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.