Getting on with the French

It’s really easy to open doors in France if you know how

Hi Frugalistas!  I’m off to France in the next few days. As a frequent traveller there, I’m often asked by friends and work colleagues how I get on with the French and don’t I find them difficult/intimidating/rude and every other stereotype we can all imagine!

My answer is always a resounding NO! Here’s how I travel independently and survive and thrive among the French:

1. No matter how embarrassed you are and how terrible your accent is, you must attempt some French, and speak it with a smile. If you can say bonjour (bon-zhor), s’il vous plait (sill voo play) and merci (mare-si) instead of hello, please and thank-you and do it with a smile you will be richly rewarded with smiles, English, good service and a very pleasant experience. Manage a bit more, and you will be practically adopted and awarded the Legion of Honour. For some reason, French people seem very fond of Australians (Os-trar-lee in French) so make the most of it – assuming that’s where you come from of course. Make no effort, and your trip can be a complete waste of time and money, apart from reinforcing the Paris stereotype in your mind.

2. Under no circumstances attract a waiter’s attention by clicking your fingers and/or calling garcon. Your attempt at reinforcing French stereotypes will be ignored, you will get terrible service, and you will just reinforce the stereotype some French have that English speakers are all loud oafs with bad manners.

3. Don’t expect your waiter or salesperson to become your new best friend. It just doesn’t work like that in France. If you experience it in your travels, treat it as a gift. The better your French, the better your chance of receiving it –

I once had a talk to a very handsome young French salesman, having bought a single pair of sunglasses, and was just about carried out of the shop on his shoulders to the sound of a marching band. He also went around the shop telling everyone how well Madame spoke French and generally making a terrible fuss (my French is definitely not that good!)

Experiences like that cost nothing (I had already bought the pair of glasses anyway), yet can remain lasting memories and really add to the enjoyment of your trip.

4.  Look like you belong there.  That means dressing the part, and not looking like a tourist.  Leave the white gym shoes, shorts, fanny packs/bumbags, backpacks and all the other tourist acoutrements at home.  French people dress conservatively and well.  Sensible flat shoes, plain, well cut trousers and sweaters/jumpers and a jacket will see you blend in and look like you belong there.  For women, this is the time to break out all the scarves, and feel free to wear as much black as you like.


I would love to hear your tips on how you get on with the French

Photo credits:  All author’s own


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12 Comments on “Getting on with the French”

  1. Monica Stott (@TheTravelHack) 16/04/2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Great tips here! I love travelling in France but I (very embarrassingly) don’t speak a word of French and I’m never really sure how to take the French. They’re all so cool and sophisticated!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 18/04/2012 at 12:38 am #

      Glad you liked the post! Yes they are cool and sophisticated but I think it’s really important not to let them see or sense your fear! Confidence is everything I find!

  2. Jenn LeBow 24/04/2012 at 8:04 am #

    Great post. I love the French, too! I don’t think they’re rude, just honest. 🙂 I think the best rule to remember is to always give a cheerful greeting (in French if possible) when you enter a shop before trying to ask for what you want. It’s amazing how much easier things are if you offer a “Bonjour, Madame” before saying anything else. Plus, I try to remember that we’re not all that keen on people who can’t speak any English when they visit here. That is a two-way street.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/04/2012 at 1:50 pm #

      I’m in total agreement with you! It’s interesting – I’m in France at the moment and all they want to do in Paris is speak English to me. I’ve had to escape to the alps to be ‘allowed’ to speak French!

  3. thereandbackagainblog 29/04/2012 at 2:55 am #

    I LOVE France…it is kind of like an addiction for me. I crave it when I haven’t been there recently enough, and I didn’t think that ANYONE was at all rude to us, even in Paris.

    I love the fact that the French don’t expect you to make small talk or chit chat with them (and we were amazed at how quiet the metro was in Paris because of this). They only talk when there is something important to say, which I find refreshing.

    I love your blog! I found it through the Newbie Travel Blogger group on TBU. Great blog! Keep up the good work!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 29/04/2012 at 4:00 am #

      Hi and thanks for the feedback! I’m literally as I write on my way back from France and italy, and have got lots of good material for future blogs.

      Personally I agree with you about the French and think they have changed over the last 10 years or so. This trip it was particularly noticeable that they wanted to speak English with me all the time – especially in Paris. Annecy in the French alps was about the only place I visited this time where they ‘let me’ speak French!

  4. Vivien L. 15/06/2012 at 12:21 pm #

    I have had nothing but great experiences with the French while in France last year. I started French classes with a tutor 3 months prior to our trip and so I was able to speak very basic French but I used every opportunity I had to practice my new-found language skills and was greatly rewarded. The receptionist at our hotel was a stern-looking lady that seemed unfriendly (I saw her speak rather impatiently in English to a bunch of tourists who were, to her credit, asking some rather dumb questions in very loud English) but on our first morning, I greeted her in French as we left the hotel with ‘Bonjour and Comment ça va?’ and she was my best friend for the rest of our stay. She even put up very patiently with my stodgy French and conversed with me in French as she knew I was clearly trying to practice the language. At Tours, while waiting for our crêpes at a crêpe stand, the chef starting conversing with me in French. He congratulated me on my French skills, which I knew was limited but I remember feeling so proud of myself for carrying on an entire conversation in the language. Same when we were driving through the Loire to Bourgogne, the lady at the till at the local supermarket was so chatty, friendly and patient with my poor language skills. As a result, my French improved tremendously in a short space of 10 days, and I have fond memories of these great experiences.
    I love the French and ‘La Vie Française’. The French are never loud, they know the important things in life and make time for it, and they may appear aloof but that’s because they respect your personal space.
    P/S Love your travel tips.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 15/06/2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Agree all round! Personally I’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences, except for one time when traveling with my husband who behaved badly and of course we were treated accordingly!

      Are you keeping up your lessons?

      • Vivien L. 15/06/2012 at 2:55 pm #

        🙂 Sounds like my hubby… LOL Yes, I have continued with my lessons. I recently tested at FLE Niveau B2. My tutor was wrapped coz she tells me I’m her favourite student… LOL I’ve been told it’s quite good to be at this level after only 1 year of classes. Quite pleased with myself, I must say.
        P/S – I’m in OZ too. From Melb, but still having the keys posted out to us by VIP. I think it’s an extra 30 dollars or so…?

      • frugalfirstclasstravel 15/06/2012 at 3:02 pm #

        Tres bien – quelle bonne etudiante! I’m level 3 (hoping to be level 4 very soon!) and have recently returned to lessons after many years off.

        I’m in Sydney – never seem to book a place where the keys are available in time to be posted out!

  5. holidayaddict23 07/11/2012 at 9:07 pm #

    I always attempt a wee bit of shockingly bad local language wherever I go! It always goes down well and it helps me learn! Definitely worked in France!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 08/11/2012 at 1:19 pm #

      Absolutely agree. It doesn’t matter where you are going to learning Please and Thank-you need to be on your to do list!

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting, much appreciated!

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