I can say that I am quite experienced now in communicating with French people. As some of you may travel to France for summer vacation, here a little advice.
There are a few simple rules that will hugely improve your communication even if you hardly speak French. First of all, there is a misunderstand that French people are not willing to talk English. They speak English and are proud to do so, only you were not aware it was English because of their strong French accent. My French colleague ones tried to explain that he had a heart problem and said: “My urt urts”
The English speech of the president of France Mr. Macron, and his fantastic quote “Make our planet great again”, is really an exception. We could all understand what he was talking about, amazing! But how will you manage that a French person starts talking English to you instead of moving on in high level and high-speed French? The key to this is starting in French yourself. Even if you do not speak French, just pretend. Than apologize that you hardly speak French although you find it the most beautiful language in the world. But be aware, do not learn these lines by heart to make it flow and good understandable. If the quality of your first 3 lines is to high they will move on in French, with the speed of emptying a “Mitraillette” machine gun. You will be killed by the French words. My French has improved a lot but from time to time I go back to toddler-French meanwhile looking a bit silly. For example when going to the bank. Numbers in French are very complicated. I still do not manage this so the only solution is pretending that I am stupide. I often work with Native French speaking Africans and I can much easier understand them as citizens of France. They just talk slower and their accent is easier to follow.
Also be aware that French people have a different sense of humour as Dutch and English. Where you would normally solve things with a joke, in France this can lead to difficult situations. They are true chauvinist and expect that you show respect to France. At a music festival in Paris I was talking in French to a guy of the security. He lived in France but clearly his origins were of North Africa. Another guy interrupted by saying to me in French that he had never seen such a beautiful women in his life. I looked a bit surprised when hearing this opening line and said : “Je crois que vous etes aveugle”. This means something like, probably you are blind. He was not amused at all and turned his back on me immediately. The security guy found it big fun and for example an English guy would laugh out loud and get some beers.
My name “Gerardine” keeps on causing problems as well. It just does not exist for French people and organisations. I now seriously consider to change my name to Geraldine because they refuse to change official documents with my correct name. I keep on filling in correction documents requested by these organisation, but apparently the person that needs to upload this new data considers that I do not know how my name is spelled. Even if I add a copy of my passport they are still not convinced. It might be the case when I retire that I will not receive my pension because I am not the same person after a check on my passport. Interesting is also that it is compulsory to use the family name of my husband although it is not in my passport or any official document. I never use his name and he does not live or work in France but still I need to use his name.
I find all these differences very amusing and just adapt to the situation. So, I pay my tax to the government by cheque, an old system that in Europe is only used in France. When not at home in the Netherlands I live in a very nice typical French town, Saint Germain en Laye, in the suburb of Paris. Although not very comfortable in winter I chose for a French style apartment and really enjoy the atmosphere.
I can go to my work wearing high heels and dresses with a length above my knees what was considered inappropriate in the Netherlands. With pleasure I eat my croissant and drink a glass of wine during a work lunch. In the Netherlands milk is served during lunch…
So, don’t worry, I am not complaining at all!