I’m going to France! Should I be scared about practicing my French with “rude” Parisians? What if I can’t understand them?

I’m going to Paris! I’m super excited!

As you should be! Paris is a wonderfully beautiful city with great history and more visitors per year than any other city in the world!

But…

What is it?

So the problem is, I’ve heard a lot of jokes about how rude and/or mocking French people can be if you don’t speak French well enough, and the idea of being condescended to or laughed at, or having someone switch to English after hearing my accent, is so scary to me that I don’t know how I’ll start any conversations with anyone at all.

This isn’t true. French people always appreciate people for trying instead of just defaulting to English, which actually does piss a lot of French people off.

Now, some people will hear non-native French and start speaking English, because they can be impatient if they think their English is better than your French (even if it may not be).

Heads-up: casual interactions that happen in restaurants can be both predictable and lacking in context. When you’re in a restaurant, it’s generally going to be pretty predictable what somebody is asking, even if you don’t know the words. For example, you order a steak and they ask about the “cuisson.” Maybe you’ve never heard this word, but with the context, it should be obvious what it means.

On the contrary, on a trip like this, you are more likely to have “one off” sentences that may lack context, and in these cases, you may not catch a single word. Don’t be discouraged! Even in my native language, I still have to ask people to repeat themselves. On occasion, music and lines in movies can be heard for me to hear, and I have many thousands of hours of exposure to English.

The best way to prepare for situations like this is to practice your listening! It’s a lot easier to respond if you know what you are responding to. FluentKey is an excellent tool to practice your listening. With our extensive video library, you can practice listening for context and using visual cues to improve how well you understand situations in your target language. Videos of increasingly challenging difficulty tend to have less context to understand the meaning of words, although you can still use tone and facial expressions to know how people are feeling!

So how rude are Parisians really?

In all my time in Paris, I have found that they are as polite to you as you are to them; however, there is a different standard in France/Paris of what is considered polite. The worst thing you can do is not begin a conversation with “bonjour/bonsoir.” If you don’t open with one of those two (depending on time of day), that may just ruin your whole conversation. I think most people who have a bad experience with Parisians don’t know this rule of common courtesy. Always open with “bonjour/bonsoir,” and I doubt you will encounter a Parisian you consider rude (excluding people in a hurry, like in any big city).

Oh, and passersby will consider it to be strange if you smile at them. Don’t smile at people you walk past. Keep your “resting jerk face” unless you’re engaged in conversation with somebody. This may also contribute to the “rude Parisian” stereotype, but trust me when I say they are not upset with you. But remember: always say “bonjour/bonsoir” or they actually will be upset with you!