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7 Essential French Words and Phrases for Travelers

January 7, 2020
French phrases to help you order at restaurants

Most travelers make the mistake of assuming that everyone, all over the world, will be able to communicate in English. Though most of the people you’ll come across in your travels will have some level of understanding, you will found it a lot easier when you make the effort to learn key phrases in the local language.

Learning a few basic French phrases can make a huge difference when visiting any French-speaking country. You can practice them before your trip or even keep a printed copy of this article with you as a reference.

Bonjour – Hello
Undoubtedly the most well-known way of saying ‘hello’ in French, saying bonjour is acceptable in formal and informal situations and is considered polite and friendly. Another casual way of greeting people is salut, which can mean both ‘hi’ and ‘bye’.

Oui / Non – Yes / No
Words that you probably already know, but we want to put on our list anyway to be sure are ways to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in French. It can come very handy in almost every place you go such as stores, restaurants, and hotels.

S’il vous plaît / S’il te plaît – Please
Adding please to your questions or requests is a kind and friendly way of approaching people. You’ll see that we’ve listed two variations above; s’il vous plait is a more formal and polite way of saying please, where s’il te plait is more informal and used among friends. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to stick to s’il vous plait.

Excusez moi – Excuse me
Say excusez moi when you’re trying to get someone’s attention – this could be a waiter at a restaurant or even someone on the street whom you want to ask directions from. You can also use it as a polite way to ask someone to step aside, such as on a crowded sidewalk or train.

Merci – Thank you
You’ll need to know how to say ‘thank you’ each time you ask someone to help you with directions or when a waiter takes your order. To put more emphasis say ‘thanks a lot’ or ‘thanks very much’ by saying merci beaucoup.

Où est…? – Where is…?
As a tourist getting around a French-speaking country Où est…? is one of the most useful phrases you can learn. You can use it to ask where your hotel is, where a restaurant is, where the Eiffel Tower is, etc. It’ll help you get where you want to be with the help of local strangers.

Je ne peux pas manger… – I can’t eat…
This phrase is extremely useful if you have any allergies or dietary restrictions. Traveling the world shouldn’t put your health at risk, so politely let your waiter know the things you can’t eat by starting with je ne peux pas manger and completing the sentence with whatever fits. Some common terms are:

la viande – meat
les fruits de mer – shellfish
les cacahuètes – peanuts
les noix – nuts
les produits laitiers – dairy products
le gluten – gluten

It may not seem like a lot, but learning and using these French words and phrases can really help you on a trip to France. Even if you don’t remember how to say something, a friendly approach and an attempt to explain can usually get a helpful response. Most importantly, have fun!

Au revoir!