It is no secret that the French take tremendous pride in their language, and as a result, visitors that attempt a few key phrases are often met with appreciation and praise. A decently pronounced “S’il-vous plaît” will have every waiter in the café beaming at you until the day you die, and bumbling, broken conversations are the centerpiece of any good trip abroad.
But now you’ve been served your grand café au lait and your pain au chocolat, and you’ve said your mercis. Swarms of students and bohemian types are beginning to seat themselves next to you, armed with the infamous French ability to entertain heated conversation. My God, Voltaire used to hang out here, surely you can comment on more than just how “bon” everything is! Get it together!!!
But what can you do?!
Thankfully, a woman named Jill seems to have figured it all out. She writes on her blog:
“The wife of a Frenchman let me in on a secret method of holding up your side in a conversation in French even when you can hardly speak the language. You simply need three phrases:
This mean’s “It’s true”, and can be said in many different intonations for varied effect.
Now this would often be accompagnied by a shake of the head and a concerned look, and it means that “It’s not the same”, or less directly, “but that’s different”. Your final phrase is
This one means “I don’t agree”, and it’s the most daring aspect of the cunning ploy. It seems risky, doesn’t it? Hearing this phrase, I immediately asked the Frenchman’s wife what on earth you do if your conversation partner calls you on this. How on earth are you going to explain why you disagree?
Well, that’s where the utter genius of this three-phrase plan comes into play. You simply go back to your second phrase, shake your head and say
The Frenchman’s wife swears that this simple technique has got her through years of communicating with her inlaws.”
Umm, genius. I have to say that, despite my genuine attempts at communicating, about 95% of my conversations wind up sounding a little something like that. And I imagine that they will continue to do so unless the entire French culture shifts dramatically – in which case it wouldn’t be pareil, so why bother.
And I was all like “Non”: