Tips for Tourists in Paris: Part 3
Language and Politeness
You are now in France. Not America or England. People here speak French and are very proud of their wonderful culture and language. Imagine if you were in their situation: how would you like it if someone came up to you and just assumed you spoke fluent French in America?
A few polite words will get you a lot further, and the effort to try makes a HUGE difference to them. If you are too embarassed to say one or two words, they won't assume it is your hang up--they will consider you rude and insulting. They'd rather hear you butcher a "merci" than assume that they will cater to you, even though they likely speak some English, and quite possibly one or two other languages as well. Even if your accent is terrible, it's the effort that counts.
Think of it this way: by speaking a few words of French, you are showing them that people from your country are polite, care about others' feelings, are worldly, and considerate. Come on, represent us well!
Here's a few words that should help:
- Merci. (mare- see) This means thank you. Say it often.
Bonjour, Monsieur/Madame. (Bone- joor Miss-yuh/ Ma Dam [not MA-dum]) ALWAYS start with this. Even if all you are doing is asking for the bathroom or simply walking in the door. It is considered very, very rude to not say Bonjour.
Les Toilettes? (Lay Twa let) To be pointed to the bathroom. Don't say the "s".
Au Revoir. (oh ri-vwa) Goodbye. Always say this, too, even if you don't buy something in the shop. Again, it's another thing they consider extremely rude. They don't care as much if you don't purchase something, but if you don't say "Au Revoir" it's almost like a slap in the face to them.
L'addition. (Lad is see ohn) To get the check at a restaurant, say this. They don't just bring it, like they will in America, unless you are having just a drink at a café, when they usually bring it along with your drinks.
Parlez-vous anglais? (Par-lay voo on glay?) Do you speak English? They will probably answer, "A leetle beet!" and hold up two fingers like they are showing a small amount. My dad thought this was hilarious--everyone he asked did the exact same thing!
Je ne parle pas français. (zhuh nuh parl pah fran say.) I don't speak french. (They'll probably figure it out from your bewildered look, but it's polite to know how to say it.)
Pardon. Excuse me. To be used when you bump someone.
Désolé. (Day zo lay.) Sorry!
Paris is full of wonderful museums, and no trip would be complete without visiting some of them. Don't plan on seeing everything, unless you have a death wish (there's just too much!) Plan accordingly, with stops for snacks, lunch, etc., and try to pace yourself. Too long spent at any museum is just tiring, and (as my Dad, who loves museums, said,) "you'll get museumed out." A few hours, followed by lunch and then a different activity, will be much easier to swallow.
Here's some other things that can help you.
- Paris Museum Pass These can be a good deal if you are planning to do lots and lots of museums in a few days. I don't like to do this (see the above comment by my dad), so to me it's not worth the cost, but you'll have to decide for yourself. They do get you past the lines, though, which helps.
If you can, buy your museum tickets ahead of time online, at FNAC (sort of the french version of Barnes and Noble), at the train guichet, or ask your hotel where you can get them. The lines can be really, really long.
Use the bathroom when you see it. You may not see one again for a while. Bathrooms are not as plentiful or well-placed as they are in America. The sewer system was not put in the city of Paris until 1858, though the majority of buildings in the tourist areas predate that time by hundreds of years. Toilettes are often sous-sol, or underground, down a narrow winding staircase. Unisex bathrooms are common, and unisex sink areas are to be expected. Stalls will usually have a full door, so no one will peek under!
See Part 4 for Money Saving Tips for the City of Light!