Breaking the ice: How speaking French can help you connect with locals and make the most of your solo travel experience in Paris

A little effort goes a long way towards having a positive experience as a tourist in Paris.

Paris is the most popular tourist destination in the world, attracting over 30 million visitors each year. To a city of just over 2 million residents, the influx of tourists can be overwhelming. Parisians have a reputation of being rude and standoffish to tourists. But learning some basic words and phrases in French will ensure you have positive interactions throughout your trip. Parisians are not expecting tourists to speak fluent French, but to understand local customs and behave politely. These basic French words and phrases will help you form small yet meaningful connections with the Parisians you engage with during your next vacation!

5 key French words and phrases for standing out among tourists in Paris

  • Greet shopkeepers with “Bonjour!” when you enter. This is a sign of politeness in Paris, so tourists who do not start off their visit to a shop with this greeting will be viewed as rude and not treated kindly by the staff. This is true whether you’re entering a patisserie, clothing shop, or any small establishment.
  • Likewise, say goodbye when you leave a shop. In French, this is “Merci, au revoir,” or “Thank you, goodbye.” You should say this whether or not you made a purchase, as you’re thanking the employees for being present and knowledgeable to help with anything you needed during your visit.
  • At shops, restaurants, or asking for help navigating the streets of Paris, remember to be polite in your questions! “S’il vous plait,” or “please,” is an easy phrase to tag onto any request. For example, at a café you should tag this phrase on to the end of your order – “Un cafe, s’il vous plait!” (A coffee, please!)
  • If you need to interact with a store employee and want to know if they speak English, say, “Desolé.e, parlez-vous anglais?” which means “Sorry, do you speak English?” In a big city like Paris, most (but not all) people you encounter will speak English in addition to French. If they tell you “non,” consider options like using Google translate or a similar app to communicate.
  • Thank people for the help they provide! Say “Merci” with a smile after someone points you in the right direction, helps you buy a metro ticket, or shows you where an item is in the store. Remember, you’re a guest in a city where people actually live and work, so being gracious towards the locals will help you have positive moments throughout the day.

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Aliyah is a scientist, writer, and advocate for inclusion in STEM. She currently works in the Boston biotech scene. A fan of traveling, board games, college sports, and reality TV, you can engage more with Aliyah on Twitter @YourTurnAliyah.

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