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France for non-French speakers

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#1 Bart.

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:40 PM

My DH and I are going to Lyon for business in two months.

I've heard rumours that the French aren't known to be as civil to those who don't speak their language?  I know it's most likely an unsubstantiated stereotype, but I thought I'd check.

I can speak basic French, so I'll be okay, but my DH has absolutely no ear for languages and even though I'll be teaching him some simple phrases ( "parlez-vous Anglais" and "Non, je ne suis pas et touriste Américain" Tounge1.gif ) but they'll be pronounced terribly and he knows it.

He's really worried about it, especially as I won't be with him the whole time.

Does anyone have experience with this?

Thank you! original.gif

(Edited for grammar)

Edited by Bart., 26 January 2013 - 01:45 PM.

#2 Apageintime

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:46 PM

I have never had a problem in France using only basic phrases (although i think you'll pick it up quickly once you're there - I did).

Teach your husband at least hello, goodbye, please and thankyou, once he gets there he'll have no dramas.

I also really didn't think the French were rude at all to English speakers, I suspect it's a myth spread by the UK Tounge1.gif

#3 livvie7586

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:46 PM

my dad found as long as you could get across that you were aussie and not english, then you'd normally find someone to help (as in someone would try to get the point across in broken english, or would find someone who could help).  heaven help you if they thought you were english though (this was 20 odd years ago though, so things might have changed)

#4 Isolabella

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:46 PM

If you attempt to speak a few basic French phrases (and badly) they will speak English to you. If you go in speaking English to them they will pretend not to understand.

Me I am just oK in my speaking, so will have a small conversation and at the end they say in English that my French is good and what a good effort I made.

My dad on the other and is terrible and they can't switch to English fast enough with him.

As my family friends who are French have all said... They can not stand to hear their language butchered, but do not like it if you just assume they speak English.

I first went to France in 1990 and have been back many times, most recent Dec 2011.

#5 envs

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:48 PM

They're not overtly friendly, but if you show that you are trying to speak French, they will appreciate the effort.

I believe nearly all of the French speak some level of English so will be able to understand you.

Having said that, I found ppl from Nice and Cannes lovely.

#6 elizabethany

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:53 PM

I found that so long as you made the effort, they will usually speak english to you, even if your accent is terrible.  Going in only speaking English will get you ignored.

#7 Lucrezia Borgia

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:54 PM

You'll be fine..I found the French to be very friendly...as others have said if you attempt a few French phrases they will go easy on you...

#8 Isolabella

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:55 PM

My French is seriously basic. An 8wk beginners tourist course at the local adult education.

Teach ou DH very basic phrases like

Hello, goodbye, excuse me, thank you.

Who much?

That please? (Used in conjunction with pointing).

I am Australian ( not English or American).

And he should be fine.

Edited by lsolaBella, 26 January 2013 - 01:55 PM.

#9 Another one

Posted 26 January 2013 - 01:57 PM

My first night in Paris my sister and I went to a touristy little bistro on Sacre-Couer.  We both studies french at school (myself till Year 9) and attempted to say the french names for the menu items we wanted.

The waiter cut us short by saying "What do you want?" very curtly.  It has stuck with me and that was in 2004!  We never encountered that again though.  Through the whole of Europe everyone was lovely and helpful if you tried first.  (They didn't like some of the people we travelled with whose attempts to communicate came down to that well practiced (but ridiculous) theory - speak louder and drop your contractions and they will get it).

#10 Bart.

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:00 PM

Wow, thanks everyone!  I guess the rumours weren't unsubstantiated at all. Glad I checked.

Isolabella: I hadn't thought of, "how much" and "that please".  Will add it to the list.

#11 ComradeBob

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:02 PM

The rudest French people I found were Parisians, but then I tend to think that the rudest inhabitants of any country are those who live in the capital city.

As long as people know he's Australian, the non language won't be a problem for the majority of people. The myth about the French being rude to people who can't speak their language is mainly due to the hordes ofPoms who live so close by and can't speak their language with any degree of proficiency.

#12 Bart.

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:05 PM

laughing2.gif  So the first thing I teach him before even "bonjour" is "je suis Australien."   biggrin.gif

#13 ComradeBob

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:06 PM

And Bart, je suis australien & kangourou are good phrases to know as well  original.gif

ETA Bart snap, yes,very much so!

Edited by HappyNewBob!, 26 January 2013 - 02:07 PM.

#14 Isolabella

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:06 PM


Paris on our last trip was fine. I probably spoke the least amount of French on any trip.

Edited by lsolaBella, 26 January 2013 - 02:07 PM.

#15 Lucrezia Borgia

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:07 PM


#16 #YKG

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:10 PM

Too never had an issue in France with very very limited French. TBH like any other country I haveen to where English is second or non existent language that they appreciate at least the effort. A greeting in French and combination of hand gestures and drawings can help a lot.

I found it fun as after the greeting it was like playing cheraids lol

#17 BetteBoop

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:31 PM

QUOTE (lsolaBella @ 26/01/2013, 01:46 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
If you attempt to speak a few basic French phrases (and badly) they will speak English to you. If you go in speaking English to them they will pretend not to understand.

Me I am just oK in my speaking, so will have a small conversation and at the end they say in English that my French is good and what a good effort I made.

While I was trying to piece together a sentence from my highschool French, I had someone say to me "you speak very good English".

QUOTE (Bart. @ 26/01/2013, 02:00 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Wow, thanks everyone!  I guess the rumours weren't unsubstantiated at all. Glad I checked.

I found French people very friendly. They just don't appreciate people coming into their country and screaming at them in English with no attempt whatsoever to speak their language.

I doubt Australians would be any friendlier if someone came here and yelled at them in another language.

#18 Isolabella

Posted 26 January 2013 - 02:35 PM

I doubt Australians would be any friendlier if someone came here and yelled at them in another language.

very true. I have seen Germans try to speak loudly and slowly to the French and get nowhere.

Charades is always fun overseas. That and a few phrases in native language work well.

Favourite travel memory was a group of Italian boys just outside Venice try and pick up a group of German Grils..... Both groups using pigeon English as common language.

#19 au*lit

Posted 26 January 2013 - 03:21 PM

The French value good manners. If you show yourself to have bad manners (by French standards) you may encounter rudeness.

One of the biggest things is using a greeting before launching into a conversation or request. So if you walk in to any place of business (hotel, shop, restaurant) it's very important to greet the person you're dealing with. Always say 'bonjour monsieur/madame' (bonsoir in the late afternoon & evening) before asking for anything. It demonstrates to them that you aren't a barbarian and gets things off on the right note. Similarly, always say good bye when leaving.

So before he asks 'parlez-vous anglais?' he should always say 'bonjour' first.

#20 HRH Countrymel

Posted 26 January 2013 - 03:37 PM

Yeah... it isn't English speakers they don't like it is 'the English'!

I spent several months tootling all over France in my rust van and received nothing but charm. Neither I nor my travelling companions spoke beyond the basic one worders...

However I have a wonderful memory of visiting Paris as a child with my parents - Mum (with a British passport) spoke rather good French, my Dad (Australian passport) has the broadest strine imaginable and is also an epic mumbler - unless you know him very well and have your 'ear' in he is virtually impossible to understand and that is for native English speakers.

Every hotel we stayed at they refused to understand my mother when she was speaking French and would instead converse in English with poor old Dad instead.

It became the running joke of the trip.

Interestingly people on the street that we met (who hadn't seen Mum's passport) could all understand her very well and seemed to find her charming!

#21 dolcengabbana

Posted 26 January 2013 - 03:42 PM

DH and I went to France for our honeymoon and Italy, Spain, Turkey, Belgium, Netherlands, Greece.

The French were so wonderful to us as we're the Italians so helpful and kind DH uses a manual wheelchair and the would rush to assist us and free entry to every attraction we went to as a side bonus but our total lack of French or any other language wasn't an issue in fact they appreciated our very humble attempts to try and speak French but were gracious and invite us to speak English with them.

#22 Fabulous

Posted 26 January 2013 - 04:44 PM

I spent 1 week in an apartment in Paris in 2011 and I didn't speak one word of french whilst I was there. I found everyone to be very helpful and happy to speak English to me. Lots of people at the supermarket would start speaking to me in French but when I responded in English they appeared happy to change over.

#23 Feral-as-Meggs

Posted 26 January 2013 - 04:58 PM

Some of the "French are rude" thing comes because they don't consider it socially obligatory to smile at everyone automatically.  Also it's polite to greet the shopkeeper with a Bonjour Madame/Monsieur so when tourists skip that it put things on the wrong foot.

#24 blackcat20

Posted 26 January 2013 - 04:59 PM

Suppose I'd better keep my very English surname to myself by the sound of it.

#25 Bart.

Posted 26 January 2013 - 05:17 PM

Thanks again, everyone who responded!

au*lit, will be sure to do that and will remind my DH, too.  He'll say, "bonn-joo-wah" but it's better than nothing. Tounge1.gif  I suppose when you think about it, I always greet everyone with a "hi" so it makes sense.

CountryMel, that trip sounds fantastic!  Would have loved to have done something like that.  Maybe for retirement. biggrin.gif

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