The Five Phrases Tourists Must Know Before A Trip To France, According To Rick Steves

Maybe you've heard that people in France get annoyed when you visit but don't speak their language. Perhaps that oft-repeated chestnut has even kept you from taking that dream trip to this beautiful country. Everyone is different, and while some people might be fine with you not knowing a word of French, others can certainly seem unhappy about it. Either way, learning a few words is something travel expert Rick Steves says to always do before traveling abroad. It's a mark of respect, but you certainly don't have to be fluent. From Steves' website, he recommends you learn at least five specific phrases to help you on your travels. Even if you have a last-minute business trip to Paris, these words and phrases are easy to learn. In fact, you may know some of them already. 


Don't worry, we're not talking about reading Albert Camus books to prepare to see the Eiffel Tower and Versailles. These are simple things like saying "pardon me," "hello," and "goodbye," as well as "please" and "thank you." Steves suggests that you'll get better treatment if you use these phrases while visiting France. Even a good-faith attempt goes a long way. In addition, we have a few more words and phrases that you can add to this list if you have more time and the inclination to learn. We've also got some additional tips to help you navigate through a country that speaks a language different from your own. 

The five phrases you should learn before visiting France

Steves wrote on his website that you should learn to say "bonjour," which means "good day." You may know this one, but if not, it's pronounced "bohn zhoor." If you feel like you sound too American, try saying the word with a French accent. Silly or not, it's probably going to get you closer than you might otherwise be. To say "goodbye," say "au revoir." It's pronounced "oh rev wah." Steves also recommends you learn to say "pardon me," which is an easy one. It's "pardon," pronounced "par duhn" with the tiniest suggestion of an "n" sound at the end. He mentions that you'll use this a lot on public transportation, but you'll also say this on the street to get someone's attention and to squeeze through crowded tourist spots. 


To say "please," you'll say "s'il vous plaît." Don't be intimidated by the accent marks. It's pronounced "see voo play." "Thank you" is "merci," or "mare see." To greet someone, you can say "bonjour, madame" or "bonjour, monsieur" for "ma'am" and "sir" (madame is pronounced like it is in English, and monsieur is pronounced "mis yur"). Then, simply replace "bonjour" with "au revoir" when you leave.

We also suggest a few other phrases, like "Parlez-vous anglais?" which means "Do you speak English?" (It's best used once you've said "pardon.") It's pronounced "par lay voo ahn glays." Another important one is "Où sont les toilettes?" which means "Where is the bathroom?" (Oo sohn lay twah let).

Other tips for being understood in Paris

An attempt to speak French in France will go a long way, even if you're not good at it. Your accent doesn't have to be perfect. After all, even if someone said "hello" and a few other words in English with a French accent, you would still know what they meant. You can also use hand gestures to back up your words, like waving hello and goodbye, or a hand on your heart while saying "thank you." It's also important to pay attention to context. Are you in a restaurant? Is someone asking for help? A lot of things are communicated without words. Numbers or prices can be written down. Even a simple smile can go a long way. 


If you really need to communicate past a few phrases, however, tourists traveling abroad to France or anywhere else can use Google Translate's phone hacks for a more stress-free trip. Simply download the app and let it access your camera. Hold it over text to instantly translate menus, labels, signs, and more. You can also do live translation on the app with conversation mode to quickly go back and forth between English and French speakers. Finally, if you have some time before your trip, an app like Duolingo can give you some more basics. Here are some more of the best language teachers for first time travelers