How to Start Conversations in French

French Conversation Starters: To Someone You’ve Just Met

  • “J’aime votre chapeau/sac à dos/manteau, puis-je vous demander où vous l’avez acheté(e) ?” (“I like your hat/backpack/coat, may I ask where you bought it?”) Complimenting someone’s taste is a foolproof way to start a conversation and quickly get the other person chatting to you like an old friend.

  • “Est-ce que vous savez l’heure ?” (“Do you know what time it is?”)

  • “Qu’est-ce que vous pensez de cette histoire (indicating an article in a newspaper) ?” (“What do you think of this news story?”) Use this phrase, for example, if you’re reading the paper and notice an interesting story that you can chat about with the person next to you, or if you see someone else carrying a newspaper and you catch sight of an interesting headline. Obviously, don’t interrupt someone if they’re actually in the middle of reading their paper though.

  • “Est-ce que vous savez où se trouve une bonne boulangerie/épicerie/pâtisserie dans le coin ?” (“Do you know where to find a good bakery/grocery store/pastry shop in this area?”) Chatting with a local is a good way to both practice your French and learn about the city you’re visiting. But if the person turns out not to be a local, no problem! If they have a bit of time, they might help you find what you’re looking for, or the two of you can look for a local to give you directions. Never underestimate the kindness of strangers, either local or tourists!

Conversational French Phrases: In a Restaurant or Café

  • “Excusez-moi, est-ce que je peux m’asseoir ici ?” (“Excuse me, can I sit here?”) Crowded cafés and food courts where strangers have to sit at the same table are a wonderful opportunity to start up a conversation with someone new. Ask politely if you can sit at their table, then use one of the other conversation starters to get the ball rolling.

  • “Ça [indicating the other person’s food or drink] a l’air bon.” (“That looks good.”)

  • “Je recommande le poisson/repas végétarien/poulet, c’est excellent.” (“I recommend the fish/vegetarian dish/chicken, it’s excellent.”) Use this phrase if you’ve eaten there before. Ordering something new in a restaurant is always a gamble, so people are usually grateful to get a recommendation about what’s good. It will open the conversation for you to chat about your favourite foods, or your favourite restaurants in the area.

  • “Qu’est-ce que vous recommanderiez ici ?” (“What would you recommend here?”) If the other person looks like a regular at the establishment, strike up a conversation to ask them what their favourite dish is there.

  • “On a commandé la même chose !” (“We ordered the same thing!”)

French Conversation Starters at Tourist Attractions

“C’est fatiguant, hein ? Quand était la dernière fois que vous avez fait l’exercice comme ça ?” (“This is tiring, eh? When’s the last time you did exercise like this?”). You’ll probably end up lightening the mood of the other person, if they’re grumbling under their breath about the strenuous hike.

“Quelles autres attractions touristiques/historiques est-ce que vous avez vues dans la région ?” (“Which other tourist/historical attractions have you visited in the area?”) If you both share an interest in visiting culturally or historically significant sites, you have a ready-made topic of conversation.

“Qu’est-ce que vous savez sur cet endroit ?” (“What do you know about this place?”) You might get some really interesting tidbits of trivia about the attraction in question if you ask other people what they’ve heard about it.

“J’ai lu que ce site est l’endroit où (some historical event) est arrivé.” (“I read that this is where (some historical event) happened.”) If you learn some fascinating info yourself about the place you’re visiting, you can share it with other tourists to get a conversation going about it.

Phrases to Start a French Conversation in Someone’s Home

  • “J’adore cette bibliothèque/ce casier à vin/cette peinture, où est-ce que vous l’avez obtenu(e) ?” (“I love this bookshelf/wine rack/painting, where did you get it?”)

  • “Qu’est-ce que vous avez pensé de ce livre (indicating a book on their bookshelf) ?” (“What did you think of that book?)

  • “Depuis combien de temps est-ce que vous vivez ici?” (“How long have you lived here?”)

One thing to keep in mind: if you’re in France, don’t ask for a tour of the home you’re visiting. It’s not very common in France for people to show guests all around their home. Pity, as it’s a great conversation starter!

Business French: Conversation Starters

Sometimes, you’ll meet someone in a more formal setting, perhaps being introduced by a mutual acquaintance at a business event or dinner party. In these cases, you’ll probably opt for some more classic conversation starters. Here are some examples:

  • “Bonjour, je m’appelle (your name). Enchanté.” (“Hello, my name is (your name). Nice to meet you”)

  • “Je suis très heureux/heureuse de faire votre connaissance.” (“It’s nice to meet you.”)

  • “Comment est-ce que vous connaissez [name of the friend who introduced you] ?” (“How do you know [the name of the friend who introduced you]?”)

  • “Qu’est-ce que vous aimez faire dans votre temps libre ?” (“What do you like to do in your spare time?”) I love this phrase, because it does two things: invites the other speaker to talk about themselves, which most people are happy to do (thus kickstarting the conversation), and lets you learn more about them and their interests. You may discover that you have more in common than you originally would have guessed.

  • “Qu’est-ce que vous faites comme travail ?” (“What do you do for a living?”)

Conversational French to Use During an online Call

Suppose you are just two people in front of your computer screens. In this case, you’ll probably want to start with one of the traditional greetings above, and then ask the other person for some information about themselves:

  • “Est-ce que vous avez des enfants ?” (“Do you have children?”)

  • “En quoi est-ce que vous avez fait vos études ?” (“What did you study [in university]?”)

  • “Quels sont vos rêves pour l’avenir ?” (“What are your dreams for the future ?”)

  • “Est-ce que quelque chose de drôle vous est arrivé pendant la semaine dernière?” (“Did anything funny happen to you in the past week?”)

  • “Quel est votre endroit préféré que vous avez jamais visité ? Pourquoi ?” (“What’s your favourite place you’ve ever visited? Why?”)

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