Most French people in the hospitality industry — hotels, restaurants, bars— speak English, so you can usually get food and accommodation without speaking a word of French.
You can even work in France without needing much French— such as a bartender or an English teacher for example — and get by with speaking the bare minimum of the language.
But there are some places in France where knowing French is absolutely essential. Here’s a roundup of the nine places or situations where you’re going to need it most.
Any office of French administration
Sure, it’s easy enough to just point out your trusty old Brie or Camembert or the slab of beef or pick up any old bottle of red, but if you want to know what your buying or want advice for what cheese to get or what wine to go with what cheese then you'll need to learn the lingo and some specific vocab.
But if you actually want to know what differentiates certain cheeses, get recommendations based on your taste and be sure to get a cheese you like (even if it’s one you haven’t tasted before) you need to be able to converse with the fromager.
They’re always more than happy to share their priceless cheese wisdom if you can speak a little French.
The doctor’s surgery
While some English-speaking doctors can be found in Paris, expats living elsewhere in France can never bet on it.
Ideally when going to the doctor’s office, you should be able to explain your symptoms and perfectly understand the instructions your doctor gives you for treatment.
It could spell disaster if your doctor gets the wrong idea of what's wrong with you (or at least lead to embarrassment).
Another person The Local France knows very well says he ended up naked in one consultation with a French doc even though he only went in with a sore throat. He reckons cupping his hands to stress how big his tonsils felt might have been the problem.
Best learn the vocab before you go. And just point.
Going to the bank in France can be a stressful experience for foreigners. Just to open a simple checking account requires navigating reams of paperwork, providing proof of housing and a work contract or proof of school enrollment, and promising your first-born child.
And tasks such as international wire transfers or setting up automated payments that require specific French vocabulary can’t always be done online as some foreigners might be used to in their home countries.
And just wait until something goes wrong and you have to go in and explain they have charged you too much.
To make your life a bit easier, here are our five key tips to opening a bank account in France.
The dinner party
Sending letters and packages home to family members and friends is just another part of expat life. But it can be tricky if you don’t even know how to say “expedited” in French (no, it’s not “expédié”) or “It needs to get there in three days or my sister will think I forgot her birthday.”
You also don’t want to find yourself uncomprehendingly agreeing to some super fast, heavily-insured delivery plan and paying 14 euros to send a greeting card.
When finding a place to live in France, knowing all the renting and buying lingo such as caution (deposit), alimentation (water/electricity supply) and charges comprises (utilities included) is absolutely essential.
Otherwise you might find yourself living in a closet-sized (and closet-less) studio apartment with no windows, no bathroom, and barely room enough to stretch out your arms. Oh wait, that’s just normal life for renters in Paris…
When you're in trouble with the law
Not stamped your train ticket and want to get out of paying a fine? Gone through a red light in your car or even on your bike? Been caught for speeding? Been a little too raucous in the street? Yes, you know trying to come up with an excuse in French was impossible and the whole “I don't speak French” thing just doesn't work.
The same goes for if you are victim of a crime. In short if you want to converse with the French cops, learn their language.
READ ALSO: Thirteen free and easy ways to learn French