Je suis très désolé, je ne parle pas français

Our attempts to learn French before we came here were less than successful. Not that we thought we would be able to become conversational in French, but we had hoped to pick up the basics. It didn’t happen. We both gained a basic vocabulary, but despite listening to French language tapes, the written word still does not sound like the spoken word to either of us.

We are able to communicate face to face, especially Paul, who has a facility with Spanish that is helping him with the French. Between our vocabulary and sign language we get along. Mostly, we get along because so many of the French people we meet have a good grasp of English. And under the right circumstances they are willing to use it.

Rick Steves recommends remembering the basic courtesies and he is correct. Always, you say Bonjour or bonsoir, madame or monsieur and merci beaucoups and au revoir. One other acknowledgment is, Je suis très désolé, je ne parle pas français. I am very sorry, I do not speak French.

This, we’ve found is an open sesame to good will and communication. Yesterday, waiting in line to purchase tickets to the Lascaux II caves, I saw this vividly demonstrated. Two couples in line ahead of me had very little French. They stumbled through a conversation with the purchase agent and both left with tickets which they were pretty sure were for the English language tour, but they weren’t sure. The purchase agent did not speak a word of English to them to ease their concerns.

When it was my turn I said ‘Bonjour, Madame. Je suis . . . .’ Immediately she smiled warmly at me, and said, ‘Ah, do you speak English?’ From there we communicated easily and I walked out certain that I had the tickets we wanted.

It is so simple. Be courteous, apologize for your poor French, and most French people who have English will use it. If they don’t have English they will still be polite and smile and make every effort possible to communicate with you.

We’ve had many English speaking people tell us how rude the French are. We’ve just not found it to be true.

Aurevoir, mes amies. Passez une bonne journée.

About Jean

I am a pastel artist. See my Website for more information.
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5 Responses to Je suis très désolé, je ne parle pas français

  1. KateB says:

    Actually, I think this IS an example of the rudeness of some French people about language. Though the purchase agent COULD speak English, she ignored the plight of the first group of people who “had very little French”. By your description, she made no attempt to assist them in English even though she could. Because you could speak a little more French, she then spoke to you in English. I think that’s just plain rude. Don’s experience from many years ago was similar…. he couldn’t communicate the address number in French. He asked, “Do you speak English” to which the taxi driver replied, ‘non”; Then he asked “Sprechen Si Deutsch?” and again the cabbie said, “non” but followed by, in very good English, “But I speak very good French”.

    • Paul says:

      They certainly are very proud of their language and culture. That sure can feel rude to us visitors when we’re trying to transact business. I always feel that when I speak French they switch to English to avoid having to hear my terrible pronunciation.

      One interesting result of this nationalistic pride is that France is filled with people/immigrants from all over the world and they all speak French. It is very different than the individuality of the US where everyone holds onto their own language and culture as long as possible. I don’t know if that’s bad or good, but it is different.

  2. Elli Dumont says:

    I begin to think that the French invented the phrase: Have a nice day! Exact translation of “Passez une bonne journee!”

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