Demystifying the French: Tip #2

April 27, 2012 at 5:41 pm 1 comment

Here’s tip #2 for getting along better in France: use Polly Platt’s “ten magic words.”

In her very helpful book, French or Foe? Polly Platt urges her readers to learn what she calls the “Ten Magic Words” that will open the doors of the French heart and soul, and turn potentially sour encounters into sweet ones.

Here are the first five words:  Excusez-moi de vous déranger. ..

(No, it does not mean “Excuse me for deranging you.” It means, “I’m sorry to bother you.”)

Starting an encounter with a stranger like this (for example, a person on the street who you want to ask for directions) lets them know two things.

1) You speak at least some French; and

2) You have good manners (that is, you are bien élevé)

With these two important facts established, you’re off to a very good start.

Polly Platt says that, counter to their reputation of being aloof, condescending and cold, if you add the next five words “…monsieur, mais j’ai un probleme” most French people will go far out of their way to try to help you solve it.

She adds that this verbal nicety is so well ingrained in the French character that it was even reported in the French press that an armed robber began his holdup of a gas station with the words “Excusez-moi de vous déranger, mais j’ai besoin de fric.”  (“Excuse me for bothering you, but I need some dough.” You’ll notice, however, that he failed to properly address his victim with a “monsieur.”)

As someone who grew up in the taciturn American Midwest, when I first read this advice, my initial reaction was: There is no way I can say that many words right off the bat. (Followed by the thought: And even if I could, surely they would know I had just been reading Polly Platt…)

But. Then one day, in desperation, I decided to try it.

And you know what? Polly Platt was  right. Try it, and you’ll see!

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and literature based in Silver Spring, Maryland.  She teaches literature courses in Paris, Hawaii, and Cuba for the Education Abroad program at Queens College, CUNY, and Writing from the Heart workshops in Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France. This post was created for a class she created and taught at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.: “Demystifying the French: Tips for and Tales from Franco-American Encounters.” 

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Entry filed under: About France, About Travel, Demystifying the French. Tags: , , , , .

Demystifying the French: Tip #1 Demystifying the French: Tip #3

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