Immersion is one of the most satisfying parts of any holiday. Learning the language and engaging with locals uncovers hidden gems unavailable to other travellers and shows respect for local customs and people. And, as travel writer Ben Groundwater notes in his The One Thing blog, the locals will respect you much more in return if you make the effort to try and speak the language.
Here are our five essential phrases – aside from bonjour – that every holidaymaker should know before coming to France and why they are so useful.
1. ”Lentement s’il-vous-plait”
Perhaps the most useful phrase on our list – this means ‘slowly please’. If you have enough French to get by, locals can assume a high degree of fluency and speak to you at speed. Saying this lets them know that you understand them but would like them to take their time. Alternatively, you can say“s’il vous plaît, parlez doucement” – this literally translates to ‘please speak softly’ and is a more colourful way of getting people to change their speech.
2. ”Pouvez-vous m’aider s’il vous plait? J’ai une urgence!”
This means “Will you help me, please? I have an emergency!” If you are injured, hurt or confused, this can quickly let people know you need help. When it comes to travelling in France, it is essential to hold relevant travel insurance that factors any risks inherent to the area you are staying in. This can include evacuation insurance for climbing the Alps, accident and injury coverage for jet-skiing at Antibes, or collision coverage if you decide to drive your way around the winding Loire Valley. While finding comprehensive and affordable coverage can be difficult taking an afternoon to quickly compare prices online can help save valuable time and expense in the long run.
3. “Excusez moi de vous déranger, mais-“
Etiquette is everything in France and being able to say “Sorry for disturbing you, but-“ shows clear respect to the person you are addressing. This lets you ask for help from locals, helpdesks, or concierges at your chosen accommodation. No matter where you are, taking the time to be polite will always end up in you receiving more help than if you butted in. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do!
4. ”Je voudrais parler français”
One of the many reasons people travel is to embrace the culture of the countries and cities they pass through. While France is warm and welcoming, citizens will commonly switch to speaking to you in English if they think you’re struggling with the language. Being able to say “I would like to speak in French” lets them know that you want to learn and improve your vocabulary. This is best used judiciously, however, as stumbling over your tenses can take time away from a patient citizen’s day.
5. “Je ne peux pas manger…”
A final lifesaver, this means “I cannot eat” and allows you to list any items that you would like removed from your meal or menu. Some useful essentials include:
Les fruits de mer: Shellfish
Les cacahuètes: Peanuts
If you do have intolerances or allergies, always make your servers aware of them at the start of a meal and validate that they have indeed been taken away.