There is a common saying online, that French people find it rude if you speak English when you are in France.

But is this really true?

Let’s explore this topic further.

The reason that many people assume the French find English rude comes down to a common experience: when
they spoke English on their visit to France, people either ignored them, looked confused or answered in French.

This story is found all over the internet. On forums, travel sites and personal blogs.

Many of them tell some version of the “it’s rude to speak English in France” tale.
Why?

The truth is, there are many reasons that French people don’t like speaking English with foreigners. It’s easy to say this is because they think English is rude, but there are many other reasons for it.

The café employee who can’t speak Chinese

I live in a large city in Australia currently, with a big and diverse university. This uni draws in a lot of exchange
students from all over the world: Europe, the US and Asia.

Near this university campus is a little café that is frequented by lots of students, for a pick-me-up coffee or post-exam meal. The employees in this café would see hundreds of students a week; maybe thousands.

All of them order in English.
Now, imagine one of the Chinese students enters this café, walks up to the counter and starts trying to order a
meal in Mandarin Chinese.

Do you think the café worker knows how to understand Mandarin?

Just because they work next door to a university with a large number of Mandarin-speaking students, doesn’t
mean they automatically understand that language.

This is how French people often feel when English speakers walk into their place of work and start rapidly speaking in English. Even if it’s a bakery in the same neighborhood as La Tour Eiffel . They may know a word or two, or even a few sentences, but their day to-day lives are experienced in French.

It’s so much easier to use your own language.

Even if you do know a small amount of this person’s native language, you might not know the right words for this situation. Or maybe they use a dialect or accent that you struggle to understand.

It’s not just a difference in words, but in culture.

In France, it is customary to greet the employees of a store when you enter.

French people will walk into a store, scan the room for an employee and then greet them politely as they enter.

We also say goodbye as we leave and wish them a good day: Merci. Bonne journée!

It’s natural for us to thank them for ‘letting us’ visit the shop.

In English speaking countries, like UK, Australia or Ireland (all countries where I’ve lived), it is not uncommon for a person to enter a store without acknowledging the staff. In very casual cafés or restaurants, people may even seat themselves rather than wait to be served. And – once done – nearly always leave without saying goodbye to the staff. It’s local custom and not rude at all.

This cultural divide often adds to the misconception about English being rude. It’s not so much the language, but the difference in cultural expectations that causes friction.

Communicating across a language divide is incredibly difficult.

Just like you might feel about your French learning, the French may be feeling about speaking English. We all
worry about mixing up our words or forgetting how to say something.

This makes it incredibly difficult to expect everyone you meet to be comfortable and confident in using English to speak with you.

It’s not that they think your English is rude; they just prefer French. That’s their comfort zone.

The fact that you are reading this article is a great start; it means you’re curious enough to wonder about the
French language and culture. By showing this initiative, and perhaps practicing a few French phrases, you’re
unlikely to come across a French person who thinks you are being rude.

To make your conversations run a bit more smoothly, consider learning and practicing some simple French words and phrases. Often, if you can start a conversation in their native language, French people are much more willing to attempt to use English with you.

To get you started, here are some great phrases to help you make a good impression:

Bonjour! – Good morning, hello
Pardon, Excusez-moi – Pardon, Excuse me
Merci/Merci beaucoup – Thank you/Thank you very much
Je voudrais … – I would like …
Pourriez-vous m’aider? – Can you help me?
Non merci – No thank you
Je ne comprends pas désolé – I do not understand sorry
Répétez plus lentement, s’il vous plait – Repeat more slowly, please
Répétez, s’il vous plait – Repeat, please

 

To learn more phrases, particularly for travelling, take a look at our blog posts:
Useful French Phrases 
What 3 things you need to learn before you go to France 

Remember, the majority of French people don’t think that speaking English is rude. They are simply more
comfortable speaking French with you.

Try asking some simple questions in French to break the ice. Once they see you are attempting to speak French,
they may feel more comfortable using English with you.

If you really get stuck? Consider using this great sentence:

Désolé, je ne parle pas français
(sorry, I don’t speak French!)

 

And as always, if you’d like to learn some more French
before travelling to France, simply contact us to book some online private lessons.