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Hi, I will be working in France later this year, living in a major city, for a period of just over four months. My work (9-5) will all be in English and I would say I am around the intermediate level - so,  I was wondering how can I best use my time there in order to learn French and is there anything I should be doing in the months before I go that could help me? Any tips or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

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Hello !!

What is your current level in French ?

If you are a complete beginner  it's gonna be hard for you to improve in only 4 months, worse if your working environment is in English...

I would say, watch TV, or just listen to it, same for the radio. You will only pick view words at first but your ears will get use to the language and the accent. And TVs & radios speak a much more correct French than we do in daily life, they also articulate much better.

Before your departure I would suggest getting a French PayPal, you will be able to train a little bit before you go, and went you're in France you will have someone you can ask questions about anything regarding the language or the country. (sometimes it's not easy to ask "silly" questions)

Lastly: Go out !

I know it's not easy but if you are going to a major city you will find plenty of places to hang around after work. Try to go with your colleagues first, the best would be people fluent in both languages. Try to go see a movie, prepare in advance your phrases when you go grocery shopping, many people speak English in France, but  if you just try to speak French they will be much more tolerant and willing to help you than if you speak English.... and Be careful of the "Bonjour" rule ;)

That's what comes to my mind....

If you have any more precise questions don't hesitate !

Haha ,PayPal!

You meant to write "pen pal" certainly".

Are these the new mistakes we get with relying on computer/smartphone technology?

What is the "Bonjour" rule?

OMG....

No no the computer tried to correct me but I insisted x_x I must be corrupted by internet marketing....so sorry... of course PEN PAL.

The "boujour" rule is:

Never try to speak to a French without starting you phrase by "Bonjour/Bonsoir", always, anywhere, anytime.  That's the magic trick who makes French people instantly more friendly ^^

There is more tolerance for friends and family of course....

Sounds like a very good rule to me.

Many Americans will say that French people are naturally impatient and difficult in public. Is there truth to that? What would be some efficient faux pas to assure a tourist pariah status? (Maybe the top 5?)

One of my colleague at work is American and she is the one who talked to me first about that Bonjour rule. I was a bit surprised, then I paid attention in my daily life and noticed she was right, I'm just born and raised int he country so things seem natural.

She was really upset about that, she told me "I went into a shop, I saw the employee, she saw me, I nodded, then I looked for something and when I came back to her with "excusez moi", and my question she only answered a cold "Bonjour".

So, if apparently in America a look or a nod is enough, in France it's not, if you forget the magic word "Bonjour" you have 50% chances to deal with a very cold/rude French because it's the very first mark of respect for us. We literally learn it before speaking or walking...

First : "Bonjour" is important, being polite in general is very important. "Excusez moi, parlez vous anglais ?" "Merci", "Aurevoir" "pardon" are few words that can make wonders. A lot of people speak English in big cities and around touristic attractions but less in the rest of the country. Just say few words in French an people will help you as best as they can even with a poor English. Ask all in English and you will deal with icy ignorance...

Second: never call out/hail to someone, specially a waiter...

I know American people have no problem with that and it's something normal but for us it's very very rude. To ask direction to a stranger in the street you have to reach the person then attract her attention with a small gesture then say "excusez moi... Je cherche etc..."

SAME for the waiters, just look at them when they pass close to you or look in your direction and raise a hand, they will nod and come to you ASAP. Restaurant are quiet places and we dearly HATE foreign people who call out across the room or are speaking too loud....  No need to whisper, but pay attention...even more in luxury restaurants.

If you are interested I can make a special post about table manners, that's a very big subject...

Third: if you go to a big city like Paris, try not to look like a tourist, don't wear your camera or a map around your neck, don't put any valuables in a backpack and close your hand bags. Listen and look before speaking loudly, don't display cash money.

I don't want to frighten anyone but these simple "tips" of common sens can really make your life easier by not making you an easy target for thieves or crooks that  you always find around the main touristic attractions.

That's the first 3 who came to my mind, but if you have other questions I can develop :)

I live in New York, and I must say these three tips will work wonders in my city, too.  We also have a reputation for being arrogant and stand-offish; it's really just the nature of a large city where millions of people are just concerned with their own lives.  Stop and say "Hello, sir/ma'am/miss, but I seem to be a little lost. Do you know where I can find…?"; be careful of your wallet and don't stand in your shorts and flip-flops expecting to be the center of attention; and waiters/waitresses also appreciate a gentle sign instead of a rough shout for their attention.  Believe me, they see you and know you are there.  So hank you, Sandra, for laying out the rules for all.  Merci a vous.

Walking around with camera dangling on your stomach? That itself is a spectacle to behold!
And that alone can explain it if some Parisians are annoyed witless!
The invention of the camera-phone seems to have put an end to that spectacle. (But therefrom has arose an entirely new problem of etiquette now)

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