Five Phrases to Talk Your Way Around Paris

~photo credits to Moyan Brenn

Astute travelers know that it’s polite to make an effort to speak the language of the country you are visiting.  Although natives of many countries, especially in Europe, may speak some English (from English classes in school and some of the British & American media they consume), they do not always meet the standards they expect of themselves and can be hesitant to speak to you in English.  However, if you respect their language and culture and make an effort to say just a few words or phrases, they will normally give you a smile and their best efforts. That said, here’s a brief list of five phrases to manage some independent travel time, whether you’re on a tour or traveling alone in Paris, France. 

  1. Je voudrais un sandwich et un coca light.  Food is essential, and ordering food in another country can often be extremely intimidating. What if you think you’re ordering a chicken salad and you get a steaming plate of octopus wrapped in bacon? That’s a communication issue. This shouldn’t be too difficult in France because, yes, the vocabulary for American food looks very similar to the English words. For this phrase, you really need to know the first two words je voudrais (je voo-dray) which politely means I would like. You may then insert any food you desire after that phrase.  
  2. Bonjour. Ça va? Following the politeness trend, this phrase includes the term for hello which is bonjour (bon-jur) and a common greeting of ça va (sa-va) meaning how are you? If someone says ça va to you, the simple reply is ça va! This is because the literal translation means how is it going; therefore, you may reply with it’s going. Don’t get too excited, not all French is this simple.
  3. Combien ça coûte? S’il vous plaît. Merci. At some point during your trip, you may want to buy something. This phrase, pronounced (com-bee-an sa coot), simply means how much does this cost? The second part, s’il vous plait (seal voo play), essentially means please and the third part, merci (mehr-see), means thanks. Politeness can make up for pronunciation or communication issues.
  4. Pouvez-vous m'aider? In the event of an emergency, this phrase, (poo-vay voo may-day), will work just fine. It means can you help me? If you just want to yell for help, then use a shorter version of aidez-moi (ay-day mwah) to just say help me.
  5. Je ne parle pas français. Parlez-vous anglais? Lastly, the traditional phrase I don’t speak French. Do you speak English? (je ne parl pah fran-say. Par-lay voo an-glay?) When in doubt, this phrase will surely get your message across and will most likely result in a positive response. If it’s too much for you to remember, you can keep it simple with parlez-vous anglais and the other person will understand that you don’t speak French.  Finally, hand gestures, body language, and pictures can go a long way to communicate what you need.

Thank you for reading and I hope this helps the next time you find yourself walking around the streets of Paris.

-Melanie Friese; Assistant Travel Writer/Editor