“Parlez-Vous Anglais?” is the Da Vinci Code to transitioning from French to English in every conversation.
Beginning with English or abruptly switching to English mid-conversation without these magic words when your French gets spotty usually results in this:
Without skipping a beat, your remarks will be disregarded and the dialogue resumes in French. Insisting on anything other than French will be met with perplexed stares, furrowed brows and a one-sided conversation.
However, utter the 3 magic words: “Parlez-Vous Anglais?” (Do you speak English?) And everything changes.
You’ll often hear “A little”, or “Yes, but not well”, and then the conversation naturally pivots into English. Except for French administration/government, where I’ve received the snarkiest “no” with one part annoyance, two parts disgust, and three parts patriotism. This is the unspoken but just spoken code. A cultural norm. A French tradition.
It’s nearly impossible to bring English to a conversational duel in the French motherland and expect to win. Frenchies will call your conversational bluff and won’t high tail it in a showdown. Only two options exist: circling back to French or waving the “Parlez-vous Anglais” flag. French people are mighty protective of their language.
However, the French can be quite accommodating when speaking French!