The two top essentials tips we can offer any first (second, or third...) time traveler to Paris on how to get along with the French? Is to learn/speak (at least some) French. How to Order Coffee? = In French! Bien sur!
Despite their reputation, the French are actually friendly and helpful. The key is to understand the simple cultural differences that can lead some to perceive the French as rude. If you go to Paris without learning anything at all about French customs and social behaviours then you will tend to behave in a way that the French perceive as extremely rude and they will reflect that rudeness back, while you have no idea where’s it’s coming from.
Some quick essentials:
Tu and Vous: French has two different words for you: "tu” and "vous”. These distinctions are very important - you must understand when and why to use each of them otherwise, you may inadvertently insult someone. Tu is the familiar you, which demonstrates a certain closeness and informality. Use tu when speaking to one friend, one peer or colleague, one relative, one child. "Vous” is the formal and plural you used to show respect or maintain a certain distance or formality with someone. Use "vous” when speaking to anyone you don't know well, an older person, authority figure, anyone you wish to show respect. "Vous” is also the plural you - use it when talking to more than one person, no matter how close you are. When in doubt, use "vous”. I'd rather show someone too much respect than not enough!
Mixing up your Greetings: The basic French greeting is "bonjour”, (hello, good morning, or good afternoon). When greeting someone in the evening (from around 6pm), you say "bonsoir” instead. To greet someone informally at any time of day, you can say "salut”, meaning hi. Be careful, as "salut” would only be used with someone you know and who is roughly your age or less.
TIP: If you really cannot speak French then make sure you at least greet them correctly in French and then ask 'Excuse-moi parlez-vous-anglais?' Meaning 'Excuse me, do you speak English?'
TIP: You will notice that ALL sales clerks offer you a Bonjour, its rude not to greet them back. Or better yet greet them first.TIP: When crossing paths with a stranger within your building, a verbal greeting is required (it’s rude not to), though this custom ceases as soon as you walk out of your building. Also, when entering a waiting room or boarding a bus, the French will mutter bonjour as a general greeting to address everyone within earshot.
The biggest piece of advice we can give is to try to speak more French. Speaking English to a Frenchman right off the bat in the assumption that English is spoken by everyone is seen as rude and inconsiderate. Always attempt to speak at least a little token French. ‘Bonjour! Parlez-vous Anglais?’ simply means ‘Hello, do you speak English?’ – this makes a huge difference. You will find the French will suddenly speak fluent English if you show a token effort.
But if you want to learn a little more than ‘Do you speak English?’ and FAST we HIGHLY recommend the Michel Thomas audio disks. In fact we swear by it! Put it on in the car on the way to work and you will learn to speak French without any memorizing, writing, homework or even trying for that matter. No pressure, just listening and ‘hearing’ what you're listening to. Its amazing how it sticks – the next thing you know your constructing sentences with so much ease you'll be surprised. Michel Thomas’ recordings are a practical and modern method of teaching. On Amazon. PURCHASE HERE
How to ORDER COFFEE in French
The fine art (or great Parisian Sport) of lingering for hours over one or many cups of coffee is one of the quintessential experiences. Here is how to order the coffee you want:
Je voudrais (I would like a) un (a) XXX, sil vous plait (please):
- Cafe (kuh-fay) is plain coffee with nothing added but it is strong - brewed like an espresso
- Cafe au lait (kuh-afy oh-lay) simply coffee with steamed milk.
- Cafe creme (kuh-fay khremm) is as it sounds, coffee served in a large cup with cream.
- Allonge - the French word for 'Americano'
- Cafe Noisette (kuh-fay nwah-zett) is espresso with a dash of cream in it. Noisette is Frech for Hazelnut.
Some other terms that will be useful when ordering a coffee or visiting a French cafe:
- Sucre (soo-khruh) - sugar. Since French coffees are so strong you many need ot ask for more sugar - 'Plus de sucre, sil-vous-plait (ploo duh soo-khruh see voo play)
- Chocolat chaud (shah-ko-lah show) Hot chocolate