The 3 keys to the art of French conversation NOVEXPAT

3 keys | The art of French conversation

(En français)

As expatriates living in Paris, when we talk about « French conversation, » we immediately think of mastering the language. Of course, knowing vocabulary, mastering grammar, and having understandable pronunciation are indeed essential to engage in conversations in French, whether they are small or large.
BUT… behind the choice of words and structures, it is the codes and culture that play a decisive role.
Why is it crucial to say « bonjour » as soon as you enter a shop? Why do Parisians often use double negation, like saying « c’est pas mal » instead of « j’aime »? How can you initiate a deeper conversation with a Parisian?

I’m Fabienne, a French teacher for foreigners and co-founder of Novexpat, a French school dedicated to expats. In this article, I will give you 3 keys to better understand the codes of French conversation, and I will share concrete examples for you to apply in your future exchanges.


Politeness is indeed the magical key to all French conversations!
Every child has heard hundreds of times, « Et le mot magique ? » to remind them to say thank you or please.
With so much effort put in since the age of 4, you will understand that the « magic words » (« bonjour, » « s’il te plaît, » « s’il vous plaît, » « merci, » and « au revoir ») are an integral part of French culture.

Furthermore, shops and public transportation, although open spaces, are culturally seen as private spaces! We see them as the shopkeeper’s « home ». Notice the expression « chez le poissonnier, chez le primeur… » (« chez » meaning « at the home of »). That’s why the use of politeness codes is important! Imagine that you are a guest, not just a customer, in the shop, and the driver or the seller is your host.

Novexpat - French _ Conversation Expat


The phrases used by the French can contain hidden, implicit messages. Often, context, innuendo, and stylistic effects complement or modify the meaning of the message.
Here are a few stylistic effects often used by Parisians:

  • Irony, which involves saying the opposite of what one thinks. For example, a person observes heavy rain and says, « Quel temps magnifique ! » (« What magnificent weather! ») with a big smile.
  • Euphemism, to indirectly suggest one’s thoughts. Imagine a Parisian commenting on a movie by saying, « C’est pas mal, » (« not bad ») which would mean « C’est très bien ! » (« It’s very good! »). They could also say, « Je ne suis pas convaincu… » (« I’m not convinced ») to mean « Je ne suis pas d’accord » (« I disagree. »)
  • Innuendos, which allow subtle criticism by leaving the interpretation to the interlocutor. Situation: a person commenting on their friend’s diet says, « Ah, je ne pourrais jamais me priver de toutes ces bonnes choses. » (« Ah, I could never deprive myself of all these good food. »). In reality, they want to convey that they find their friend’s diet too restrictive.
    For an expat, the implicit is not always easy to detect. The trick is to observe the intonation, facial expression, and body language that consistently accompany these implicit modes of communication and convey nuances.
    Moreover, when expressing yourself in French, you are not obligated to use these modes of communication. However, being aware of them will better prepare you for a next conversation in 100% French style.

Novexpat - French Conversation Expat


Memories, deep feelings, and ideals are all subjects of conversation that enliven gatherings such as aperitifs, lunches, dinners among friends or colleagues, and even conversations with strangers in the metro.
Indeed, Parisians appreciate deep and intimate conversations and can quickly open up, even with strangers, if they sense a connection. To achieve this, finding one or more common points (studies, a vacation spot, a trip, a sport, cultural sensitivities like music, art, or cinema) will be the number one icebreaker.
Bonus tips and conclusion: Be happy to speak French!
As mentioned before, a great deal of attention from the French is focused on tone and intonation (not just the words). Thus, your mood and smile will greatly influence the reception of your message.
So, be happy to speak French! Enjoy practicing this new language, using your favorite expressions! The French will perceive it and will be even more delighted to continue the conversation with you.

Have wonderful Parisian conversations!


Novexpat . French classes for expatriates : to know more

Novexpat - Fabienne - French - Conversation Expat

Fabienne is the co-founder of @novexpat, a French school for expats in and around Paris.
After teaching in Italy, India and Spain for 5 years, Fabienne co-founded Novexpat with the idea of designing French courses 100% adapted to the situations that expatriates in Paris may face on a daily basis. Since 2018, they have helped hundreds of expats to rapidly gain the French language and cultural skills to feel more comfortable and confident in their daily conversations in France.
Learn more about Fabienne and Novexpat here :

Le Loir est dans la théière
3 Rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris
I love strolling through Le Marais, passing by Hôtel de Sully, Place des Vosges, Place Sainte Catherine, and finishing off with a delightful lemon tart tasting at the tea salon Le Loir est dans la théière. Their pastries are absolutely heavenly!

Le Loir dans la Théière 3 rue des rosiers paris 4

Le salon de thé Rose Bakery
Situé dans le jardin du musée de la vie romantique : 16 Rue Chaptal, 75009 Paris.
On a sunny day, it’s such a joy to go and have a coffee at the Rose Bakery tea salon located in the garden of the Musée de la Vie Romantique. I always take the opportunity to revisit the museum’s rooms dedicated to George Sand, one of the few prominent French female writers of the 19th century and my favorite author!

Salon de thé Musée de la Vie Romantique

22 Rue Montmartre, 75001 Paris
Whether it’s for working on my computer, inviting a friend for coffee, or giving a French lesson to one of my students, this place is one of my absolute favorites! This café is located right next to the RER A station of Forum des Halles, which makes it easily accessible and convenient if you have some shopping to do 😉

COFFEE l BAKERY l CATERING restaurant marcelle

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