Top 10 French words all tourists need to know for their France vacation

By Diane of Oui In France

It’s almost time to leave for France and you can barely contain your excitement! You've been dreaming of Paris the minute your head has hit the pillow for weeks now. Your bags are packed! You've been scoping out the best bakeries in the city, making a list of museums you can't wait to see, and learning as much as you can about French culture. Good on you! But what about the French language? Have no fear -- I'm going to teach you the top 10 French words all tourists need to know for a trip to France. Nervous? Don’t be! No one expects tourists to speak perfect French, but trying your best to bust out a few key words goes a long way toward respecting the culture and how you're perceived by the French. Get ready to dust off your high school French and don’t forget to have fun with it.

If you’d like to hear the words as well, head to the audio at the end of the post.

1. Bonjour

I'm kicking off my list with the most important French word you need to know -- bonjour. It’s truly a magic word in France and simply means hello (good day). It is a word you need to use liberally, so don’t be shy. Use bonjour any time you interact with another human being to kick the interaction off on the right foot.

Before stopping a stranger on the street for directions, when you walk into a boutique, before ordering food or whatever the situation, start off by saying bonjour. It’s not optional! Bonjour is used even more often in French than we’d use hello in English. Where we could get away with “Excuse me, where is the train station” in English, in French that phrase is missing the obligatory bonjour. Remember that every interaction needs to start with a bonjour before all else. Yes, it’s THAT important.

NOTE: After 6 p.m. or if it's dark outside, say bonsoir (good evening) instead.

2. Merci

Coming in hot on the heels of bonjour is merci, which means thank you and is another must-know French word that you can add to your lexicon. The French are socially more polite than you might be accustomed to, so be sure to bring your A-game when it comes to manners. Use merci like you would use thank you in English. If you want to level up and show even more thanks, you can add beaucoup to the end — merci beaucoup, which is thank you very much.

3. Au revoir

When it's time to say goodbye to someone, bid them adieu with au revoir. In English, we don’t always say goodbye, but French society is a bit more formal, so be sure to say this one often. It literally means “until the reseeing” (or most naturally, “until we meet again”). Use it when you leave a store, restaurant, or any time you'd use goodbye in English.

4. S'il vous plaît

Technically, this one is a phrase in French but it is the equivalent of the word please. If you ask anyone for anything, always put a polite s'il vous plaît at the end. When you order at a restaurant, ask where the bathroom is, or stop someone for directions, a s'il vous plaît is a must. Without saying please, simple requests sound a little rough around the edges in French.

5. Pardon

Pardon is an easy way to say "excuse me," as in the case of physically walking into someone by accident or needing to make your way to the door of a crowded metro. It can also be used like the English "pardon me" when you need someone to repeat what they said.

6. Excusez-moi

Literally excuse me, this one is a bit more formal than pardon and is commonly used when you ask a stranger a question (after bonjour). So you can say, "Bonjour, excusez-moi..." (Hello, excuse me… then continue with the question). Use this when you might be interrupting someone.

7. Combien?

This is a question and means "how much?" Keep it on the tip of your tongue when out shopping at stores, markets, or whenever you need to know the price of something. The full phrase to use for "how much does it cost" is “combien ça coute?" And don't forget the bonjour and s'il vous plaît! So it’s, “Bonjour, combien ça coûte, s'il vous plaît?”

8. L'addition

When it's time to ask the waiter or waitress for your bill at a restaurant, you'll want to ask them for "l'addition" (s'il vous plaît). Otherwise, in France the table is yours for as long as you'd like. Generally, the waiter won't automatically bring your bill once you're done eating except in super touristy areas.

10. Vin

No trip to France is complete without some wine! Vin is the French word for wine, so if you'd like a glass of wine at a cafe, say "un verre de vin, s'il vous plaît.” To be more specific, add rouge, blanc or rosé to the end depending on whether or you’d like red, white or rosé wine.


There you have it, my list of the top 10 French words all tourists need to know for a trip to France. Whether you’re visiting Paris or another beautiful part of France, these typical French words won’t steer you wrong, so start practicing now and get ready to use them often. Bon voyage!

9. Bonne journée

Use this one when you want to say have a good day. You’ll hear it all the time, so to sound more like the French, why not tack on a bonne journée before saying au revoir to someone. It’s cheery and an oh-so-French way to go beyond just saying bye.

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