Paris can seem scary to the average tourist. It’s not the herds of Peugeots careening around one-way streets or the plenitude of dog droppings on the sidewalks; it’s the Parisians.
Like New York, Paris is a busy place where most people are in a hurry. Parisians just don’t have time for the poor French of us tourists (ahem, travelers). In Paris you may find yourself getting lip from cab drivers, shop girls and pedestrians alike.
Here are the expressions I have found to be the most vital to survival in Paris. If you want pitchers of free water and perfectly baked baguettes, keep reading.
1. Greetings: bonjour and au revoir, merci
Manners are of utmost importance in France. Like almost as important as cheese. (Please don’t even get me started on the elaborate etiquette of French table manners.)
Upon walking into a store it’s polite to greet the shopkeeper, and a simple “Bonjour” is all you need. Make sure to say “bye” and “thank you” on the way out as well.
2. Un carafe d’eau
This is far and away the expression most critical to survival in France, at least for a thirsty American like myself.
Once while dining alone at the famed Café de Flore, I ordered an omelet and as the waiter walked away I shouted, “Et un carafe d’eau s’il vous plait!” Moments later, he returned with a large pitcher of complimentary tap water. The Scandinavians seated next to me turned and asked, “Excuse me, but how did you get that?”
And for after you’re done with the carafe, “Pardon, où sont les toilettes?” is “Excuse me, where is the bathroom?”
Note: ‘d’eau’ is pronounced just like ‘dough’.
3. Un baguette pas trop cuite, s’il vous plait.
If you are like me, you will often be seen ordering at boulangerie several times a day. And ingesting a scary amount of carbohydrates.
While there is some debate on whether baguettes are better cuite (well-done, if you will) and pas trop cuite (softer), it has seemed that most French people under 70 years old are ordered their baguettes ‘pas trop cuite’ these days. So if you aren’t a senior citizen I would follow suit.
4. Je prens…
‘Je prens’ translates to ‘I’ll take.’ Instead of looking like a witless buffon (cough, me) you can casually say, ‘Je prens le _______ ( insert dish name here),’ while gliding your finger down the menu.
5. Parlez-Vous Anglais?
This one’s a bit self-explanatory, but it’s polite to ask others if they speak English before unleashing a barrage of rapid-fire Anglais. Most Parisians, especially the younger ones, speak English quite well, but it’s still a good idea to ask.