Useful French phrases, words and etiquette
Know that English will be close to useless in France. In Paris, in touristy areas, there may be a few English speakers. Once, we saw a Japanese-French phrase book with some pictures and drawings. Try something similar for English to French. Here we provide our very own Parisian French idiomatic expressions and phrases you won't find in most learned phrase books. Our objective is to make you sound like a true born and bred in Paris in no time. A few cultural pointers will prove handy. You will be able to look and sound the part for at least the first few seconds of the conversation.
Shaking hands and kissing (La bise)
You must try to shake hands at every opportunity, especially among men and boys. Kisses are only between female and male, and female and female Parisians. Men kiss only if they are relatives or have known each other for a long time, or are gay. If a man kisses you (and you are another man), and you hardly know him, that does not necessarily mean that you have scored points, so don't get your hopes up. A firm hand shake and firm look into the other person's eyes between men, with an accompanying pat on the shoulder and ça va? (how goes?).
Kiss only once on each cheek. Technically this is not a wet kiss, but more of a rub of cheeks, starting with the right cheek. Move quickly to the next cheek unless you're flirting. Only kiss twice, or run the risk of being derided as a provincial (provincial), i.e from the French countryside. In Paris, we kiss only twice, outside of Paris they do it four or even six times, but let them.
Paris and the French Desert (Paris et le Désert Français )
You may have heard or read that Parisians have an attitude. Rightly. Parisians justly believe that Paris is the centre of France, although the capital city is really located in the north central part of the country...
It is an attitude to be a Parisian. There is a Parisian accent that the provincial like to mock but cannot quite imitate. How to define? Vague amusement, or outright disdain for anything provincial. Except for the foods and wines of course, as Paris does not raise any geese for foie gras, but does cultivate grapes for wines (see our blog on Paris vineyards).
So the country bumpkins are called péquenot. They are slow and clueless when surrounded by aggressive and perfumed Parisians. Conversely, Parisians are thought as scornfully arrogant and vain by the rest of France.
There are also those who say they are from Paris, whereas in fact they come from the banlieue (suburb). Every now and again, when they are fed up with Parisian haughtiness, people from the banlieue fall down on the city with some well deserved tyre and car burning and rioting.
Complaining in Paris (Se plaindre)
There may be some French people who do not complain for everything, but they must be living outside of Paris. To pass for a true local, you should complain for anything.
Start with the weather, too cold, too hot, too wet, or too depressing. Move on to bad service (that's an easy one). Grève (labour strike) is also another favourite, in particular public transport (bus, metro, trains, air traffic controllers etc.).
A few choiced swear words are in order: p'tain (whore), fait chier (this makes me want to s***), and of course do not underestimate the ubiquitous merde (s***).
Facial expression is also key to expressing discontent. Here's how: inhale deeply (but discreetly), make a pout, now exhale air evenly with a puffing sound through your tight lips. That's it, you're on your way to becoming a true Parisian.
A l'envers (backwards) becomes verlan (wardsback). Born in the banlieue and the cités (the low income housing ghettos surrounding Paris), verlan consists of inversion of syllables. Verging on slang, it can be used with relative ease and is not considered particularly rude.
We can assure you that even advance French learners textbooks won't give you the phrases and idioms we provide here. The mainstream guidebooks don't usually discuss verlan, but no doubt they will eventually cut and paste from our pages.
In Paris, verlan is a must if you want to look the part. Incidentally, you won't understand what people jibe if you don't know the basic verlan expressions.
Start easy by peppering your conversation with relou (heavy, annoying) and complaining profusely. Talk about going to a teuf (party). If you want to play it cool, keep on uttering laisse béton (forget it) with a jaded look. In no time, you will start forming complex sentences such as: C'est mega relou, j'suis trop véner, mais laisse béton (it's mega annoying, I be annoyed, but forget it...)
Bonjour - Good day (greetings)
Au revoir - Goodbye
Oui - Yes
No - Non
Merci - Thank you
Moi - Yes
Vous - You (polite)
Toi - You (familiar)
Où est... - Where is...
Je ne suis pas du cru - I am not of this wine year (not from around here)
Ca va? - How goes?
Ca va... - It goes...
Monsieur - Sir/Mister
Madame - Madame
Mademoiselle - Miss
French Chit Chat
Pas mal - Not bad
Vachement - Extremely (+adjective)
Super cool - Super cool
Cher - Expensive
Pas cher - Cheap
Goûtu - Delicious (for food)
Moeuf - chick
Koeuf - cop
Véner - annoyed
Teuf - party
Toi et moi - you and me
T'es mignon - To show appreciation for a man
T'as de beaux yeux - You have pretty eyes (old fashion pick-up line)
C'est l'amour - This is love!
Je t'aime - I love you!
French idioms to express discontent
Nobody complains as much as French people. True but Parisians are the whiniest among Frenchmen. We like to express our discontent given any opportunity, this is assuredly at the heart of true Paris culture. Do not hesitate to make a fuss and bicker if service is inadequate, or simply if you feel like nitpicking.
Caca - pooh (milder form of merde, also the little gifts left by Parisian dogs)
Merde - s****
Putain, chier! - whore, s***
Merde in France - merde in France (this is a famous French song)
Other useful French expressions
Au secours - Help!
C'est la vie - That's life!
Téléphone maison - Phone home