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Dining in Paris - overcoming language barriers

e
earthmomma Jan 17, 2012 05:46 AM

Bonjour!

I will be visiting Paris for a few days with my boyfriend at the end of January. We are both vegetarians, which I realize might be tricky while we're there. We also unfortunately speak very limited french. We are both desperately trying to learn all the french we can before we get there, but I am still nervous about our ability to get by, especially in restaurants.

Maybe I'm ignorant, but I don't expect restaurants to have english translations under their menu items... at least not the good ones :) We are bringing a little french/english dictionary to help us out with reading the menu (yes, we'll be THOSE tourists - I'm sorry!), particularly because we have to be careful not to order meat. I am wondering if anyone can help us with some basic ordering terms & restaurant etiquette so that we can communicate as best we can.

What is the best way to let them know we're vegetarian? Are there any restaurant etiquette practices / best phrases to use in Paris that we might not be familiar with in Canada (where I'm coming from)? Also, are all tips included?

Any information you can share would be so appreciated, as well as some restaurant suggestions if you have some!

Thank you / Merci !

  1. c
    christy319 Jan 18, 2012 02:15 PM

    Restaurants always have menus posted in the windows (I think it's a law). When my menu French wasn't so good, I'd take my menu translator to the restaurant before they were open, and translate the menu on the window. This avoids the embarassment of furiously thumbing through a translator under the table while already seated. Oh, and a regular French/English dictionary probably won't have enough food items or cooking terms. You need a real menu translator.

    I'm not very carnivorous but I love fish, and there's always fish for me to eat, but most of the places I go don't have any veg options (cafes will but I'm not sure many restaurants will). So, I'd do as much research as you can before you go on places that will. It's such a big city, there have to be resources for vegetarians! Good luck!

    I just did a quick google search and saw that David Lebowitz, who's blog I love for all things Paris, has a whole section on veg dining. Looks like there are great tips there:
    http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2008/04/...

    1. m
      Mike C. Miller Jan 18, 2012 04:19 PM

      Je suis un vegetarien. Je ne mange pas la viande ou des poissons.

      I think. Of course you can add eggs (oueff) and cheese (fromage) depending of whether you are ovo lacto or vegan. I made my 12 year old daughter, who for reasons that have nothing to do with her two meat loving parents, is an ovo lacto vegetarian, learn these phrases before her first trip to Paris. It was the second phrase she learned after, "Mon pere a tres soif. Une autre bouteille du vin, se vous plais!!!"

      4 Replies
      1. re: Mike C. Miller
        PBSF Jan 18, 2012 08:39 PM

        Just a couple of minor corrections:
        Je ne mange pas de viande ou de poisson.
        oeufs
        s'il vous plait

        1. re: PBSF
          Parigi Jan 18, 2012 11:55 PM

          Since we are into corrections…
          "Je suis végétarien".
          I don't mean I am, god forbid !!!
          I mean one doesn't need the article "un". It is a "Ich bin ein Berliner" genre mistake.

          1. re: Parigi
            Parnassien Jan 19, 2012 12:14 AM

            i have a feeling that somebody called "earthmomma" might be "végétarienne". :)

            je mange PAS de viande et PAS de poulet et PAS de poisson. In spoken French, it's more common to omit the "ne" in a negative and just emphasize the "pas" with as many reiterations as possible.

            1. re: Parnassien
              Parigi Jan 19, 2012 12:38 AM

              I was correcting Mike. All my fault. With vegetarian-related posts, I try to read as fast as possible. :-)

      2. hill food Jan 19, 2012 01:12 AM

        I've been a coupla times and the people could not have been nicer, before going I studied what may appear on a menu and always started off (sorry too lazy to do the accents and diacritical marks) "Bon Jour (Soir) pardon moi je ne parle Francais, uhhh, je veudrais les...si'l vous plait"

        a nun might slap me, but mine was not the attempt of the "ugly tourist"

        yeah I know that is horrendous and it WAS corrected every time but everyone was great and good fun. just try to allow that you know what you are mangling isn't really French and you also aren't demanding they speak anything else. walk w/o fear.

        8 Replies
        1. re: hill food
          t
          Theresa Jan 19, 2012 02:03 AM

          In all parts of France, from Paris to the Languedoc, everyone has been lovely and really helpful when we have shown some ability/willingness to speak French - no matter how basic or flawed our attempts have been. To me (and I suspect, to them) the "ugly tourist" is someone who breezes into a place and starts speaking in English without any attempt at either: a) asking them if they speak English and/or b) apologising for their own lack of French.

          As for the original poster, so long as you are able to say "hello" (very important to say this before asking for anything), explain that you are vegetarians and either ask if they speak English or tell them that you only speak a little French, then you will be fine. It helps to translate the menu before going in, but don't be embarrassed about using your dictionary/menu translator in the restaurant - it's much less embarrassing than ordering a plate full of kidneys by mistake!

          1. re: Theresa
            e
            earthmomma Jan 19, 2012 04:25 AM

            Thank you everyone for all your help I feel much better now after reading all this. We will make sure we have a translator to read menus out front & attempt at speaking every bit of french we can. My boyfriend does eat fish from time to time so he might have some more luck than me. In the end, I might end up eating so many baguettes & pastries that I won't have room for dinner anyway :)

            Again, many thanks. My apologies for making you read a vegetarian-related post ;)

            1. re: earthmomma
              hill food Jan 19, 2012 11:51 AM

              the challenge of being a vegetarian in France sounds daunting, but really isn't (vegan? now that's a different issue)

              1. re: hill food
                sunshine842 Jan 22, 2012 04:14 AM

                No, it's a challenge. It's pretty common to see a vegetarian dish garnished with lardons (bacon bits).

                It would be difficult at best to be vegan in France.

            2. re: Theresa
              mangeur Jan 19, 2012 12:48 PM

              Ii learned my lesson years back when my husband and I walked into a charcuterie where an elderly woman manned the counter. I called out "Bonjour." She gave me a blank stare. My husband, two steps behind me, greeted her, "Bonjour, Madame." to which she answered, "Bonjour, Monsieur. Comment je puis vous aider?" Still ignoring me.

              No "Madame", no service. 8-(

              1. re: mangeur
                hill food Jan 19, 2012 09:37 PM

                classic. she wasn't really mean, just correct. still, HA! it's perfect.

                OP: never mistake the formality for being rude, it's not.

                1. re: hill food
                  e
                  earthmomma Jan 20, 2012 01:15 PM

                  Got it! We don't usually have that kind of formality here, so it's really good to know what is expected. Many thanks!

              2. re: Theresa
                l
                LisaPA Jan 23, 2012 07:59 PM

                Totally agree with this. At least attempt a phrase in French and they will typically respond in English. And to the OP, don't be afraid to just ask the waiter what something is if you hit a word you don't know. Being a waiter there isn't some $5 an hour job, it's a career, so you're far more likely to get professional, friendly service than here.

            3. hill food Jan 21, 2012 11:55 PM

              sorry to harp on, while the residents of Paris may not be the warmest and outgoing (or God forbid back-slapping) behind the reserve they really are good people. and if you make the effort, they will try to help (imagine my embarrassment in the Marais when a little 80 something woman dressed to the 9's in Givenchy or Chanel or something on 4 inch heels asked me directions! (everyone off the major blvds. are hopelessly lost and using a map - you won't be alone) "uhh uhhh uhhh") but that's how it goes, she was sweet and I asked her to be a stand-in for my recently deceased Grandmere. she politely declined. just talk and be nice. always say the polite words and you'll get a big hall pass.

              3 Replies
              1. re: hill food
                t
                tito Jan 23, 2012 09:35 AM

                I just returned from 2 weeks in France last night (1 week in the Languedoc and 1 week in Paris). My French is limited at best. All of my interactions with waiters and waitresses were positive, even when I did not understand something they made me feel comfortable.

                I had dinner Saturday night at Le Petite Cheval de Menge in the 11th Arrd. and when I did not recognise the words for a certain type of baby chicken on the menu, the young waitress put her thumbs under her arms and flapper her arms like a chicken!!!

                Me and my wife had a great laugh and it was a good icebreaker.

                What I do before traveling to a different country is I make up flash cards (1 for subway/taxi, 1 for restaurants, 1 for hotel questions) and I keep them in my pocket at all times for quick translations. It is better than pulling out the Fodors Guide at the table!!

                Have a great time, I did see a vegetarian restaurant on Rue Richer in the 10th.

                1. re: tito
                  t
                  Theresa Jan 23, 2012 09:53 AM

                  Yes - sometimes when I've asked what something is on a menu, I've had waiters doing all sorts of things to demonstrate what animal it is and/or what part of the beast the meat is from. As you say - always a good icebreaker.

                  1. re: Theresa
                    Rio Yeti Jan 23, 2012 01:32 PM

                    The opposite thing happened to me in Russia, in a St Petersburg Bar, nice weather, on the terrace, and I wanted a carrot juice. Why ? I don't freaking know, I've never ordered a carrot juice anywhere before, and I've never ordered one since... But I just felt like it.

                    So of course, after trying the word carrot in a few languages, trying to draw the shape of it in the air, I finally... did the Bugs Bunny gesture, my friend died laughing, the waitress looked at me like I was crazy (I guess they don't have Bugs Bunny in Russia...) and I ended up ordering a juice with mixed fruits which may or may not have contained carrots...

              2. sunshine842 Jan 23, 2012 11:32 AM

                One of the best -- and one of the most exhaustive:

                http://patriciawells.com/glossary/

                it's available in both .doc and .pdf format -- so you can drop it onto an iPhone, a Kindle, or any other similar device, so it's at least fairly discrete.

                I keep it bookmarked and refer to it often -- mostly when I'm nowhere near a restaurant.

                4 Replies
                1. re: sunshine842
                  o
                  oferl Jan 23, 2012 12:16 PM

                  Thanks for the link, brought back some memories.. Addition, for sure i will not forget this word.. My most embarrassing moment ever in a restaurant, was a couple of years ago at Likafo. Very good dinner and my instinctive end of meal sentence abroad in english - the check please. I asked it from one of the elders there, and immidiatly got one of the most angry looks ever, a "barking" of angry sentences in french (i think..), all in all a not so small mayham started, all resto looking at me and staff coming to my table to understand what the problem is about. Of course i understood exactly what is going on - there was a sign in french "no cheques allowed" or so, he was thinking that i'm trying to avoid cash, at some point i had to wave the bills :-) With the help of younger staff all went OK quickly, actually it didn't prevent me from coming again a couple of days later.. Actually i knew the word addition and was "a bit shy" to use Franch words, anyway the phrase "check please" is kind of an instinct for me..

                  1. re: oferl
                    sunshine842 Jan 23, 2012 12:34 PM

                    that's one where relying on sign language works well, too -- the universal gesture of drawing a checkmark in the air will bring you the bill in every country I've ever visited, regardless of the language spoken.

                    1. re: oferl
                      Parnassien Jan 23, 2012 12:49 PM

                      "check, please" is so peculiarly American that you'd even create confusion in the UK ... btw, one of the euphemisms in French for l'addition/ the bill is "la douloureuse"/ the painful thing... and often all too appropriate !!

                      it's just too bad that douloureuse is filled with vowel sounds and liquid consonants that most foreigners can't quite manage

                      1. re: Parnassien
                        o
                        oferl Jan 23, 2012 01:12 PM

                        Oh that's cool, "bring me the painful thing".. We sometime use "what's the damage" slang, but painful thing is nicer. Not sure i had issues with check while visiting UK, and indeed it stuck from the more often visits to the US.

                  2. k
                    kathleen440 Jan 23, 2012 01:04 PM

                    You could also seek out vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants - Le Grenier de Notre Dame and the well-known falafel places (L'As du Fallafel and King Falafel) come to mind.

                    1. i
                      INDIANRIVERFL Jan 23, 2012 01:40 PM

                      Please do not apologize for being a tourist. Trust me, you will not be the first one they have encountered. Do not apologize for not understanding what they are saying to you. You will find common ground. You want to buy something, they want to sell you something. Through the years, I have eaten my way through France with three basic phrases. Check please, thank you very much, and it's so good. And I smile.

                      And please wear good, upscale clothes. Leave the blue jeans at home. Coat, tie, dress, pant suit, and this time of year, a winter coat appropriate for the city, not the ski slopes. When I started wearing a coat and tie to restaurants, I was pleasantly surprised at how this tourist was treated. Europe is far more formal than North America.

                      20 Replies
                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                        sunshine842 Jan 23, 2012 02:03 PM

                        If you don't wear blue jeans, you'll be the only person in Paris who isn't. Really.

                        Nobody wears a coat and tie except at the office -- after 5, the coats and ties are gone -- there are a huge number of French companies whose employees wear jeans and nice shirts to work every day.

                        Those that do wear coats and ties to work ditch them as they walk out of the office. That doesn't mean that they change into pajama bottoms and flip-flops -- but I promise you -- you'll see more Parisians in jeans than in suits. I work with a number of French companies and every single one of them has a jeans dress code every day --

                        Wear what YOU like, what YOU are comfortable wearing, and that's the only criteria you have to meet. You'll see Parisians wearing anything imaginable -- including a few who look like they could be featured on People of Walmart.

                        And Parisians don't notice and don't care what you're wearing -- they have their own lives to lead, and what a tourist is wearing isn't even on their radar.

                        1. re: sunshine842
                          hill food Jan 23, 2012 03:02 PM

                          oh I think they notice. but as long as the jeans are well tailored...

                          as a friend admitted during a transit strike once "yes, I have been seen on the Rue de Rivoli in ... (gasp) track shoes."

                          1. re: hill food
                            sunshine842 Jan 23, 2012 03:18 PM

                            Nope -- Parisian high school kids wear jeans with the crotch approaching the knees, too. (bizarrely, they're made with a waist that sits at the waist -- just with a very long, baggy seat)

                            Parisians wear sneakers -- to work. Not white ones usually (although white ones certainly appear) -- but they wear track shoes.

                            1. re: sunshine842
                              hill food Jan 26, 2012 12:19 AM

                              oh not this pal, he worked for a large fashion house yet would stomp around
                              West Memphis Arkansas in a full length mink coat (just not done in AR as a guy) sizing and balancing a good shotgun for his daddy for Christmas. the dichotomy was stunning. I still stand today in awe of the mass of his cojones.

                              so in that context cheap shoes were out of the question except in a dire circumstance. but Metro was down so....

                              so even though this is CH and a bit ot just be stylish and you'll be cool (I once dined at le Boeuf sur l'Etoile or whatever it;s called with an octogenarian wearing wraparounds and I wish I had too - the lighting was terrible)

                              au branche baby!

                          2. re: sunshine842
                            Parnassien Jan 23, 2012 03:27 PM

                            I slightly disagree. Parisiens (including me) do notice what you wear. It might matter less in Ménilmontant or Saint Ouen than in St Germain des Prés or Passy ... but it sill matters.

                            Waiters are especially judgmental. They can assess the "worthiness" of French customers by vocabulary/ grammar/ "registre" but when it comes to foreigners the serveur/ serveuse can only rely on appearances. So for tourists, looking good and well-dressed is advised. Well-dressed does not, of course, mean formal. Unfortunately, women are judged much more harshly than men so the best advice for female tourists: get a good hair-do and invest in stylish accessories. You can wear jeans or whatever you like as long as the hair and the accessories work well.

                            1. re: Parnassien
                              mangeur Jan 23, 2012 03:48 PM

                              Well said. And emphasizing, well-dressed does not mean fancy. It means simple and put together looking. Soigné goes a long way.

                              1. re: Parnassien
                                sunshine842 Jan 23, 2012 03:48 PM

                                Oh, baloney.

                                I don't know about you, but I don't WANT to eat somewhere that some snotty server thinks he or she is so much better than I am that he/she can make judgements based on my clothes. This would be the whole stereotype about French waiters (sometimes well-deserved) that the entire city is painfully aware of and working hard to reverse. I haven't been treated like sh*t in a Paris restaurant for years -- big or small, expensive or cheap, jeans or stilettos. It's a good trend.

                                Note that I did NOT say to go out wearing whatever torn, stained old thing you happen to throw on...but in an economic crisis, the waiters only care that you pay.

                                1. re: sunshine842
                                  Parnassien Jan 23, 2012 05:15 PM

                                  Like it or not, Paris (like all of the world's best and most interesting cities) is very tribal. BCBG classique, BCBG branché, bobo, hip, de la zone etc are defining styles and each has its own preferred quartiers, restos, cafés, clubs, fashion, and even language. Tourists unfortunately don't usually fit into any "tribe".

                                  Most of us Parisiens know how to effortlessly move from tribe to tribe. Just a simple adjustment of what we wear and the language we use to explore another tribe. And we know the boundaries and the rules. Foreigners don't ... and show up at at BCBG classique hangout looking like they just came from the beach or at a hip joint looking like they just emerged from the 1980s.

                                  I don't think that waiters look down on anybody, even at their snottiest. But there is certainly a bewilderment and resentment when tourists disregard the restaurant's tone and style.

                                  1. re: sunshine842
                                    PhilD Jan 23, 2012 07:22 PM

                                    Sunshine - I wonder how much of the Parisian sense of style you have absorbed over your years living there? Maybe you fit in more than you think, maybe you are now more Parisian than your countrymen or women are and whilst he differences are subtle they are still differences that are picked up upon.

                                    I would never assume I looked Parisian (no matter how hard I tried) but I am reasonably confident I was seen as more local than tourist as I bought my clothes in Paris, and absorbed some of the local style. Most of this may be subliminal but I really did sense an obvious change in relationship when I paid with my Carte Bleue - a warming, a bigger smile etc etc. If this happened when I paid I am certain I was assessed when I sat down and attitudes were set accordingly.

                                    I agree you don't often get the architypal french waiter of legend these days but the difference between a great dining experience and an average is often a case of percentages. So when I eat out (not just in Paris) I wear what I think fits the venue, in Paris it is more extreme as Parisians across the spectrum of styles, tribes, age groups do dress well. Why else are the low slung jeans tailored to fit at the waist? So if it is a game of percentages it makes sense to play it to your advantage.

                                    1. re: PhilD
                                      sunshine842 Jan 23, 2012 11:07 PM

                                      the low-slung jeans are tailored to fit at the waist so they can wear them to school without being sent home to change, because a glimpse of your shorts is enough to send any French school teacher into a hissy fit.

                                      I'll state it one more time -- I never said anything about looking like a slob -- nor did I say that you should walk into Frenchie wearing frayed jeans with a hole in the knee and a teeshirt from the last century. In fact, I said you need to look "pulled together" -- clothes that fit your body, probably made this century, clean and all in one piece. From there, it depends on where you're going as to how much pulling you need to do.

                                      All I said was that Parisians wear jeans -- and sneakers -- far more than the rest of the world wants to believe they do, and it's a pretty sure thing that you'll see jeans in the vast majority of restaurants in the city.

                                      1. re: sunshine842
                                        hill food Jan 23, 2012 11:25 PM

                                        HA! my point - even when trashy, it's well tailored. very French. (sorry couldn't help myself)

                                        but back on topic, veggie in Paris does depend on the level of definition. there is always awesome falafel and disappointing VN (who'd a thought after the history of France in the Indochine?) but if one allows amounts of animal fat in a prep or soup stock or sauce, and dairy, well it opens up a bit (see remark meaning being a strict vegan is hard)

                                        also to the OP - (you're from Canada right?) since we were NOT raging jerks running around, people assumed we (US) were Canadian. I was never quite sure whether to be insulted or complimented (uhh OK you're saying we're polite, but saying something bad about my compatriots). interesting situation. I just went with it.

                                        1. re: hill food
                                          Parigi Jan 24, 2012 12:11 AM

                                          Half-assed vegetarians, which most self-proclaimed vegetarians in the west seem to be these days, will be ok in Paris.
                                          Serious vegetarians are better off renting an apartment with a kitchen which will give them control over their diet.

                                          As for the dress code, my Parisian friends when asked always say: we're casual.
                                          That's Paris casual. Nor mall-trash casual.
                                          If those well-tailored denims they wear are called jeans, then the formless, never washed things with pockets permanently misshapen from containing the ubiquitous mineral water should perhaps be called something else.
                                          The best is to look at a photo onsite of the resto you want to go to, and ask yourself: do you think the way you dress fits the level of soigné-ness of the décor?

                                2. re: sunshine842
                                  PhilD Jan 23, 2012 03:49 PM

                                  Sunshine and Indianriver are at two extremes. Of course many in Paris wear jeans and this includes most kids and students. But equally the French fashion sense means that the jean are often worn with a smart jacket and good shoes, especially young professionals. And the same is true of suits: I experienced a greater percentage of people in Paris wearing suits (but not ties) when I worked in Paris that in London or the US (and I was in IT). At lunches and dinners with colleagues we wore the suits. Going out with friends no suit but in top restaurants a jacket and decent shirt.

                                  And why does this matter when eating in restaurants? Parnassien, highlights one element, the FOH staff will make judgements based on your look and your manners. If you dress like a tourist who doesn't care, then they may treat you like a diner who doesn't care. If you make an effort to adopt local standards then your experience is probably going to be better. The other element is that it is quite nice to fit in, eating in a restaurant and feeling part of it is a good feeling, and dressing the part adds to this.

                                  Does this hold true in the more, trendy, casual restaurants like Au Passage? I think that is more tricky. The young professionals who throng to these places exhibit and effortless chic, mis-matching clothes and styles that still looks good. You won't get bad service in a place like this (after all there is very little to start with) but you will stand-out if you look like a stereotypical tourist if you wear the usual uniform.

                                  Certainly there are only a few restaurants in Paris with a dress code these days so you won't starve if you don't dress well. But, in many restaurants, if you want a nice table, friendly service, little extras, and a feeling of place: then it is worth making the effort.

                                  1. re: PhilD
                                    i
                                    INDIANRIVERFL Jan 23, 2012 07:28 PM

                                    Nothing like making a sweeping generalisation to stir the pot. That was not my intent. The OP stated that they will be in Paris a couple of days. As part of a tour or a fast weekend, we don't know. I have always found it easier to be slightly overdressed than wishing I had worn shoes instead of sneakers.

                                    And where is a vegetarian to go in Paris for memorable food?

                                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL
                                      PhilD Jan 23, 2012 07:47 PM

                                      I didn't intend it to be a sweeping generalisation, i believe a "coat and tie" vs "If you don't wear blue jeans, you'll be the only person in Paris who isn't" do represent extremes.

                                      I only wore a tie to a restaurant if it was a working lunch. However, I often wore a jacket (coat) and jeans when relaxing in restaurants at the weekends which seems to sit in the middle of these two perspectives.

                                      1. re: PhilD
                                        e
                                        earthmomma Jan 25, 2012 02:59 PM

                                        Thank you everyone for your input. I am doing my best to learn the most polite phrases and practices & master whatever basic french I can so that I can make an effort. I did a quick shop this afternoon to make sure I have a few nicer outfits for meals out in Paris... I appreciate the tips there. Not sure where we will be eating and what the dress code will be, but it certainly helps to have options on hand in case. That being said, I'm only in Paris for 4 days and don't want to buy an entirely new wardrobe to make sure my service is better. I will do my best and it will just have to be what it is. Toronto is very casual and it is rare that you are ever asked to dress up (I have a few dresses I left at home that I've maybe worn once each because I never have an occasion), so it is good to learn that other places have different expectations.

                                        1. re: earthmomma
                                          mangeur Jan 25, 2012 05:58 PM

                                          Let's simplify it. Steve Jobs' look works most places. I just think "black", add a handful of accessories for color and call it good. Remember all the celebs who made the Gap black pocket t-shirt a fashion icon. We've come a long way since then, but not far. :)

                                          FWIW, the last time I wore a rather nice dress to dinner in Paris, our French friends arrived, she in fabulous pants, shirt and jacket. I have never felt more dowdy in my life! I haven't worn a dress there since.

                                          1. re: mangeur
                                            mangeur Jan 25, 2012 08:32 PM

                                            Put another way: In June, the airline misplaced my bag, leaving me for 48 hours with only the clothes I had flown in: good charcoal jeans, a charcoal cashmere sweater, black ballerina flats, a chain neckace, a scarf and jacket. This motly collection easily took me to two of the restaurants highly touted on this board.

                                            1. re: mangeur
                                              sunshine842 Jan 25, 2012 10:20 PM

                                              Bingo.

                                              Look smart, look pulled together -- understated is the key word.

                                              (you have my due respect, mangeur -- nothing's worse than having to live in the clothes you traveled in -- and that's exactly why I never wear sweats on the plane as many vacationers do.)

                                          2. re: earthmomma
                                            hill food Jan 25, 2012 06:26 PM

                                            you're from Toronto? (Canada, like the US can mean SO many things) Toronto ain't exactly hillbillyville. so you'll be fine, don't hesitate to add some discreet accessories (and hey there's a reason to hit some stores) you'll be OK

                                3. o
                                  ORtastytravels Jan 25, 2012 10:28 PM

                                  I was in Paris in the spring and speak zero French...I mean it....Zero. I found that having a cheat sheet of menu translations helped. Also in all the restaurants I was in, most waitstaff spoke English. If not, they would get someone to help you that did. Sometimes instead of having them explain all the selections on the menu (if there was no english translation), I asked them what they would recommend. It worked out well for me. I wouldn't stress to much about the language. I would have someone write down the phase for any specific food needs in advance and show them to the waitstaff or learn to say them yourself. Good luck and have a great time!! It's an amazing city!

                                  1. s
                                    sistabella Feb 1, 2012 01:53 AM

                                    Earthmomma,

                                    I wouldn't worry too much about clothes. I'm a hippy chick from California, and never have had a problem. Do bring good shoes! Paris can be a lot of walking, and it has just gotten cold in France... winter, finally!!
                                    Menus should not be a problem, and in Paris practically everyone speaks French especially in the restaurant/hotel industry.

                                    There is a GREAT falafel that we visit often when we are in Paris.
                                    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27As_du_Fallafel

                                    You may also consider Indian food, which has a lot of veggie options. Oh! And there in an incredible pizzeria called Da Vinci at 12 rue Eduard Nieuport!

                                    For more ideas I recommend David Lebovitz's blog. He is an American expat who knows about all things food. I have benefited from his recommendations a number of times.
                                    http://www.davidlebovitz.com/

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: sistabella
                                      Rio Yeti Feb 1, 2012 02:57 AM

                                      "and in Paris practically everyone speaks French especially in the restaurant/hotel industry."

                                      Yes, I'd say that's about right ! ;)

                                      1. re: Rio Yeti
                                        Parigi Feb 1, 2012 03:06 AM

                                        Accent on the "practically".

                                        1. re: Parigi
                                          Busk Feb 1, 2012 05:08 AM

                                          at least 50% do.

                                          1. re: Busk
                                            hill food Feb 1, 2012 09:58 PM

                                            oh I caught that as well, but it's just too easy.

                                            1. re: hill food
                                              e
                                              earthmomma Feb 6, 2012 01:49 PM

                                              Just returned from Paris -- thank you everyone for your help. Didn't have any problems with clothes... I found it very casual everywhere I went, very much like Toronto. I went and bought nicer shoes for the trip but didn't end up wearing them once! Did my very best to speak french and everyone was nice -- except in a couple of boulangeries where they appeared a little frustrated -- but that was rare. I did my best.

                                              We were on the go so much that we were often eating sandwiches & baguettes on the run, but we did have a few foodie highlights. We tried As Du Falaffel, based on sistabella's recommendation. Delicious! It was so big we shared one and felt stuffed.

                                              You can't find a fondue restaurant in Toronto, so we went to Pain, Vin, Fromage and it was fabulous (though I can't say I felt so great after eating so much cheese and bread... but it was worth it!)

                                              For ice cream we went to Berthillon. So delicious, although that was the only occassion that our waitress was a bit rude. We ate at several cafe's where we had lovely omlets and crepes. Overall the quality of everything we ate was much higher and more consistent than I've found anywhere else I've been.

                                              We spent a whole day at the Louvre, so we ate in their restaurant for lunch. The soup appetizer was odd (was supposed to be purely vegetarian, but they decided to make it a shrimp soup that day without giving us warning -- my boyfriend tried to make the best of it but found it really strong and unappetizing), but both of our fish dishes were delicious. Bread everywhere was excellent.

                                              Overall we ate fabulously well and managed to communicate enough in french that very rarely were we spoken back to in English. We had a wonderful time. Paris is so magical!

                                              On our last night we did try the Indian restaurant around the corner from our flat... very bland and strange. We heard that indian restaurants often cater to the Parisian tastebuds which prefer milder food... don't know if that is true or if this place just wasn't our cup of tea. We're used to indian food in Toronto which is very spicy, rich, and flavourful. That was our only disappointing meal.

                                              1. re: earthmomma
                                                PhilD Feb 6, 2012 02:35 PM

                                                'Didn't have any problems with clothes... I found it very casual everywhere I went.." Interesting, but I can't see from your post that you ate in and good restaurants. it would useful for others if you put this comment into context by sharing which other restaurants you visited in addition to a take-away falafel cafe, a museum cafe, and a neighbourhood indian.

                                                1. re: PhilD
                                                  s
                                                  sistabella Feb 6, 2012 02:47 PM

                                                  Welcome home Earthmomma!

                                                  So glad to hear your holiday was enjoyable. And glad that you enjoyed the falafel =) I know of a great Indian restaurant in Paris also, I regret I didn't give you that information.

                                                  Besides the Louvre, what else did you enjoy visiting?

                                                2. re: earthmomma
                                                  mangeur Feb 6, 2012 02:57 PM

                                                  Reflecting on the fears you described in your original post, I am smiling at how well your language skills stood up to their tests. Thanks for reporting back.

                                      2. gingershelley Feb 6, 2012 06:17 PM

                                        I have been haunting the France board for nearly 2 1/2 years now since dating a French Parisienne native and we have gone there together a few times - he has lived in the states for 20 years, with regular trip back, but tends to go to his 'memory' places he is used to, and classics he knows about, and I was always looking for the new bistronimique trend for us to eat at...

                                        All that background to say, I only just stumbled onto 2 amazing guides for translating menus english/french or french/english. One is a great list of food items, terms, etc. and the second is all those even-more-confusing colloquial 'kitchen-French' verbs that explain style of cooking, or some such that is common to anyone French, but makes the translation kind of outside of most translators.. the A-Z guide of french foods, and the A-Z guide of french menu terms. It is not cheap: 23€ at Amazon.fr, 24€ direct from the publisher www.scribo.fr . Currently not available from amazon in america... but wait - there is immediate help!

                                        Patricia Wells French food glossary, which is pretty comprehensive (from my humble perspective), and a FREE download. Merci! I am saved....

                                        Check out this thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/749458

                                        my eyes are opened! I ordered them both without delay, despite the price, as well as downloading and printing Patricia Wells glossary this weekend.

                                        This should make for a lively dinner discussion this Wed. when the Frenchman and I get together again. There is so much I need to understand better, and that I already do now!

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: gingershelley
                                          mangeur Feb 6, 2012 06:54 PM

                                          In addition to restaurant help, take these guides to the markets with you and to the butcher, etc. A-Z includes the most esoteric fruits and vegetables and all kinds of offal, including the dreaded (by me) fréchure.

                                          1. re: mangeur
                                            e
                                            earthmomma Feb 9, 2012 04:54 AM

                                            PhilD, yes, I realize that we didn't end up going to some of the fancier restaurants (big part of that was lack of time with everything we wanted to see and my concern with vegetarian options -- also being so full from pastries & baguettes that I barely had room for a several course meal) but I assume that anyone going to a fancy or upscale restaurant should be smart enough to dress up a little? I think it's common sense if you plan to spend 200 euro on a meal a person that you don't show up in sweatpants. Maybe I'm wrong, but my sense from the conversation was that it wasn't just specific to upscale restaurants and I was nervous about encountering it everywhere. Yes, we had falafels on the street and got takeaway indian at some point, but we did sit down for some lovely meals and never did I feel the service was snobby or did what I was wearing make a difference. And everyone was very kind to whatever language issues we had. Of course I would recommend someone to dress up a little when going out for fine dining, but I would recommend that anywhere.

                                            Aside from the Louvre, I loved Musée d'Orsay ... didn't want to leave. My boyfriend is passionate about film, so we visited Cinémathèque Française -- which was interesting but much smaller than what the website made it seem to be. But my favourite parts of the trip were just walking through the streets, along the Seine, exploring neighbourhoods, cafes, boulangeries, riding the metro, and getting a feel for the city as a whole. We finished the trip by having a view of the city up next to the Sacré-Cœur -- just stunning.

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