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La Politesse - Politeness in French - Part I

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

How to be perceived as being polite in French.

Mostly In French Today!

We try to provide both interest and variety in our bimonthly blog, so this week we’re going to do something a little bit different and focus on both language and culture by discussing an interesting topic mostly in French. Not much English except this introduction and a translation at the end!

The Palace of Versailles
C’est important d’être poli, respectueux.

Many of our readers want to know what it takes to be perceived as being polite in the French language. So first we’re going to have you listen to Julie discuss Part I of this subject entirely in French to sharpen your listening comprehension skills. After listening, there is a transcript of her discussion below that you may then consult to pick up words or phrases that you missed in the audio. And then, if you need it, there is an English translation near the end. Julie will speak at near normal conversational speed which at first you may find to be challenging. Second time through, you always pick up more. This will be fun! Listen!

French Transcription

Bonjour à tous. Bienvenue sur le blog de cette semaine. J’espère que tout s’est bien passé pour vous pendant l’été de Covid-19, et que vous trouvez notre blog utile, comme vous étudiez le français. Aujourd’hui, on va parler de la politesse en français. Alors, qu’est-ce que ca veut dire être poli ? Ca veut dire être respectueux, courtois, et aimable. C’est mieux pour les relations et tout le monde est plus heureux. Comment peut-on être poli en français ? C’est assez simple. Naturellement, c’est un peu comme en anglais.

Pour les français c’est important d’être poli, respectueux.

D’abord, tout le monde dit “bonjour” en France. Si vous dites “bonjour” ou “bonsoir”, même au commerçant ou au chauffeur de taxi, tout va aller mieux, les gens vont être plus amicaux. De plus, quand on rencontre quelqu’un en anglais, peut-être un boulanger ou une vendeuse, parfois on utilise les mots “sir” ou “ma’am” ou “miss”. C’est encore plus important en France.

Donc, en français, on dit habituellement, “ bonjour Monsieur” ou “bonjour Madame”, ou “merci Monsieur”, “au revoir Madame”, “oui Mademoiselle”, “bien sûr Monsieur.” C’est la même chose qu’en anglais, mais en France, on utilise ces mots, l'équivalent de “sir” et “ma’am”, plus souvent qu’aux États-Unis par exemple. Pour les français, c’est très important d’être respectueux et poli, particulièrement avec les étrangers.

Bien sûr, nous utilisons “please” et “thank you” exactement comme en anglais aussi. Donc : “S’il vous plaît” (formel) ou “s’il te plaît” (informel) pour “please”, et “merci”, “merci beaucoup”, ou “je vous remercie” pour “thank you.” Et pour dire “you’re welcome” vous pouvez dire “de rien” (“it was nothing” en anglais), qui est informel, ou “je vous en prie”, qui est plus formel et plus approprié avec des étrangers. “Je vous en prie” est une expression qui est difficile à traduire littéralement en anglais. C’est un peu comme dire “it’s my pleasure.”

Voilà ! J’espère que ce blog aujourd’hui vous a été utile. La prochaine fois nous allons encore parler de politesse, partie II. Passez de bonnes vacances d’été. À bientôt !

English Translation

Hello to all. Welcome to this week’s blog. I hope that all is going well for you during the summer of Covid-19, and that you find our blog to be useful as you study French. Today we’re going to talk about being polite in French. So what does that mean to be polite? That means to be respectful, courteous, and nice. It’s better for relationships. Everyone is happier. How can one be polite in French? It’s rather simple. Naturally, it’s a little like in English.

First, everyone says “hello” in France. If you say “bonjour” or “bon soir” to all, even the shopkeeper or the taxi driver, all will go better, people will be more friendly. Furthermore, when we meet someone in English, perhaps a butcher or a sales woman, sometimes we utilize the words “sir” or “ma’am” (madam) or “miss”. This is even more important in France.

In French we usually say, “bonjour Monsieur” or “bonjour Madame”, or “merci Monsieur”, “au revoir Madame”, “oui Mademoiselle”, or “bien sur Monsieur”. It’s the same thing as in English, but in France, we utilize these words, the equivalent of “sir” and “ma’am”, more often than in the United States, for example. For the French, it’s very important to be respectful and polite, particularly with strangers.

Of course, we utilize “please” and “thank you” exactly as in English also. “S’il vous plaît”(formal) or “s’il te plaît” (informal) for “please”, “merci”, “merci beaucoup”, ou “je vous remercie” for “thank you.” And to say “you’re welcome” you can say, “de rien” (“it was nothing” in English) which is informal, or “je vous en prie”, which is more formal and more appropriate with strangers. “Je vous en prie” is a colloquial expression which is difficult to translate into English. It’s a little like saying, “It’s my pleasure.”

There you go ! I hope that this blog today was useful to you. The next time we’re going to talk again about politeness- part II. Have a good summer holidays. See you soon!


Notice that the French word “on” is sometimes translated as “one” in English, as in “one must be careful when crossing the street”, but the French also use “on” as the informal way of expressing “we”. You must determine by the context whether “on” should be translated as “one” or “we”.

All women over roughly 18 should be addressed as Madame regardless of marital status. Women under 18 are addressed as Mademoiselle. Female restaurant servers, however, are often addressed as Mademoiselle regardless of age.

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