10 Nov 2014

Questions You Should Never Ask in Paris

Paris, Tuileries Garden, Vicki Archer

Reading these tongue in cheek questions-not-to ask-in-Paris from Suzy Strutner of the Huffington Post really had me smiling.

I thought you would have a giggle over them.


Where is Note-er-dayme?

It’s Notre-Dame de Paris , not the football university.


Can I get this to go?

Takeaway is still a bit of a no no in Paris


Dressing on the side? A skinny latte?

French cuisine is usually about more not less.


Where is the Eiffel Tower?

As if you could miss it :)

Invalides, Paris, Vicki Archer


Is the Tour de France in town right now?

It’s a once a year race and every Parisian knows exactly when and where.


Where can I buy a beret?

Wearing a beret is not what we want to do.


What perfume are you wearing?

French women may not share their innermost secrets with a stranger.


Can you take one more photo of me jumping at the Trocadero?

Done and done.

rue Cler, Paris, Vicki Archer

and one of my own,

Should my streetwear always match the bistro chairs?

I couldn’t resist snapping this guy on rue Cler in the 7th… perfect colour co-ordination :)

A little fun for a new week.

Have you got any embarrassing Parisian questions that we could add to the list?

I am sure we could think of some more… xv

to read the complete list from Suzy Strutner at Huffington Post … click here

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Even Huff P has got it slightly wrong in their guide to pronounce “Notre”.
Believe correct pronunciation of Notre (Dame) is Not-ruh (with a short o sound) – NOT Note-ruh as in Huff’s pronunciation advice. Similarly, Monet is pronounced Mon – nay, definitely NOT Moan-nay. Why do almost all Americans say Moan-nay? Have always been puzzled. Pamela


That makes me smile Pamela… yes it is Mon-nay not to be confused with Man-nay… but I do love the American accent.. that Moan -nay is very endearing to me… :)
I think we all find other’s accents much mre pleasing than fellow countrymen do.


Yes. Agree. But not when they almost all (including arts experts) mispronounce names of famous painters. Last June in Paris we met some Americans who asked if we’d been to the Bone-nard Exhibition. It was much harder to figure out the meaning from just their pronunciation – it’s easy here in writing. I asked them what a bone-nard was. They looked incredulous – “haven’t you heard of the famous French painter”? ” Oh right! Perhaps you mean Bonn-nah?” “Yes Bone-nard”.
I do think anyone who travels should attempt to get the basic pronunciation correct for really famous places and people (even if they don’t speak the language – but not really difficult languages like Mandarin or Japanese or little known ones like Hungarian of course) – especially in major tourist destinations like France and Italy. I think Aussies make more effort than Yanks in that way. Americans seem to have their own formula for how to pronounce foreign words – and it’s often quite wrong. They don’t seem to listen to how the locals say the words and correct themselves as many Aussies do. Also I think locals have more respect for foreigners if they have at least made an effort to get such pronunciation correct. I also suspect many French wouldn’t know what a bone-nard was. Best wishes. Pamela
PS Remember a famous Australian told a story about visiting Paris years ago when young and trying out his dreadful school boy French. He wanted to ask where the railway station was – but actually his pronunciation was “Ou est la guerre?” Not “Ou est la gare?” The French response was “A Vietnam”! xx

Anita Rivera

Oh Vicki, these are GREAT “don’t ask” questions! I was a good girl when I was there and believe that I didn’t commit any gaffes, but one of my fourth grade French immersion students told me once that on a trip to Paris with his non-French speaking parents, his father wanted to try out his French and meant to ask a local where the restrooms where. The student said his dad called the person a toilet. teehee….Oh how important it is to know the difference between your verbs! (I believe the dad said, “Vous êtes les toilettes” instead of, Où sont les toilettes!”)



I can just imagine!
I have made some almighty gaffes Anita… In my debut days in France I remember having a chat with the painter who was working on our famhouse… got myself all in a muddle with my “p” words… I had been swearing at him all morning… without intention or knowledge… he was very charming… never said a word!


That’s hilarious…..when my friend first moved to France she visited the home of a rather distant French lady who had a beautiful Persian cat….in her enthusiasm, my friend declared “je voudrais violer votre chat” ….. Imagine her horror when she realised what she’d said……she meant, she’d like to steal it (voler) :-)


So funny, Tiffany! Years ago a neighbour was telling us about her first most embarrassing gaffe after moving to Spain. She was at a party on a very hot night and went around saying to everyone what she thought was “It’s so hot tonight!” Finally someone told her what she was really saying was “I’m on heat tonight!”

Another rather worse incident was when the Oz Minister for Immigration many years ago was attending a naturalisation ceremony in his first few weeks in the job. He told one of his staff that he wanted to welcome them in Italian (most of them at that time were) and asked him to find out how to say “How wonderful it is to see you here tonight with your bright shining faces, happy to take Australian citizenship”. What he really said (his staffer had been badly deceived by the tricky person who translated) was ‘You peasants certainly scrub up well!” He couldn’t understand why they booed him. Cheers, Pamela

The Enchanted Home

Too funny…and reminds me of why I love France and everything about it!!! Especially the no takeaway, they believe in having their meals in a civilized way, bravo!

And the no dressing on the side, such an American thing! Fun post.


It’s not salad without the dressing Tina… ;)
I love that eating is a pastime to be enjoyed and savored… no eating on the run… I am not sure of the emergency that could interupt a Frenchman’s lunch… but it would be very grave… ;)

Hata Trbonja

Pronunciation is always tricky for visitors.
I remember my first visit to Paris, instead of saying au revoir, I would say avoir. I cringe when I remember all the puzzled looks as I would say AVOIR! at the top of my American lungs.

Nancy Carlson

On my first trip to Paris, I had an interesting thing happen to me. My husband and I stopped in a wonderful restaurant down the street from our hotel.
I was in the mood for something light for lunch so I decided on just soup, I placed an order for French Onion soup. An elderly French man overheard me and corrected me. He said ” In Paris, you order onion soup. I thought that it was so logical. I laughed!

Vicky from Athens

To Pamela . . . Unfortunately, here in the good ole USA most people do say “Note-er-Dayme” when they are talking about the University of Notre Dame. It’s the accepted pronounciation. I would never use that pronounciation when speaking about the Cathedral of Notre Dame but I’m sure many Americans do.

Carol Young

Hi Viki,
I can resist telling my experience. Waiting for an elevator in Paris, I decided to strike up a conversation with an older woman, who was also waiting, by asking what floor she was going to….Quel etage allez vous?
Instead, I asked How old are you?!
Quel age avez vous? Similar, n’est pas?
Her response was Mon dieu!

Carol Young

I think a lesson here is that the French are not as casual as we are in the USA and trying to engage a stranger in conversation may be less welcome.

Caroline Lacroix

Vicki, your post is very interesting and funny, and the comments too. I would like a tourist to ask me where he can buy a béret (well, I can’t believe it!), it would make me smile so much but I would not make fun of him! Après tout, I dare write in English although I know I make a lot of mistakes. And if you could hear my accent… Eh bien, tant pis, I do it!


We would all love to hear your accent Caroline.. I love nothing more than French accented English… it’s much prettier than my Aussie accented French!

Caroline Lacroix

Thank you Vicki. The accent doesn’t matter, I appreciate when people try to speak the language of the country they are visiting, don’t you think so?

Cathy C

When I have visited Paris, I have heard people say to a local, “Do you speak English?” How hard would it be to learn one line, “Parlez-vous anglais?” and make the effort?

LZT Bacon

when I first moved to France I put a message on my answer phone — in French — asking the caller to leave a message. I couldn’t understand why everyone who left a message seemed to be laughing or smiling… until one friend said it was pretty difficult to leave a “massage” (as I pronounced it) over the phone, but would come by if I wished.


That’s priceless… :)
I used to answer the phone ( with dread I might add) in a long winded way until a French friend told me it might be “easier” just to answer “allo” :)


I love this list! I’ve visited Paris several times, but being a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, I am afraid that for “Notre Dame,” the American pronunciation always comes to mind! Oh well, I should just practice better pronunciation for other words :)


So funny. Nice to hear French people having a bit of fun with the little gaffs non French people are bound to make from time to time. I have German friends and while I think it’s cute that they refer to gloves as hand shoes when speaking English they find it embarassing. I tell them not to worry as I can understand what they are saying anyway. I think it’s much nicer to have someone smile and maybe tease you and not make too much of a fuss while correcting you, then being scolded and made to feel stupid. I can imagine some people would just give up trying to learn French or other languages. My French is non existant but I have fun with a little translation gadget I have. I find I’m more willing to open my mouth and attempt to communicate in French after a glass or two of wine. So far I’ve actually prevented a French family in French Polynesia from eating a poisonous fish the husband had caught that day thanks to my knowledge and my little translation gadget. Mind you the conversations this gadget provides are not riviting by any means.

miss b

What a fun post which actually makes me want to book my next trip! Long civilised lunches are the best. I can remember when I was working in a French lycée as an English assistante a good few years ago and we enjoyed two hour lunch breaks. It was quite different from the rushed school canteen back home.


Many years ago when we lived in Wellington (New Zealand) a neighbour told us of her most embarrassing experience when she first moved to Spain for a few years. She’d learned some (very) basic Spanish, it was high summer and at a party she tried to say how hot it was. Everyone she said it to looked at her in shock and some of the men became a little forward. Finally someone took her aside and advised she’d been telling everyone: “I’m on heat!”

Years ago for awhile I taught English to foreigners at a language school in Cambridge, UK. My students initially had problems distinguishing between the use of fascinating and fascinated, interesting and interested. They’d sometimes say things like “I’m so fascinating” – when they meant “I’m so fascinated”.
Learning foreign languages is a challenge but so many Europeans are highly skilled, to our shame. Once knew an Icelander who could speak English, French, German, Russian fluently and also had a smattering of Italian and Spanish. And a Spaniard who as well as Spanish could speak fluently English, Italian, French, German and Arabic. So impressive – but he thought nothing of it. Also, in Oz, in the course of my previous work have had colleagues who could speak both Mandarin and Japanese fluently and interpret from and into both languages. Best wishes, Pamela

Cindy McDonald

Having lived in this beautiful country I simply adore all things, françaises. At every opportunity I ‘attempted’ to speak French, but with my southern drawl friends would quickly stop me and insist on speaking English. Poor dears, it must have sounded like fingernails on a blackboard, and sometimes I begged to let me practice…NO! please, no. Even when they spoke beautiful English they had difficulty understanding my English.. so I cannot begin to imagine how my French translated. I do appreciate their politeness.


Thank you its a wonderful post Vicki, it’s made my day. And the comments made me smile too, ladies, so thank. I wonder where one can buy a translation gadget; I wonder if it is available here in Australia? I certainly will need one next year in Paris. It has also made me get my act together and learn some French, so, again, that you.


Google translate isn’t bad Kay… and it’s very easy to use.. not perfect but very helpful at times… :)

L Garner

I was able to travel to Paris for ten days with my sister-in law a few years ago, my previous trip to France was 30 years before that. The first trip I found the French to be rude and not pleasant. On my second trip I was worried that it would feel much the same. I was pleasantly surprised to find the French to be warm, tolerating and appreciative. I realized that I needed to not butcher their language if I could not speak it correctly, The French are very proud people, and the history of their country needs to be respected, as is our country. I found going on a tour, with a guide for ten days and reading as much as I could about the people and country was very helpful. Go with a open mind and enjoy.


My first trip to France was with a high school group. We had studied hard and were very excited. But…the women refused to speak to us and the men yelled Americans go home. We were just schoolgirls! My last trip to France was better. Rarely would someone speak to us or smile. But no one yelled at us. One needlepoint shop owner did ask where we were from…Alabama…and she told me she hated Alabama. Ok. I did purchase the rather pricey items anyway. So she learned no lesson from me. In NO country is it ok to be so rude. It detracts from the beauty of the country.


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