“S’il vous plait”
“Bonne journée”
“Je voudrais …”

All those little words that are ultra-important in French to master in order to be polite and not to find yourself in a very embarrassing situation. Culturally, the French are very attached to politeness and can't stand it when someone is not polite. It is very important that you know how to be polite in French if you come on vacation in France or if you expatriate. 

This is what we will see today:

How to be polite and show respect in French?

First, I will give you a first advice to be polite and show respect in French: it is better to be too polite than not enough. As I said before, politeness is very important in France. Even if I admit that we are not an example of politeness either, we French people really care about politeness.


Be polite in french when entering a place 

When you enter a place where there are people you know or don't know, say: "Bonjour".

Whether it's in a store, a restaurant, at the office, at the doctor's office, at a friend's house, etc., it's important to say hello when you enter a place. Even if you don't get an answer back, it doesn't matter, you were polite, that's what's important.

If it is already dark outside, you can say "Bonsoir" instead of "Bonjour".


Be polite in french when leaving a place

When you leave a place, it is more polite to leave by saying "Bonne journée" or "Bonne fin de journée" if it is 4:00 pm / 5:00 pm or "Bonne soirée" if it is 8:00 pm / 9:00 pm. For example, when you leave a store, restaurant, office.

Generally, we say "Bonne journée, au revoir.". If someone in the place said it before, you can say "Merci, à vous aussi. Au revoir."


Polite conditional

It's very rude to start these sentences with "Je veux" especially if you're with people you don't know or don't know well. Replace "Je veux" with "Je voudrais". 

In French, and in other languages, we have the conditional politeness. Instead of using the present tense, we will use the conditional tense which is just more polite. 

For example, in a restaurant, I will say : 

  • Je voudrais le plat du jour, s’il vous plaît.

And we won't say: Je veux le plat du jour s’il vous plaît.

Similarly, it is better to say:

  • Est-ce que tu pourrais me prêter un stylo, s’il te plait ?

Instead of : Est-ce que tu peux me prêter un stylo, s’il te plait ?


Say "S’il vous plaît"

The magic formula as we call it! Saying "s'il vous plaît" in French is very important. We use it when we have a request to make. Even if we already use the polite conditional, we must add "s'il vous plait" at the end of the sentence:

  • Est-ce que tu pourrais passer l’aspirateur, s’il te plait ?

  • Pourriez-vous faire moins de bruit s’il vous plait ?

It is also used when we indicate what we want:

  • Je voudrais la tarte aux pommes, s’il vous plait.

"S'il vous plait" is generally not used at the beginning of a sentence, especially in written formulas, "Merci" is used.

For example :

We won't say:  S’il vous plaît, communiquez votre réponse à cet email avant la fin de semaine.

But, we will say: Merci de communiquer votre réponse à cet email avant la fin de semaine.


Say "vous"

I'm going to admit something to you, but "tu" and "vous" are also a problem for us. The French don't always know when to use "tu" and "vous". 

Generally, we use "vous" with people we don't know or know very little about. We use "vous" in formal situations, at work for example. We use "you" with people we know well, such as our friends and family.

I once had a student tell me about a very embarrassing situation where he unintentionally said "tu" to his French boss and the boss was very offended. To be safe, use "vous". When you are not sure if you should use "tu" or "vous", use "vous". After that, the person you're talking to will naturally tell you whether or not you can be on first-name terms.

For more information:  Find out how and when to use "tu" and "vous" in French


To say "merci"

To thank is to say "Merci". It is very important to remember to say thank you when the situation calls for it. You can say "Merci" or a little more formally "Je vous remercie" :

For example:

- when the waiter brings your food to the restaurants 

- when someone says good day to you

- when someone gives you your bag in a store

And if someone says "Merci", you can answer “De rien” or “Je vous en prie / Je t’en prie”.


To apologize

It is important to apologize when necessary. For example, when you need information and you ask someone on the street or in a store, it's best to start with :

  • Bonjour, excusez-moi, est-ce que vous avez cet article en rouge.


  • Bonjour, pardon de vous déranger, est-ce que vous pouvez me donner l’heure s’il vous plait ?

Of course, if you bump into someone or drop something on someone, it is necessary to apologize as well.

I'll see you soon for new adventures, in French of course! 🇫🇷