To get the most out of your trip to France, you have to connect with the locals – and the best way to connect is to speak their language. Even if you don’t speak French, in large cities like Paris, most locals speak a good amount of English. But if you walk up and try to start a conversation in English, they’ll likely be a little less than willing to help. So, start with the one word of French you must know to speak their language! Fortunately, learning a few easy phrases makes a world of difference.

It Starts With Bonjour

Always, always, always start every interaction with a French person with “Bonjour”, or “Bonsoir” if in the evening. To do otherwise is considered extremely rude. Asking directions? Say bonjour! Buying a baguette? Say bonjour!  If you’ve ever heard that the French can be rude, it’s probably because the person didn’t say bonjour!

Oh, and resist the temptation to say excuse me (excusez moi) before you say bonjour. You’ll just make the person wonder what you did wrong!

Then ask “Parlez-vous Anglais?” meaning, “Do you speak English?” Locals appreciate it when you at least attempt to speak their language, even if you’re terrible at it. Usually, they’ll answer with a smile and say yes or no.


Head’s up – In smaller French cities and towns, locals often speak little or no English. In these areas, you’ll want to have a translator handy. 

Apps Help!


Several smart phone apps are available for free downloads – Google Translate is one of the most popular. Using the app, you can download a language pack before your trip, so it won’t require data when you’re abroad. This is important because your U.S. phone plan likely charges exorbitant international data fees, and many phone apps require data.

With Google Translate, you can type in anything and it will translate from English to French and vice versa. You can also use your phone’s camera to hover over signs and menus and see a translation. This feature is extremely useful when you’re at a restaurant reading through “Le plat du jour,” or the daily special.

Speaking of food, you’ll want to check out these tips for eating in France.

And when you’re ready to end with a thank you, say “Merci”, then “au revoir” which means “See you again!”  Even if it’s someone at the train station who you know you’ll never see again!

If you want to sound like a local, you can also add goodbye with “Bonne journée” (pronounced bon joornay) and wish them a good day! Where there is a plan to meet up again soon, you can really impress them with your French by casually throwing out “À plus!” (pronounced Ah ploose) which is short for “See you later.”

Enjoy your trip and remember to sign up for our newsletters to receive insider travel tips and stories. Au Revoir!

 Blogger: Julie Snyder

Julie Snyder is a professional artist and also the programs director of Workshops In France.  A native of Scotland, she is a seasoned traveler who splits her time between California and France.  You can learn more about her role with Workshops in France here.

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