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Paris and the French

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1. Posted by kar1181 (Full Member 21 posts) 11y

kar1181 has indicated that this thread is about France

I'm just curious what experiences other English speaking travellers have had in Paris, particularly when they as ignorant of the French language as I am :(

I can speak passable German, but I know at best half a dozen French phrases. I'm just a little worried I'm going to come across as some ignorant Aussie and get treated rudely.

Is this just a stereotype? Or does it really happen to English speaking travellers who have little command of French?

I'm only spending a couple of days in France, more so than anything to have a little bit of a rest before hopping over to Ireland. I just intend to do the typical tourist nonsense really, the eiffel tower, the lourve etc, so will I be able to get by without being handicapped by my linguistic inadequecies?

Any reassurance would be welcomed :)

Cheers,
Aaron.

2. Posted by angela_ (Respected Member 1732 posts) 11y

If your staying in Paris the whole time, you shouldn't get into much trouble. Just use what you know in French and the rest in English. That's what I did when I was there last. Lots of bonjours, mercis and au revoirs and the rest was English.

3. Posted by Peter (Admin 5789 posts) 11y

Possibly my worst experience with such things was at Charles de Gaulle airport. I went up to the information booth (yes, the one at the INTERNATIONAL airport) to ask what was the best way to get to Gare du Nord from there. I asked in English, but got an earful back at me in French. Ok, I can understand some French and get by reasonably well even, but that took me by surprise. I was expecting to have to speak French as much as possible in Paris, but wasn't expecting it at the airport! Anyway, from then on I just did my best in French and if I didn't know asked 'Parlez Vous Anglais?' to try to save my day.

Use your dozen phrases as often as possible I say! Don't be afraid to embarass yourself.

4. Posted by stevieh (Respected Member 611 posts) 11y

Aaron,
I found Paris to be significantly better than elsewhere in France (where they generally don't like it if you don't speak much french).
I speak what I call "Holiday Standard" French, which means I can just about order meals and buy things in shops. I didn't struggle in the restaurants and the waiters didn't make me feel too stupid when I got it wrong. Paris is far more cosmopolitan than rural (or even tourist) France, so they are more used to it and chilled about it.
That said, you will always come across someone who doesn't give a damn and makes you feel bad. Just make the effort and you'll be fine.

5. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 11y

Peter, I went to the information booth at Orly, asked for directions in French, and got "Take that elevator" as a reponse. That was it. If I wanted to get to my hotel, then all the advice she had for me was "take that elevator".

Same thing in the Metro. "How do I get to xx station?". Only to be told "Change at Pasteur". Have you seen the Metro map? Holy Moley! I stared at the guy with my mouth open.

I then stuck to asking people on the street for directions, and they couldn't have been more helpful or friendly. Just making the effort should get you by - it's like showing respect for the language and people of the country you're visiting, and the people are then more than happy to help.

6. Posted by Gelli (Travel Guru 2457 posts) 11y

Have you seen the Metro map? Holy Moley!

You don't like their map?? Or alternatively, how would you change it [serious question]

7. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 11y

No, no. It's just our Metro here in Montreal is made up of only 4 lines and is about a tenth of the size of the one in Paris. I took one look and thought - oh my god, how am I going to get around?

I suppose I was expecting the guy behind the wicket to take out a small map and trace my route for me, or at least provide a few more details. I just thought "Pasteur? What's Pasteur? Then how do I get there??"

After a few rides I caught the hang of it. In all honesty, the people who work the transit system here are probably worse. My point was just that the best people to ask for directions while in Paris are the Parisians on the street.

8. Posted by Gelli (Travel Guru 2457 posts) 11y

Ah, ok, sorry!! It was professional curiosity as much as anything else, as although not the Paris one (yet), i'm responsible for producing similar style maps in many places across Europe, and am always open to ideas/thought/input!

Admittedly London, Paris and Berlin in particular can be major shocks to allot of visitors due to sheer size/complexity, but there's not too much that can be done about that!

9. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 11y

No problem! The Metro map was intimidating, but it's about as clear as it can get. There's like a Metro stop on every other street corner - no wonder it's so huge!

10. Posted by angela_ (Respected Member 1732 posts) 11y

I thought the Paris Metro map was pretty easy to read. But then again, if you've ever seen a Reykjavik road map, you'll most likely panic.
My friend has a rule in France. She doesn't speak any French so she starts off by speaking Icelandic and then everyone is very willing to speak English.