What to do when you try to speak French and they respond in English
Let’s picture the typical situation together. You decide to order your lunch or dinner in French from arriving to the restaurant until you leave. If the waiter follows you in your project, you’ll even consider tipping him generously. Of course, on your way to the restaurant, you repeat in your mind the key sentences you’re gonna say and it is going to be amazing. You arrive at the restaurant, you check the menu and you are ready to order. Your moment is approaching. The waiter comes and you see that he forgot to wear a smile today. Never mind, Tu t’en fous! , you are gonna order in French. So you order everything at once, you see that he is taking note, which means that he understands everything you say and then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere he says in English “how would you like your meat”? At that point, you reply either in English or French, it doesn’t matter anymore because your fantasy of speaking French has disappeared completely.
Does this situation sound familiar to you? Has it happen to you in the past? I know it is annoying sometimes and so I will give you some tips to avoid it to happen again. Let’s analyze the situation together.
Why is it annoying?
It’s annoying for many reasons! How annoying to have someone replying to you in English when you (try to) speak French. It’s even sometimes, very rude, especially when they understand what you say. I agree with you. It’s even more annoying when you realise that it does happen a bit too often. It even starts to be recurrent. It’s is f***** annoying when her/his English is worse than your French and you barely understands what the f*** she/he says. Would you dare telling her/him that you don’t understand? No, because you are a civilised and well educated person. To decrease the repetitions of those bloody situations, let’s first understand why the h*** this is actually happening.
Why do they reply in English when all you want do is speak French?
To have a complete understanding of the situation, let’s travel to the past for a minute. For many, many years, French customer service was known as bad, or even mediocre, especially with tourists and expats. Why were the French so pissed off with tourists and foreigners? First of all, the French were never taught to welcome tourists, as might be the case in countries like Thailand. They have always been taught that their country is (one of) the most beautiful countries in the world. This we know already. It’s very easy to see. They were also educated about the glory of their country and how the center of the world and all the inventions were mostly French. That we know too. But, they weren’t really educated by their parents, or by their schools to welcome tourists who wanted to visit their country and to be thrilled about it.
French customer Service
Suddenly, low cost airline companies arrived on the market and the younger generations started to travel more and more. Because Karma is a B**** , the French finally faced once and for all the most hurtful reality: the French have a bad reputation abroad (as well). This unbelievable truth meant that, unlike their beautiful country, they were not appreciated as much as they might think.
How many time have you heard foreigners friends saying I like France without the French or I love Paris without Parisians? Facing the ugly truth about them being considered as d**** made them work on customer service – sometimes we wonder if they even started it.
They also work on improving how to welcome tourists more warmly, even the Maire of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, asked the association of the “garçons de café” to make an effort to be more friendly with tourists. As a consequence, the first reason why they reply to you in English is to enfin give you a nice customer experience. They want to make your life easier so they will help you by speaking English. They want to give you a nice experience and an excellent customer service. Il était temps !
The second reason they reply in English is because they do MIMÉTISME. What do I mean by that? French speaker, and especially the French loooooooove to find people who speak French when they go abroad, even if they speak English and even if the person can only speak broken French. There aren’t happier people traveling than the French abroad who can speak French. So when they reply to you in English to be nice, they’re applying their own definition of customer service and their own experiences of happiness whilst abroad.
Practise makes perfect?
The last reason they reply to you in English is because they want to practise their skills. I know you are not all English teachers so why the h*** do they take you as a language tandem without your consent? You are right, this is unfair. Many of them never had the chance to travel or study English abroad and take tourists and expats as an added value to improve their English. They are in a 100% French environment, they don’t have a lot of international friends and they take any opportunity to practice their English, a little bit like you with your French.
Finally, a third part of French people, and it is a very small part, are not patient and they don’t want to waste time waiting for you to practice your French. This also happen mainly with French partners as well.
How to react when they reply in English?
Knowing why they always reply to you in English even when you try to speak doesn’t make you feel better. As mentioned earlier in this article, you are not the issue. I know it is very difficult not to take it personally but the issue is not your or your accent. Your accent isn’t making the difference and don’t think if you were speaking French with a better accent you won’t get the reply in English. Accents are part of your identity and it is an added value. Accents are the best partner in crime in communication and it should be considered as pride. You want to get inspired? Have you ever heard some French speakers with a very strong French accent and proud of it. This is exactly the attitude you should adopt as well.
What can you do to practice French anyway?
So what to do when you still want to practise? What to say not to offend them? Here are some sentences you can use and they are pretty successful. Many of my students use them and it work. Here are some useful and interchangeable sentences that you can use to make understand that you want to practice.
Here you go :
J’apprends le français et j’aimerais parler français.
I am learning French and I would like to speak French.
J’étudie le français, est-ce qu’on peut continuer en français?
I am studying French, can we continue in French?
J’étudie le français, est-ce qu’on peut parler français?
I am studying French, can we speak French?
Pouvez-vous me répondre en français s’il vous plait?
Can you reply to me in French please?
J’apprends le français et je voudrais vous répondre en français. C’est possible?
I am learning French and I would like to reply in French.
Vous pouvez me répondre en anglais et je vais vous répondre en français.
You can reply to me in English and I will reply in French.
Est-ce que je peux vous répondre en français?
Can I reply in French?
J’aimerais continuer cette conversation en français.
I would like to continue this conversation in French.
Est-ce que nous pouvons continuer en français?
Can we continue in French?
And you? What is your experience with this? Did it happen to you? Did you manage to change it? How?
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