I'm currently visiting Montreal. In almost every store or restaurant I go to, I'm greeted with "bonjour!" I know just a little French and I could probably get by with a simple transaction, but then I would be lost if anything more nuanced was required. So I usually respond with "hello" and continue in English. Is this OK or is it a faux pas? Would it be more appropriate to start off with "parlez-vous anglais", or is it assumed that most people are bilingual? What about Quebec City — is it more frowned upon there? I really don't want to exude the "arrogant American tourist" vibe!


Tried speaking French as much as possible, resorting to "je suis desolé, je ne parle pas très bien français" whenever I ran into a phrase I couldn't understand. Pretty much everyone I met spoke English to varying degrees, and nobody gave me a hard time. One person even complimented me on my French accent — apparently it was convincing! The only problem is that now I'm compelled to start speaking in French whenever I go into a restaurant in the US. :)

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    I don't think this is a duplicate. "How useful is French?" isn't the same as "How do I respond when addressed in French?" Sep 10, 2013 at 13:35
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    What is most likely to annoy French speakers is you soundiong like you assume they should be speaking English - even if they actually do. "Pardon, je ne parle pas Francais" or "Parlez vous Anglais?" will be a lot more acceptable than just starting to talk English. Sep 10, 2013 at 13:37
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    I think it's well closed, the other question is vague and mostly ask how to react to French questions, and the chosen answer addresses the concern, i.e. make an effort trying to speak French and people will be helpful and tolerant. That's mostly the thing to keep in mind in Quebec: they try to keep speaking French and their language is their pride, so starting a conversation in English might "offend their pride".
    – Vince
    Sep 10, 2013 at 14:34
  • +1 for DJClayworth, I believe it applies to most none English place you will visit.
    – Zonata
    Sep 10, 2013 at 14:37

4 Answers 4


I was there (and Quebec City) back in March. I knew a few basic words in French, and I think most people like it when you respond in the same language as them.

I generally responded in my mangled French, they'd usually smile and without asking, switch to English to communicate with me. No fuss, no question, they'd just change. Very hospitable.

Basically, there's no reason NOT to practice the language, and you'll feel better each time you get further into a conversation, or learn a new word, so if you're afraid of 'exuding' a 'American tourist' vibe, give it a try, and, er "saisir le jour" (seize the day, I believe)! :)


I wouldn't say it's a faux pas though perhaps a small minority of people there might regard it as such.

But since you know some French, I highly recommend you practice it and switch to English at the point you feel your French won't hold up well enough to further the conversation.

I do this wherever I travel, starting with "hello" in the language then switching to English from there usually. People always seem to appreciate it and I find that overall I'm treated a little bit nicer on average. It definitely elicits many smiles in different places and that's a good sign. Throw in as many local words as you can and use English for anything you can't say in French.

In the rare case where the other person might tell you your French is so bad that you're mangling the language they are going to switch to English anyway and that person was unlikely to become your best friend anyway.


What you are doing is fine and common practice. Most people here, including myself who has been living in Montreal 15 years, just keep going with the language being spoken. So, if you switch to English, most staff will follow in English too. If they cannot, which does happen from time to time, they will respond back in French. Just keep the conversation slow and you can continue your part in English. People and public-facing staff can often understand basic English even if they do not speak it.

Quebec definitely has more people who do not speak English but in the touristy areas, they usually speak English. The last time I was there, just last year, I was even surprised how easy it was to speak English. I had not noticed before because I normally just speak French but that time I was visiting with some non-French speakers. So, after waiters heard me translate from French to English for my companions, they would just switch to English to speed things up in most places.


As long as you're being polite, it's fine. There are plenty of American tourists there (arrogant and otherwise), and it is (semi?)officially bilingual.
(Not quite - See @Zonata's comment/link)

It is an opportunity to use your French a little, but you will be understood by (almost) everyone in English. Even if you were fluent in both, you'd be switching a bit.

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    Quebec is not officially bilingual. Only New Brunswick is. The other provinces haven't chose to adopt one or two languages officially.
    – Zonata
    Sep 10, 2013 at 14:42
  • @Zonata Huh, duly noted. But official/government documents are printed in at least two languages, right?
    – hunter2
    Sep 11, 2013 at 3:18
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    Yes, for more information refer to the Quebec language charter: www2.publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca/dynamicSearch/…
    – Zonata
    Sep 11, 2013 at 13:51

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