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French uses a very precise vocabulary to ask for directions. The biggest pitfall is probably the pronunciation of à droite – do say the T – meaning to your right, and tout droit – both t silent – meaning straight ahead.
Où se trouve… (la station de métro): where is… (the subway station)
À droite: to the right
À gauche: to your left
Tout droit: straight ahead
En face de: across
À côté de: next to
Tourner: to turn
Passer devant : to walk/drive/go (in front of)
Traverser: to cross
Faire demi-tour: to turn around
C’est à combien de temps ? How long does it take to get there?
Est-ce que c’est loin ? Is it far?
When asking directions in a big city like Paris, you need to prepare your sentence in advance and be fast. Unfortunately, there are many beggars in Paris, and Parisians tend to be wary of people approaching them saying pouvez-vous m’aider (can you help). So my suggestion is to be more direct, and to say Excusez-moi, savez-vous où se trouve…. (Excuse me, do you know where…. is). But don’t be surprised if some people don’t even listen and keep walking, it’s quite rude of course but also rather common in big cities where people are in a hurry.
As a foreigner in a big city, you kind of have a “target” sign on your forehead. Be very careful in the subway, there can be pickpockets. If you carry a backpack, try to carry it in front instead of your back. If you have a purse, make sure it closes perfectly, and try keep your hand on the zipper. Of course a holster or pocket belt wore under your sweater is ideal. Prepare your subway tickets in advance; don’t take them out of your wallet at the entrance of the subway.
There are also many scams. Like someone handing you a ring or a bill you supposedly dropped in front of a – usually fancy – shop. The ring/bill are fake and worthless, and while you are being distracted, his/her partner visits your purse… Simply say “non merci” with a firm “stop” hand gesture, and move away.
Be also particularly careful when entering your credit card pin, so no one can look over your shoulder. And if your card doesn’t go through the first time in a shop, and they have to run it again, ask for a business card and maybe the name of the salesperson – should you have any surprise on your statement, you’ll be able to give all the info to your bank.
Make sure to also keep a photocopy of your passport and credit cards (front and back – where you have the numbers to call). All this will prove useful should you loose your wallet. You can also just take pictures with your Smartphone…
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