How Speaking French Endears Americans In France
I lived in France for 6 years as a child with parents who spoke little French. When we moved to France, they didn’t speak any French (and neither did us kids) but of course, as the years went on, all of our French improved.
As an adult traveling in France, the best lesson I’ve learned from my parents is try speaking French even if you don’t know what the heck you are doing.
Americans have a reputation of coming off as arrogant to French people. And conversely, French people have a reputation of being mean to Americans. As I see it, this is mostly* just miscommunication.
How to get along with French people:
There is only one tip here and it’s to try to speak French. As a kid, this was no trouble for me but as an adult I’m not only way out of practice but new words have been invented. The internet, wifi, social media, laptops… those didn’t exist when I was a kid. Not only that, but I was a kid so I didn’t talk about going out to drinks or coffee or really almost anything I do now. I can still buy candy or ask where the nearest playground is but I’m less interested in those things now that I’m no longer nine years old.
So, long story long, I have a harder time getting by in France than I used to.
And this is what you do to get by. You say “bonjour”, you learn a few sentences that you might need and you try to speak french. About 90% of the time, the French person will watch you struggle and will start speaking English to you. And if they don’t, they will do their best to point you in the direction you are looking to go.
Of course, if you just walk in and speak English, more often than not, you will have a positive experience but I promise you that if you at least try to speak French, you will be much more welcomed. And not only that, you will get to be that much more part of the French culture. It’s win-win!
I realize that most Americans don’t speak a lick of French. And I truly believe that’s fine. Get yourself a guide book, set yourself up with Google Translate and just give it your best shot. Don’t be embarrassed that you don’t know what’s going on. I know speaking French is tough and you will most likely mispronounce every word. Just try. Even if that only means saying “Bonjour”. Or if you can only say a very few words. It’s worth it.
*I say mostly because I’ve definitely seen both Americans and French people behaving badly.