The trick is balance. If you’re not fluent or really good in French, don’t panic. You don’t need to be. And if you want to be, well that’s for another blog post, but it’s not going to happen over a long romantic weekend in Paris. And if you don’t have a single word, learn a few…. At the very least. Resources like Duolingo or even Rosetta Stone can help you. The latter is a bit expensive and can’t really be used in an emergency as it’s a program rather than an app but it had to be included but it’s amazing.
The trick about the balance is getting a few words at the beginning or end. When the waiter brings the plate to the table a “merci” goes a thousand miles further than a “thanks” or the dreaded informal “cheers”. If someone says “Bonjour” or “Bon soir” repeat it back and smile. Don’t look disturbed or yell back “Hello” or “Hi” or “Hey”. Minor things like this go a long way.
Many of my friends who come from Paris have done their civic duty ( so to speak) and worked in the many hundreds of bars and restaurants across the beautiful tourist districts like the 18th, 1st, and the 7th have reported ( what I obviously already knew)… it’s the people that make no effort that bother them. So you have to ask yourself, when the waiter or waitress comes to your table and slams the soup down… did you use any French, up to that point. And even if they answer you in English ( which really bothers me, because I think I have an OK level), it doesn’t mean that you did anything wrong. And maybe you did speak a bit and the waiter is just rude. That’s happens sometimes (maybe a bit more than sometimes).
Google translate the following words – Hello, Goodbye, Thanks, Please, The Bill, English, I don’t understand, one moment and finally, password (you’ll need that for accessing the free Wifi all the places you go into.. Wifi is the Write them down and learn them. It should take all of 5 minutes and it will really improve your experience. If you know a bit more, by all means you can use it but don’t be worried if they reply back in English. It just speeds things up a bit.
If you are looking for extra resources, the Berlitz guidebook contains excellent essential words and phrases.