry
This isn’t to be used casually. In English, we often say “sorry” when we really mean “excuse me.” “Désolée” truly means sorry, so use it as an apology when you forget to shut the window in your homestay, or you accidentally short someone a couple of Euros at the bakery, not when you bump into someone on the street.
9. “Bonne journée” = have a good day
It’s always appropriate to say this when you’re saying goodbye to your host family, a store owner or a waiter/waitress.
10. “Oui/Non” = yes/no
It seems obvious, but these are the most important words on this list. Even if you don’t speak a word of French, being able to answer with “oui!” should earn you at least a few points with any Parisian, and a firm “non!” will usually deter even the most aggressive of street vendors.
The world awaits…discover it.