Je Ne Regrette Rien

Oh. Oh, no. I’m afraid of Paris, where I will be for long enough that I would starve if I tried to stay in my apartment without communicating in French. Oh, French people. Je suis désolé that my French is so terrible.

But! Maybe you’ve been to France. Have you? Tell me where I should go to test my sub-par linguistic skills.

Merci. Je suis tellement faim.

*Photo from Oh Happy Day where Jordan has the Paris Scoop.

42 thoughts on “Je Ne Regrette Rien

  1. Absolutely anywhere, darling! The thing I loved best about Paris when I visited before is that if you make an effort – for example remember to say “Bonjour” when you enter a shop/restaurant and try your best to speak French when you can – they will make an effort with you. Someone will come to your rescue.

    Also, at the restaurant this phrase will save you “Qu’est-ce que vous recommandez?” And then just agree to whatever they say. Trust me. Best meals I’ve ever eaten happened that way.

    And at the bakery, if you order two of something you don’t have to remember the gender. “Deux pain au chocolat, s’il vous plait”


  2. One tip I found useful when trying to speak to people in Paris: be super-polite. Use ‘Mademoiselle/Madame/Monsieur’, ask them how they are *before* you ask them to do anything for you, etc.

    E.g.: if you are at a restaurant looking for a table, you don’t say “Je veux un table pour deux” you say “Bon soir Madame, comment ca va?… Je voudrais un table pour deux, s’il vous plait, est-il possible?” or similar *even if you think your French is terrible*. Make it obvious you’re making an effort.

    This worked for me last time I was in Paris. Bonne chance!


  3. You might be less nervous about speaking French if you choose to forget a few rules. Mine are, choose a gender and stick to it. You don’t have time to remember that apples are feminine but grapes are masculine – as a feminist, I just go with “la” as my all-purpose article;) Same with “tu” and “vous”, but in the interest of politeness, I’d go with the later! And try a bike tour of the city if you have time – that way you can see the highlights and decide where you want to go back to later. I did a Fat Tire tour years ago (looks like they are still running, with mostly American university students as guides) and loved it.


  4. At a restaurant the waitress had a small amount of English and I had an even smaller amount of French. She was trying to think of the English word for the special of the day, she thought it was “spiders” in English. So we both looked it up in my phrase book and had a big laugh together. I happily ordered the SWORDFISH as my first meal in Paris.


  5. I have not been to Paris. However, if I were to go to Paris, I’d head right for the catacombs for a tour. I’m sure you would need French for that.


  6. I second everything everyone said above. Be polite. Make the effort to speak French, even if it’s terrible, even if you only have half the words you need, and they will work with you. Parisians hate the entitled Americans who walk around like Americans and expect everyone to cater to them in English. (And, I mean, it’s understandable.) But I found they were so kind and helpful when I simply made the effort. You will love it there! Eat pain au chocolat for me!


  7. I’m making my first trip to Paris, and I already have 25 iPhone apps with everything from “How to Speak French in a Cafe” to a GPS to guide me to the Eiffel Tower. And one of the best thing about all these years blogging, Twittering, and Instagramming is that I now “know” a dozen Parisians, or at least their avatars. I think the days of the French getting pissy at the typical American’s poor language skills are over, and English is pretty common. If you really want to get dirty looks, you don’t go to Paris. You go to Montreal.


  8. Sigh. I LOVED Paris.
    Had waited to go there since I was 6, and it fulfilled all my dreams.
    I agree with the others; if you’re trying, they’re nice. Say Bonjour, don’t act like an entitled tourist, and you’ll be fine!
    It’s an incredible city, and one I dream of seeing again!


  9. We had the same experience! We totally butchered French, but they liked that we were trying! Be extra polite and don’t expect them to speak English. Attempt French and ask questions if you don’t know the word, etc. I think they truly appreciate the effort rather than a sense of entitlement. We had only great experiences in Paris. I think if you don’t expect Paris to be like America and you expect it to be French — a little slower, a little attitude, and just gorgeous you will be fine! But hey don’t fall for that person who tries to say they found your diamond ring in the touristy districts. We almost did! And then we saw them try it on like 3 other people and 2 other con-artists pulling the same move!


  10. Oh! And if you haven’t been to Paris before and want to do the touristy sites and museums, I suggest the Paris Museum Pass. It saved us money and we got to skip lines, which was awesome. My favorite museum was the Rodin sculpture garden (and it’s a great place to buy the pass b/c the lines usually aren’t as insanely long there). We also loved the Latin Quarter (near Notre Dame) and basically just wandering the streets of Paris.


  11. When you want your Eiffel Tower fix, go to La Grand Epicerie at Le Bon Marché first and buy tons of indulgent French picnic foods – you can get classics like Poilane bread, Christine Ferber jam, tiny red strawberries, some Comte and Rosette de Lyon. And because it’s a fancy department store, if you don’t feel like speaking to anyone, you don’t really have to, although you can try out your French at the cheese and meat counters. Then walk over to the Champs de Mars for a picnic. Sit towards the back so you can see the Eiffel Tower, but not so close that tourists are trampling you. It’s one of my favourite things to do!


  12. Bring an AmEx in order to use the bike share! Mine was a Macy’s card but it was the only one that worked. A ~$250 hold eventually turned into a $20 charge after the best week of biking around Paris like a local – and that was for two week-long passes and a day pass. All the better to enjoy deux pain au chocolat!


  13. Just had friends return from Cannes, and they confirmed my unparalleled Paris experience with French rudeness—so rude I swore I’d never go back. But I did … to the Marais District and it was grand. Perhaps just accept that your language mistakes will happen? Se la vie! And some French are rude just like some Americans are irritating?

    p.s. My husband used a phrase all over Italy asking for directions to the restroom. He was actually asking everyone if he could piss in their cabinets. 😉


  14. I agree with all of the above – screw up your courage, be polite and apologetic and leap in with your best efforts, even if you think your French is tres mal! They may well laugh at/with you but you will eat well and have fun…

    Paris is a great city to wander through – pick an area or a site/museum/restaurant that you particularly want to see and then just enjoy the serendipity of the shops/cafes/parks (there seem to be amazing playgrounds and garden squares everywhere) you find along the way. Some personal favourites include a pilgrimage to get Bertillion ice cream on the Iles St Louis, a pretty stroll from Notre Dame (I’ve never been in but it is pretty impressive from the outside!). Monmatre is beautiful with the most stunning views across the city; Rue des Martyr is close by & has some fabulous shops and cafes.
    On our last visit my three year old dragged us onto the big wheel by the Jardin de Tuilleries and it turned out to be a surprisingly magical way to see the city (he has put in a formal request to climb the Eiffel Tower next time…).

    Even if you don’t want to give up a chunk of a day to the big museums, it’s worth swinging by the Louvre to see the pyramid in front of the palace.

    A stroll through the Marais is always fun, and it’s just around the corner from Centre Pompidou.

    The Renoir Museum – particularly the gardens (including a great cafe) – is beautiful, maybe followed by a stroll through the back streets to the Rive Gauche with its luxe shops, cafe’s and students…

    If you have a little more time or just fancy a change of pace then it might be worth a jaunt to the end of the metro (line 1) to Vincennes, where there is a medieval Chateau, the Bois de Vincennes and Parc Floral – nice for strolling and picnic-ing (and more amazing playgrounds if you’re travelling with kids)…

    I would be very jealous if we weren’t going back in October! Happy adventuring 🙂


  15. A Passe Navigo for the Metro is a good investment if you’re going to be there for a week.
    Fun places to go and shop:
    Merci–a store you can browse for a long time with a restaurant and cute cafe attached.
    Deyrolle–an amazing taxidermy shop; go even if you don’t think you would like taxidermy. Plus they have interesting prints for sale.
    Any of the marches aux puces (flea markets). Clignancourt is easy to get to and has smaller items.
    Sainte Chapelle–the prettiest of all the churches you can visit in Paris.
    Laduree–for afternoon snack/tea (many locations in town, but I like the one on Rue Royal).
    Galeries Lafayette–I’ve always found it fun to go to one of the grands magasins like Galeries Lafayette and go to any of the makeup/skincare counters and put yourself in a Frenchwoman’s hands. You’ll come out with products that you love and didn’t even know you needed, plus it never fails to amaze how incredibly frank they are about your shortcomings and how to address them.
    Pere Lachaise–many famous Parisians and others are buried there, but it’s great for some quiet wandering when you need a break from the French. Pick up a jambon fromage baguette on the way and you have a picnic.
    Versailles–a short trip by RER from Paris and if you are able to go there when all of the fountains in the gardens turned on, do it. They are incredible and worth the trip alone.
    Canal St. Martin area–less touristy and very pretty, with lots of places to browse and wander.


  16. echoing what everyone has said above. if you try to make any kind of effort, they will bend over backwards to help you. a great deal of the people i met in paris also spoke english, and if i smiled, said bonjour, ca va, parlez anglais, etc., they’d immediately smile and speak to me in english.

    i have a particularly fond memory of a waiter in a little cafe on the left bank who sang stevie wonder songs to my travel companion and me once he realized we were american.

    while i really only frequented the basic places where it was more likely there would be english speakers and people whose job it was to make tourists happy, every single parisian i met was fabulously friendly, and i cringed so hard at the “ugly americans” with them. i also noticed that with these “ugly americans,” those who gladly spoke english to me would suddenly lose their multilingual abilities.


  17. Go to Chez Gladins for supper one evening. It will be packed. You will hang out at the counter with lots of Parisians chatting. You will feel like you belong. It will be lovely. And then you will eat French comfort food.


  18. What I didn’t understand when I heard people complain about the ‘rudeness’ of Parisians was that it isn’t rudeness at all.

    They aren’t exactly friendly, either. But they are *exceedingly* well-mannered. Nobody will yell at you, or outright ignore you (at least they didn’t, me), but if you have offended, you will know.

    The best way to sum up Parisians is that they really don’t give a shit about you, but have been conditioned to make their interactions with you as fast and painless possible for themselves, while still maintaining their impeccable manners.

    This can be easily misinterpreted by anyone used to the overt friendliness of customer service in North America (I find much of the rest of Europe the same, to be honest). Conduct yourself in a way that conveys politeness and efficiency, and you will be just fine.


  19. I second the politeness tip. If you say “s’il vous plaît” and “merci” with a smille, lots of people will bend over backwards to help you (according to friends who’ve been to Paris or lived there) I can tell you this works very well in Montreal also. 🙂


  20. You must make reservations for dinner, even (especially) if you think it’s just a small neighborhood cafe. You can call or you can pop in the restaurant the night before or afternoon of and make one…simple as that. But if you don’t have one, rarely will you be able to put your name on the “list” and wait. Instead, I found that they just tell you they are full for the night, full stop.

    David Leibovitz’s and Dorie Greenspan’s websites have good food recommendations. Go to the pompideau center the night of the week it is open late and watch the sunset over Paris. Great views. Go to the museum of arts and métier. If you’re with the kiddo, he will love it. Planes, machines, inventions. Agree with others re markets…go to farmers market, buy cheese bread and a sausage and you have delicious lunch.


  21. Always make an effort to speak their language first and you won’t have any problems. I have found Parisians to be the opposite of their stereotype if, as an American you can be the opposite of ours. 🙂 One of our funniest memories is being repeatedly asked “what part of Canada are you from?”


  22. I don’t have anything against French food, but my favorite spots when I lived there mostly represented cuisines from the former colonial empire:
    1) L’as du fallafel.
    No, Paris isn’t a strange place to get falafel. Take it with you to the Place des Voges down the street. If you can manage to make it last that long.
    2) Second La Grande Epicerie.
    3) Macarons and other amazing pastries at either Laduree or Pierre Herme. These are quintessential tourist spots for a reason, and your French will blend right in with the efforts of the Korean and Japanese visitors.
    4) Mint tea and a soak (if you coincide with a women’s day), or just mint tea and honeyed pastries at the mosque:
    5) Get yourself the best tagine of your life at one of the many Moroccan places in Paris.


  23. I was in Paris only once, about nine years ago. Aside from sleeping, the longest break I got from practicing my (very rusty) high school French was during the Segway tour I took.

    So just book, like, ten of those and you’ll be fine.

    (But do visit le Musée Rodin on foot. It was, pardon my French, infuckingcredible.)


  24. Last time I was in Paris, my Parisian friends took me to Au Pied de Fouet: (Rue de Babylone)

    We went to the one close to Les Invalides (Rue de Babylone) and it was great – delicious food, friendly service, very affordable and the place itself is adorable, I highly recommend it!

    Bon apetit! 🙂


  25. To know if you speak well French don’t ask the french people, for them only VERY bad educated people can say a truth!
    Don’t know when you come, if I’m not at holidays, I can give you some advices!
    Desole pour l’anglais,
    Olena de Paris


  26. I agree with #24 Jen! We were repeatedly asked if we were Canadians, too!

    Yes, try your best to communicate in French, halting though it may be. Effort & sincerity count a lot, in oh so many ventures!

    One of the best meals I’ve ever had in my _life_ was at La Casa di Sergio (warning, music on the website Ah-maze-ing! I don’t like seafood, but oh, the pasta with mussels we had…to die for! We looked at the menu, but when they said, “Oh, let us pick for you!” we did and it was incredible! Relatively near the Eiffel Tower, too.

    One of my Life List items is to bring my two children (currently 8 & 6) to Paris. The elder has been there at age almost-2, but oh, I want to bring them both when they will love it!


  27. The rue Cler, in the 7th arrondissement, near the Eiffel Tower, is a mostly-pedestrian market street with lots of cafés. It looks like it fell out of a French textbook. Lots of French people but everyone speaks English, too, and the French very much appreciate any effort at all to speak French.


  28. Hello , I am french and i live in paris , you have to go to “the abesses”, a nice quarter closed montmartre, with a lot of restaurants , best street “rue des 3 frères” (in english street of 3 brothers) , the restaurant “la vache et le cuisinier” is delicious, it’s a very simple restaurant but the food is remarquable, and moreover you can discuss with the waitress , they all are very nice. How long did you stay in Paris ? I also love to go in Montorgueil metro “sentier” line3 : very nice, very good food and a lot of shop in those streets ( rue tiquetonne/ montmartre..) … And people will be very touched that you try to speak in french , and don’t worry most of them speak english, best is trying but you have to relax , it’s ok everyone knows that french is too hard to learn… i’m 28 and i’m still asking myself if i am not doing a mistake by saying this instead of saying that … let me know if i can help 🙂


  29. When asking someone for information, try prefacing it with this phrase: “Excusez-moi de vous derangez…” It means “Excuse me for disturbing you” – very polite! – and to American ears it sounds like “excuse me for making you crazy” which is awesome.


  30. For the emergency too-jet-lagged-to-eat-strange-food meal on the second night, I went out to Subway to get sandwiches for the kids. It was a cool challenge to order in French, and it turned out to be great fun: the counter guy (and his girlfriend who was hanging out at the store) were so kind and funny and helpful. Note, though, that the mustard they use there is that strong Dijon type stuff, not our friendly yellow kind: some scraping was involved so one kid didn’t go too hungry that night.

    Happy for you!


  31. I was going to chime in about “j’ai faim” — it means I have hunger, not I am hungry.

    Go to the top of Notre Dame, first thing in the morning (like 7 or 8am), when the air is crisp and clear and there are no tourists to be found.

    Gibert Jeune is a big bookstore, and the big branch near Notre Dame has a big stationery section in the basement. I love the french paper/notebooks and getting fun pens!

    To be accepted, try to always do the French greeting/leaving. “Bonjour” upon entering a shop and “Merci an revoir” upon leaving. Listen for it and you’ll hear the certain cadence to it and then try it yourself–it’s quite fun to say. 🙂

    It goes without saying that you must visit a variety of crepe stands (ps, that’s a short ‘e’ sound) and decide what kind your favorite is. (There are sweet and savory options–so of course you should try a new kind every day!)

    Have you heard of the French concept of being a ‘flaneur/flaneuse’? It’s something like wandering for the sake of wandering. And Paris is the perfect place to practice being one! Esp getting lost in the Latin quarter, the Marais, or Montmontre.

    Oh, and there are great English language walking tours–great way to see the city and learn lots of interesting tidbits, they’re small groups (not huge tour groups with matching umbrellas), and you don’t have to worry about speaking/understanding French for a few hours.


  32. I’m going to confirm what a previous poster said – there is one magic phrase in French, and it is “Excusez-moi de vous deranger, Monsieur/Madame.” When you say it with a smile, even the coldest Parisian seems to be charmed and will usually go out of his/her way to assist.

    The French aren’t rude, really – they’re just exceedingly private people who are sometimes a bit put off by what they see as American forwardness. Just keep to polite formalities, don’t forget the mandatory small talk before conducting business (a simple “How are you?” in French will do the trick), and be brave with your attempts!


  33. All of these comments are great advice! I suspect your personal needs for awesome tacos are well met in San Francisco, but coming from Edinburgh, infamously famished for good Latin American food, Candelaria ( in the Marais was a godsend. It looks disconcertingly nondescript from the outside (there’s not even really a sign) and has one teeny, communal table, but the tacos are delicious and if you walk through to the back door (you will look like a total local doing this, which is also a major perk), there is a fairly cool bar with some pretty inventive cocktails behind the restaurant. Enjoy Paris!


  34. I was terrified of Paris because my extremely limited French is also rather appalling, but things were just as most people here have said – if I tried, everyone was pleasant & helpful. I even turned around an uncomfortable situation after my husband tried to be helpful and put up his finger to indicate one crepe (after I explained to him that you have a use a thumb for one; a pointer finger looks like two) so the vendor poured another crepe. When I insisted we only needed une and showed my thumb, he grumbled grandly until I apologized, in French & profusely. He smiled, assured me “is okay” then corralled some passersby to order the second crepe 🙂

    I highly recommend buying yourself flowers & picnic foods from a market and taking them to enjoy in Jardin du Luxembourg – tourists actually asked us for directions as if we were locals! The gardens are vast & gorgeous and full of interesting people. Also, spend as much time as you can in Shakespeare & Company bookstore; it is dreamy, for the books & the history & the people-watching.


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