Why do French people reply to you in English when you try to speak to them in French?

Don't tell me it has never happened to you during a trip to France 😉. 

You are, let's say, in Paris, and you think: "well, let's practice my French a little bit and ask this man for some information, like... how to go to the Eiffel Tower." 

So you approach the man, and you start:

"Excusez moi Monsieur, comment faire pour aller à la tour Eiffel, s'il vous plait ?*

- You need to take the metro, follow direction Charles de Gaulle Etoile and get off at Bir Hakeim. You'll see, it's very easy!

- 😕..."

I even wonder if it doesn't happen to people who actually live in Paris, or France in general, or who have been living there for a long time, as long as they keep a tiny accent.

It also happens to us sometimes when we are on holiday. Paris is quite a large city, and although I am originally from Paris I do not know all the streets, so we still explore the city a lot, sometimes with a map, like two tourists, looking for traces of the past or just for the pleasure of walking around in a street we do not know yet, and we often find hidden gems. 

One day, we were looking at the map and commenting in English on what we were going to do next, when a man approched us, and, very nicely, said:

"Can I help you?"

The problem with us Parisians is that we tend to consider ourselves as natural extentions of the Tourist office. 😉

That was really nice of him, however we were in France so my husband rectified and answered in French (I didn't say I was French, naughty woman...) and the man looked a bit surprised. 

So I have thought about all this, and my personal conclusion is that there is more chance that this is going to happen to you if you are in a city where people are known for being in a hurry all the time. 

Believe it or not, Parisians are always in a hurry, even though we manage to spend hours sitting at a café doing nothing, just observing the traffic or passers by.

Parisians usually love to help tourists (we also love when people, like young couples for instance, ask us to take pictures of them in front of a monument, although this tradition tends to disappear as more and more people walk around with their third arm, you know, the telescopic one) and for that reason they may spontaneously speak in English to help even better, and also gain some time, but unfortunately I do not think people realize that tourists also want to practice the language, not just visit the city, and moreover if Parisians are walking in the street rather than sitting at a café, as it's always one or the other, it means they are in a rush, and they usually prefer to speak in English so there will be less risk they will have to repeat. 

This is, according to me, always the same in big cities. 

It happened to me in New York City too, a long, long time ago (but not in a galaxy far, far away) when I was standing in a street with my map in my hand. The person did not come to me, but as soon as I asked her for some help, she started speaking to me in French. 

I thought it was really nice of her to try to help to the point that she made the effort to speak my language, just in case it would be easier for me to understand.

A real problem would be if people thought that this tourist is a superb opportunity for them to practive their English. You would then enter into a sort of neverending vicious circle, with one speaking in French, the other one in English... But after all, who said Paris is not a cosmopolitan, multicultural and multilingual city? 😉

There is a way you may be able to escape this terrible situation. Nowadays, practically everybody learns English at school, so if you really want to practice your French, I advise you to ask preferably old people, let's say those above 75 or 80. 

Or you go and ask people sitting at a café. If there is one around, as apparently more and more of them are closing. They might even invite you to join them.

Things will be different in a smaller town. First, because in "province"** people are not always in a rush like Parisians, I mean the ones who walk, but also because less people speak English in smaller towns, as there are less tourists, so you need to practice your English less often to reply to those tourists desperately trying to practice their French. 

In consequence, considering the impossibility to solve this problem, my ultimage advice is: never go to Paris, go and spend your holidays somewhere else in "province".

Just joking, of course... 😎

* Excuse me, Sir, how do you go to the Eiffel Tower?

** The "province" is everything which is not Paris and its suburbs.

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