03-10-2014

10 French phrases to experience real Parisian life during your stay

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It is not a classic French lesson but some original advice from a Parisian. If you want to experience Paris like a local, there are moments you should not miss : the early morning coffee, the metro, the "apéro" with your friends, the smell and colors of an open-air food market,...

I give you below 10 insider tips to understand the French culture and, more precisely, the Parisian way of life.


1) "Un café s’il vous plait!" ("A coffee please!") when ordering an espresso in the morning, seated at the terrace of a café.
Note that if you order "un café", the waiter will bring you an espresso. If you prefer an American coffee or a latte, ask for "un allongé" or "un café crème". To look like a real Parisian, ask if they have the newspaper, they usually have it at the disposal of the clients. Don’t get me wrong, seating and having a coffee at a terrace is not something Parisians do every morning but, when we have time, it is a break we appreciate before the hustle and bustle of the metro. It is not common here to drink a Starbucks coffee on the way ; in a rush, we’d rather have "un petit noir" aka "a short black" at the counter of a café and drink it in 2 or 3 sips.

2) "Puis je essayer cette veste en 40 ?" ("Can I try this jacket size 8?") when shopping in Le Marais.
In this area, you will find all the designer stores that set Parisian fashion trends. It is very important that you know that true Parisians NEVER shop on the Champs-Elysées. Note to check your size in French standards : they are different for both shoes (for example 6.5 is 39 in France) and clothes (8 is 40 here).

3) "On prend la 1 ou la 7 ?" ("Shall we take the 1 or the 7?") when checking the quickest metro ride to go to Le Louvre.
In Paris, the metro is the best way to get around, everybody uses it. However, if you want to get through this experience, remember to avoid changing in huge stations such as ’Chatelet’, ’Montparnasse’ and ’Saint Lazare’ and to never stop left on the escalator during rush hours. Finally, you can notice in this sentence that Parisians skip the word "ligne", i.e. "line"; simply saying “la 1” suggests the metro line 1.

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4) Un croissant au beurre s’il vous plait!" ("A buttered croissant please!") when ordering your breakfast in a "boulangerie", i.e bakery.
There are plenty of delicious pastries in France but the taste of a fresh plain croissant in the morning (when they have just been made) is a simple pleasure you have to experience. When you have a choice, always choose the "croissant au beurre" vs. the "croissant classique" : yes it means that there is more butter in it but there is no place for concession when it comes to croissants !

5) "Je tire ou je pointe ?" ("Should I shoot or point?") when playing pétanque on the banks of the canal.
"La pétanque" or "jeu de boules" is the French equivalent of the Italian game called "boccie". Real institution in the south of France, it recently became very popular among young people in Paris. In this game, "pointing" means to throw one’s bowl with the intent of stopping near the jack and "shooting" means to throw one’s bowl with the goal of knocking the opponent’s bowls out of play. Do you want to give it a try? There are a few places in Paris where you can borrow bowls for free.

6) "Bonjour, puis-je utiliser vos toilettes?" ("Hello, can I use your bathroom?") when entering in a café because you wish you can use their bathroom.
It happens to anyone and it will probably happen to you too : strolling in the streets or having a picnic on the banks of the river... and desperately want to go to the bathroom. To face this little issue, you have 2 options. If you feel adventurous, using public toilets in the street (there is no toilet in the Paris metro) is a solution if you find one and if it is clean enough to breathe inside. The second option consists in walking in a bar and asking the waiter, with a BIG smile : "Bonjour, puis-je utiliser vos toilettes?". If you don’t remember the entire sentence, start with "Bonjour!" and then switch into English. But keep in mind two rules : This won’t work without "Bonjour!" and the smile and it will never be a yes in busy places close to the Eiffel tower and Notre Dame.

7) "Un morceau de comté s’il vous plait." ("A piece of comté please") when replying to the question of the cheese seller "Avec ceci?".
It is the classic question you will have to answer in a food market or shops : the bakery, the fruit shop, the butcher, the wine shop etc... It means "anything else?". And, if you want to say "That’s all, thank you", the appropriate answer would be "Ce sera tout, merci". Note that I chose this example on purpose as the comté is a cheese you should taste, it is one of the French ’s favorite, loved by both children and adults.

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8) "Rendez-vous à 19h30 pour l’apéro" ("Let’s meet at 7.30pm for the apéro!") when texting your friends to meet up for a drink .
This simple phrase hides two crucial information to live like a Parisian : First, "l’apéro" is our favorite moment in the day, it is after work when you meet your friend to share a bottle of wine and some finger food. Secondly, 7.30pm is a classic time for the apéro and 8.30pm, a normal time for dinner in Paris.

9) "Santé!" ("Cheers!") when toasting before drinking.
The expression "Santé" means that you are toasting to health. You can also say "Tchin" or "Tchin-tchin" which simply refer to the noise of the glasses. Toasting and clinking glasses is a very popular tradition in France. And note that, as you clink glasses, you would be well advised to look everyone in the eyes if you want to avoid "seven years of bad sex"... a superstition that French people share with Germans!

10) The last one is not a phrase but a gesture : "Se faire la bise" means that we kiss each other on both cheeks when meeting someone... yes, even if it is the first time we meet. However, note that men rarely kiss each other except when they are close friends, they’d rather shake their hands, and that 2 women won’t give each other a kiss when they are in a relationship of subordination, a boss and her employee or a seller and a customer for instance.

You are now ready to come to Paris and experience real Parisian life !
A little bit more help? Check out our A friend in Paris offer !

PS: This post has been written by Justine, please excuse my English and consider that it gives you a foretaste of your trip to Paris.

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