Traveller’s diary – Parlez vous français?

Just Imagine. A final announcement by the cabin-crew that you are about to land in Paris. You are very excited, yet scared to land in this foreign land and even a bit cold as suddenly the aircraft’s air conditioning gets to you. The weather and the landscapes that you see from the plane seem to be different from what you have ever seen in your life. You adjust the time on your watch, putting it 3.5 hours behind India. We are reaching soon.

Visiting France and the city of lights, Paris,was a dream that I had since I was young. The more than nine-hour journey from India had given me plenty of time to let my imagination build the country. The first images to come to my mind were scenes from Bollywood and some Hollywood movies shot there. I, of course, had done some research before leaving and made sure to pin all the Google pages that could be useful during my trip ! One thing that people had repeatedly told me before leaving “the French don’t like to speak English and as we Indians speak an Indian English , it could prove to be another handicap as the French are not used to this accent.” Despite this, I did manage to get around without too many problems. Here is my secret of roaming France without speaking French.

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This was in 2015 and I got the chance to visit Paris for an official assignment. First, I thought that visiting Paris without knowing the French language could be a painful journey. But far from the clichés, I found here many people who actually tried to understand me. If not through words, then through signs and smiles. Sometimes, you may also meet rude people especially in restaurants or shops. Paris being one of the most visited cities in the world, the real Parisians working here may get tired of tourists! But in general, on the streets of Paris if you are in doubt, target the youth to ask for help, they usually will be happy to help you!

After spending a few days in Paris, it was quite easy to find my way around here as Paris is very small as compared to New Delhi, where I live. You can easily walk from a famous place to another and the public transport is also very well organised. If you are a vegetarian or you are home-sick for Indian food, head to Gare du Nord where you will find plenty of Indian restaurants. Try the Sarvanna Bhavan that proposes great south Indian cuisine.

If you prefer other cuisines, remember, the French don’t understand the concept of vegetarian, so no point using these terms. Say clearly no meat, no fish and no eggs. If you are confused about the meat they propose (if you eat chicken only for example), you can flap your arms like a chicken or move like fish! No! I am joking, of course, things are actually much simpler. Some restaurants, even small ones, have an English menu.

Paris is, as many may know already, a paradise for shopping and considered to be the world’s fashion capital. You can find plenty of options. Large department stores like the famous Galeries Lafayette, Printemps or malls sprinkled all over the city. Besides, there are plenty of options in shopping areas like Opera, Le Marais, Le Chatelet. Usually you won’t face any problem with language as the prices are clearly mentioned and you can not really bargain! But do not forget to claim your tax refund at the moment you pay so that you can get back some money before flying back at the tax refund counter at the airport. An interesting shopping experience can be had in the flea market where you will find some unique pieces and antiques such as furniture, books, Jewellery, artefacts etc.

Finally, don’t forget to say Bonjour (good morning) S’il vous plaît (please) and Merci (thanks), French people like to be polite!

Some personal advice –

  • Take a local Sim card, for 5 euros you can find one in any librarie (bookshop) or ‘Tabac’
  • Use your GPS and download offline maps. Get a metro map for free at the ticketing booth in the metro.
  • Language translator apps are quite good for quick translations
  • Indian quarter in Paris at Gare du Nord (station) or La Chapelle metro station with Indian vegetarian restaurants.

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