If you're learning French, chances are you'll end up one of these days in a French store in Paris, Lyon or Marseille (or elsewhere, if you haven't already).
By now, you probably know that for most French people, including salespeople and shopkeepers, having to speak in English for helping a customer is a scary and painful prospect.
For this reason, to make shopping in France an enjoyable experience for you, you need to have at least an idea of the things to say in French when interacting with a salesman or woman.
Let's look at an example conversation in French between a shopkeeper and a customer. In the rest of this post, we'll highlight some of the key phrases and expressions they are using, and discuss how they are employed and how you use reuse them.
An Example conversation in french between a shopkeeper and a customer
Bonjour madame. Puis-je vous aider ?
Bonjour, je voudrais acheter un téléphone portable, mais je n'y connais rien. Vous pouvez me conseiller ?
Bien sûr ! Alors, nous avons celui-ci qui est très demandé. C'est un modèle haut de gamme avec un processeur puissant, un grand écran et une bonne carte mémoire.
Ah non, il est trop gros. J'en voudrais un qui tienne plus facilement dans ma poche.
Je comprends. Sinon j'ai aussi ce modèle, plus petit. Il a une excellente performance, une caméra de 10 millions de pixels, et une autre caméra frontale.
Ah oui, c'est bien, ça ... Mais il existe en blanc ?
Euh non désolé, nous l'avons uniquement en noir et en gris.
Ah... je préfèrerais du blanc. Vous avez autre chose à me montrer ?
Euh oui ... Vous avez aussi ce modèle, mais il est plus ancien et plus lent. Il n'a qu'une seule caméra, et une faible capacité de stockage.
Hum, et il fait quel prix ?
Attendez, je vérifie ... Celui-ci est en promo à 99€ TTC.
Parfait je le prends ! c'est exactement ce qu'il me faut. Vous acceptez les cartes de paiement ?
Here's the audio for the complete dialogue :
Let's go through the English version :
Good morning (afternoon) ma'am, how can I help you ?
Hi ! I'd like to purchase a mobile phone, by I'm a complete newbie. Can you assist me ?
Certainly ! Well we have this one, which is very popular. It's a high end model with a powerful processor, a large screen, and a good sized memory card.
Oh no, it's too bulky. I'd like one that fits better into my pocket.
I understand. I also have this model, which is smaller. It has excellent performance, a 10 million pixel camera, and an additional front-facing camera.
Yes this is good ... But do you have it in white color ?
Uh no sorry, we only have it in black and in grey.
Oh ... I'd prefer a white one. Do you have anything else to show me ?
Um... Yes, there's also this model, but it's older and slower. It only has a single camera, and limited storage capacity.
Um, how much is it ?
Let me check ... This one is on promotion for 99€ including tax.
Perfect, I'll take it ! That's exactly what I need. Can I pay with a debit card ?
Conversation in french between shopkeeper and customer : greetings
The shopkeeper welcomes the customer saying "bonjour madame". The greeting "bonjour" can be used throughout the day, whether morning or afternoon.
In the evening, however, that is starting around sunset, the shopkeeper would have used "bonsoir" instead.
Note that "bonjour" and "bonsoir" are used to greet someone, but not for good-bye. For common French phrases used when ending a conversation, see How to say "have a nice day" in French.
In our sample conversationm the shopkeeper then goes on saying "puis-je vous aider ?" This is a typical phrase used in stores and services to ask a customer what she needs, what she is looking for.
Other common, equivalent "how can I help you" questions include :
- "comment puis-je vous aider ?"
- "que puis-je faire pour vous ?"
- "Qu'y-a-t-il à votre service ?" (slightly less common)
Note that the shopkeeper is using "vous" rather than "toi" (vouvoiement), which shows an appropriate distance and respectful attitude towards the customer, as is commonly done in retail situations.
The customer replies stating what she came for, in this case to purchase a mobile phone :
"Je voudrais acheter un téléphone portable"
She says "je voudrais" instead of "je veux" : just like in English, using "I'd like" is more polite and less abrupt than "I want". In the same way, you might say :
- "Je voudrais un kilo de pommes de terre s'il vous plait" (I'd like one kilo of potatoes please)
- "Je voudrais prendre un thé" (I'd like to have some tea)
- "Je voudrais du silence !" (I'd like some silence !)
Note the customer uses "un portable", a common way to refer to a mobile phone. Other words often used are "un mobile", "un téléphone mobile", "un smartphone", "un GSM", "un cellulaire".
The customer then adds : "mais je n'y connais rien", i.e. "I know nothing about it" or "I don't know anything about it".
She could have also said "je ne connais rien aux téléphones portables" (I don't know anything about mobile phones).
You can use these 2 constructs for any sort of things, for example :
- "Les bateaux, je n'y connais rien" (boats, I don't know anything about them)
- "Je ne connais rien aux bateaux" (I don't know anything about boats)
A common variant of "je n'y connais rien" is "je n'y connais pas grand chose" (I don't know much about it) :
- "je ne connais pas grand chose aux bateaux".
- "je ne connais pas grand chose aux téléphones portables"
She then asks the shopkeeper "pouvez-vous me conseiller ?", which literally means "can you give me some advice ?", "can you advise me ?"
The shopkeeper answers "bien sûr", i.e. "of course", "certainly".
He then starts showing her a product he thinks she might be interested in.
Conversation in french between shopkeeper and customer : pitching a first product
In our conversation in a French phone shop, the shopkeeper then shows the customer a specific model, saying it's a very popular model : "celui-ci est très demandé".
This is a commonly used expression to indicate something or someone is popular, in high demand :
- "Ce modèle de voiture est très demandé" (this car model is in high demand)
- "Cette avocate est très demandée" (this lawyer is highly sought after)
- "Ce quartier est très demandé" (this area is in high demand - for real estate purposes)
He then says "c'est un modèle haut de gamme", i.e. it's a high-end model. "haut de gamme" is used as an adjective and can also be applied to many things :
- "un hotel haut de gamme" (high end hotel)
- "un service haut de gamme" (high end service)
- "un équipement haut de gamme" (high end equipment)
The shopkeeper then goes on to explain why the device is a high-end model, by detailing its technical specifications (processor, screen, and memory).
The customer replies "il est trop gros". In this case, she means the device is too bulky, explaining she wants something that better fits in her pocket.
"Trop gros", however, could mean different things in different contexts. For example, it may be used to express that someone is too fat (overweight), or that something is too big :
- "Cet enfant est trop gros" (this child is too fat)
- "Ce steak est trop gros" (this steak is too big)
- "C'est un trop gros projet" (this is too big of a project)
Note that she says "j'en voudrais un qui tienne dans ma poche", i.e. "I'd like one that fits into my pocket". In other words "je voudrais un téléphone qui tienne dans ma poche".
You can use a similar structure to indicate you want something (or someone) that does a particular thing :
- "Je voudrais une voiture qui marche bien" (I'd like a car that runs well)
- "Je voudrais un ami qui soit fidèle" (I'd like a friend who's faithful)
- "Je voudrais un plat qui ne soit pas trop épicé" (I'd like a dish that's not too spicy)
(grammar note : as you can see, you use a verb in subjunctive form after "je voudrais ... qui ")
If you've already mentioned the object previously, as in our dialogue, you can replace it with "en" before "voudrais" :
"je voudrais une voiture qui marche bien" -> "j'en voudrais une qui marche bien"
Conversation in french between shopkeeper and customer : proposing an alternative
Once he gets a better idea of what the customer is looking for, our shopkeeper says "je comprends" and adapts his sales strategy by showing her a smaller device :
"j'ai aussi ce modèle, plus petit". This is equivalent to saying "j'ai aussi ce modèle qui est plus petit".
Note how he uses the phrase "j'ai aussi ce modèle" to mean "this model is also available". He could have alternatively said "nous avons aussi ce modèle".
Next he pitches the smaller device, mentioning its great performance, high resolution camera, and additional front-facing camera.
The shopkeeper introduces these features with "il a", referring to the phone device. That's a very common way of listing features for an object, for example :
- "cette maison a une grande surface" (this house has a large area)
- "cette ville a de nombreux parcs" (this city has lots of parks)
As the conversation continues, the customer says "ah oui, c'est bien, ça", indicating the features mentioned by the shopkeeper are nice to have.
However, "c'est bien ça" is sometimes used just to be polite in situations where you're not really interested in what's being said or done :
"Je pars demain à Paris".
"Ah oui ? c'est bien ça" (may be an indication of "I don't really care")
The impression of the customer having little interest in the features seems to be confirmed, as she asks :
"mais il existe en blanc ?"
The shopkeeper's reply begins with "euh", which may show some embarrassement for not being able to fulfill her request.
But "euh" here may also show his puzzlement as her focus is clearly more on the device's size and color than on its technical capabilities.
Being the seasoned professional he is, he apologizes for not having the requested colors available, saying "désolé, nous l'avons uniquement en noir et en gris".
Notice he uses "nous l'avons" as opposed to "je l'ai" like previously , thus hiding behind the store's corporate entity ("nous") for answering negatively.
The customer replies "je préfèrerais du blanc", which translates to "I'd prefer something white".
The construct "du + adjective" is quite typical in French when expressing your preferences for some physical characteristic :
- "Je voudrais du rouge" (I'd like something red)
- "J'aimerais du brillant" (I'd like something glossy)
- "je préfèrerais du frais" (I'd prefer something fresh)
In our French conversation, the customer's phrase is actually short for "je préfèrerais un portable blanc". But her use of "du blanc" (something white) is quite revealing of her main concern.
So at this point the conversation between her and the French shopkeeper takes a new turn as he realizes she's not really interested in a technically strong product, only in size and color.
Conversation in french between shopkeeper and customer : closing the sale
The customer asks next : "vous avez autre chose à me montrer ?"
The phrase "quelque chose / autre chose à me montrer" is often used in shopping situations :
- Vous avez des pantalons à me montrer ? (do you have pants to show me)
- Vous avez des nouveautés à me montrer ? (do you have new stuff to show me)
- Qu'est-ce-que vous avez d'autre à me montrer ? (what do you have to show me)
Hearing such phrases is a good sign for the French shopkeeper, as they are an indication that you as a customer are open to suggestions and in the mood for finding and buying something you like.
Back to our conversation between shopkeeper and customer, the customer is giving the shopkeeper a last chance, as her question clearly shows she's not interested in the first two products he proposed to her.
The shopkeeper decides to risk it all, although not without hesitation ("euh oui..."), showing her an older model but with the desired size and color characteristics.
This time, he says "vous avez ce modèle" (not "j'ai ce modèle" nor "nous avons"), somewhat distancing himself from the device he's proposing.
He further warns "mais il est plus ancien et plus lent", indicating he's showing the device somewhat reluctanty, since it has weak specs (single camera and low storage).
The customer responds "et il fait quel prix ?"
This is a colloquial expression to ask for the price of something :
- Elle fait quel prix cette lampe ?
- Quel prix fait ce cendrier ?
- Cette paire de chaussure fait combien?
For more examples of asking how much things cost, see this section in How to understand spoken French better
The shopkeeper then checks the price and announces the device is on sale : "celui-ci est en promo à 99€".
Note how "promotion" is shortened to "promo", something that happens A LOT in spoken French. You can see more examples of typical French word shortening in the above article, specifically right here.
You'll hear "celui-ci (or celle-ci) est en promo à + price" very commonly in stores. Other similar expressions are
- "elle est en solde à ...", "elle est soldée à ..." (it has a discount price of ...)
- "il y a une promo de 30% sur cet article" (there's a 30% promotion on this article)
- "il y a 30% de réduction sur cet article" (this article has 30% off)
The customer says "parfait, je le prends !", indicating she's made up her mind and is purchasing this device.
The expression "je le/la prends" is almost always used in this case, but here are a some less used alternatives :
- "C'est bon, ça me plait !" (it's good, I like it)
- "Je l'achete !" (I'm buying it)
- "OK ça ma va !" (works for me)
- "Emballez-le moi !" (wrap it up for me)
She adds "c'est exactement ce qu'il me faut", showing she's found the perfect match for what she had in mind, and thus ending the sales conversation with the shopkeeper.
The next step is to to complete the purchase, which she's ready to do as she asks "vous acceptez les cartes de paiement ?"
Most established French stores do take debit card, so her question is somewhat of a formality, a common way to initiate the transaction.
[emaillocker]Click here to download the mp3 files for this article (zip)[/emaillocker]
Time to test yourself
In this conversation in French between shopkeeper and customer, we've looked at quite a few phrases and constructs commonly used on retail situations.
Now let's test how well you've digested this material through a little quiz. Try to find the best answer for each question, and write you answers in the comments below the article. After a while, the correct answers will be published.
Q1 :You walk into a shoe store and see a pair you might like. How do you ask the shopkeeper if the shoes are available in your size ?
A. Ces chaussures ont-elles une taille 42 ?
B. Avez-vous ces chaussure en taille 42 ?
C. La taille 42 vient-elle avec ces chaussures ?
Q2 : You try the shoes on but something about their style bothers you . How do you ask the shopkeeper if she has another pair with a similar style ?
A. Avez-vous un autre style de chaussures ?
B.Pouvez-vous essayer d'autres chaussures de ce style ?
C. Avez-vous autre chose dans le même style à me montrer ?
Q3 : Finally, you find a pair you like in your size. You want to know if the shoes are on sales right now :
A. Y-a-t-il des promotions en ce moment ?
B. Ces chaussures sont à combien ?
C. Y-a-t-il une solde sur cette paire ?