One of my biggest challenges when learning a new language is having a conversation at a party where most of the people are native speakers.
Meeting new people, introducing oneself, engaging in small talk, talking and asking about personal life, work life, relationships to other persons ...
That’s all quite challenging when you’re barely mastering the basics of the language.
As always, the best way to learn is to dive into a real life situation and get immersed in it.
I’d love to take you to a French party right now ! But since it’s not practically feasible, the following is a French conversation you may have at a cocktail party.
Of course, the actual content of the conversation you’ll have will vary - otherwise that would be a clear indication that you’ve unknowingly slipped into the Twilight Zone.
But you can use the content of this French conversation as a template if you find yourself at a cocktail party with only French speakers.
French conversation for a cocktail party : a simple dialogue
Let’s look at this simple, casual French conversation at a party between two guests who don’t know each other, a man and a woman.
Here’s the French language version :
Man : Sympa cette soirée, non ?
Woman : Oui, très agréable.
Man : Vous êtes une amie d’Emilie ?
Woman : Non pas vraiment, je ne la connais pas très bien. Je suis venue avec un ami à elle.
Man : Ah très bien. Vous êtes de la région ?
Woman : Oui j’habite près d’ici. Et vous ?
Man : Non moi Je vis à Paris. Je suis là juste pour le week-end.
Woman : Quelle chance ! C’est une si belle ville. Vous connaissez Emilie depuis longtemps ?
Man : Oui, on se connait depuis des années. Depuis la fac.
Woman : Ah c’est bien de rester en contact avec ses anciens camarades.
Man : Oui c’est vrai, nous ne nous sommes jamais perdus de vue.
Woman : Etes-vous architecte ? Il y en a beaucoup ici ce soir…
Man : Oui exact, ils sont partout … Mais moi je suis voyant.
Woman : Vraiment ? Ça alors ! Je dois faire attention à mes pensées alors ...
Man : Ne vous en faites pas, je ne travaille pas ce soir.
Woman : Ah, me voilà rassurée ...
Man : Excusez-moi, je vais aller au bar chercher une bière. Vous voulez un verre de vin rouge, c’est bien ça ?
Here's the audio for the dialogue :
Now the English version :
Man : Cool party isn’t it ?
Woman : Yes it’s very nice !
Man : Are you a friend of Emilie’s ?
Woman : Not really, I don’t know her that well. I came with a friend of hers.
Man : Oh I see. Are you from around here ?
Woman : Yes I live close by. What about you ?
Man : No, I’m just visiting for the week-end, I live in Paris.
Woman : Oh lucky you ! Such a beautiful city ! Have you known Emilie for long ?
Man : Yes, she and I go back a long way. Since college.
Woman : Oh it’s great to keep in touch with old friends.
Man : Yes it certainly is ! She and I never lost touch.
Woman : Are you an architect ? It seems there are quite a few of them here tonight...
Man : That right, they’re all over the place … But I’m a psychic.
Woman : Really ? How about that ! I’d better watch my thoughts then ...
Man : Don’t worry, I’m not working tonight.
Woman : Ah that’s comforting !
Man : Excuse me a moment, I’m going to go to the bar to get a beer. You want a glass of red wine, correct ?
Let’s look at some of the key French phrases and expressions used in this cocktail party conversation.
To be able to reuse them, you need to understand exactly how and when native French speakers employ them, and be aware of all the small print behind them.
French conversation for a cocktail party : ice breakers
The man initiates the conversation saying “sympa cette soirée, non ?” “Sympa” is short for “sympathique”, but it’s often used to mean “cool” or “nice”.
When you think about it, there isn’t really a French word for “nice” in the generic sense. You typically use words like “sympa” and “agréable” (pleasant).
So when talking about a nice person, you will usually say “un type / une fille sympa”. So “sympa” can pretty much be used wherever you would say “nice” in English.
Notice how he says “sympa cette soirée” (cool party) as opposed to “cette soirée est sympa”. Putting the “sympa” first is more engaging, and helps getting the conversation started. It’s like thinking aloud and sharing a thought on the spot, spontaneously.
This is a typical ice-breaking approach to use at a French cocktail party. For example you might also say things like “Jolie maison hein ?” or “belle nuit n’est-ce-pas ?”
Each of these phrases is followed by a short question : “non ?” “hein ?” “n’est-ce-pas ?” It’s an invitation to the other person to respond and give her opinion about the phrase. “Sympa cette soirée, non ?” or “sympa cette soirée, hein ?” (cool party, huh ?) are meant to start a discussion.
Notice how the woman replies using the same tone : “oui, très agréable”. An elliptic phrase with no verb, also an on-the-moment, spontaneous response that fosters an interaction.
Once the ice is broken, the man in our French conversation needs to come up with a first topic to get the dialogue rolling.
French conversation for a cocktail party : common acquaintances
Typically, the easiest way to get a cocktail party conversation going, whether in French or in another language, is to look for common acquaintances. Our male persona knows that, and asks “Vous êtes une amie d’Emilie ?”
Other similar questions you may ask early on in the conversation, are “vous connaissez bien Emilie ?” or “vous la connaissez depuis longtemps ?” - the woman actually asks this later.
The woman replies she doesn’t know the host very well, and that she came with a friend of the cocktail party host’s. It seems the common acquaintance topic doesn’t lead anywhere.
The man could have gone on asking about the woman’s friend. For example, he may have replied “Ah oui, vous êtes venue avec Albert ? C’est aussi un ami à moi.”
But instead he decides to move on to a new topic. He first acknowledges her answer saying “ah très bien.” Alternatives would have been :
“Ah je vois.”
“Ah très bien” is somewhat more formal than the above options, though.
French conversation for a cocktail party : where are you from ?
He then asks : “Vous êtes de la région ?” A typical topic you will bring up during a French cocktail party conversation, is where you and the person you are talking to are from.
But notice he does not outright ask her “vous êtes d’où ?” or “d’où êtes vous ?” That’s considered somewhat rude in French, you typically don’t ask a person you’ve just met where they are from.
Instead you ask a most subtle question such as “vous êtes de la région ?”, which roughly translates to “are you from around here ?” It makes the question less inquisitive and intrusive, and a legitimate one as a visitor who’s interested in meeting locals.
The woman welcomes the “lightweight” question well, as it allows her to remain vague about where she lives - whether or not it’s a conscious thing : “Oui j’habite près d’ici”.
She’s actually referring to her current place of residence (“j’habite”), not the place she’s originally from. These are the kinds of things the French may not reveal right away to a stranger at a cocktail party.
His last question must have been appropriate, since she returns it asking “et vous ?”, thus continuing the ice-breaking and the unrolling of the conversation. “Et vous” is like a confirmation of her interest in pursuing the exchange.
He replies “moi je vis à Paris.” He might have also said “j’habite à Paris”. He does not say “je suis de Paris”, which would mean that’s where he’s originally from.
He adds “Je suis là juste pour le week-end” indicating he’s only here for a short time. Another common way to convey this is “je suis de passage”, literally just passing by.
So when chatting with someone at a cocktail party in a French city you’re visiting, during the conversation you may say things such as :
“je suis la juste pour les vacances”
“Je suis juste là pour un séminaire”
“Je suis là juste pour 3 jours”
The woman says “quelle chance !” indicating she envies him. Another phrase she could have used is “vous en avez de la chance !”
She then adds “C’est une si belle ville”, thus clarifying why she thinks he’s lucky. She loves Paris and seems to wish she could live there.
“C’est un(e) si …” translates to “it’s such a …”. You can use this phrase to express your admiration or amazement about something :
“C’est une si belle maison !”
“C’est un si grand château !!
“C’est un si bon vin !”
French conversation for a cocktail party : personal relationships
Next in the conversation, she asks the question “vous connaissez Emilie depuis longtemps ?”, inquiring about the man’s relationship to the cocktail party host. Here she’s prying slightly deeper into the personal life space.
Yet her question is more subtle and less inquisitive than something like “Comment connaissez-vous Emilie ?” (how do you know Emilie) even though that’s what the question really being asked.
He says “on se connait depuis des années”, meaning “we’ve known each other for years”. Note the informal “on se connait” instead of “nous nous connaissons”. “On” is often used instead of “nous” in informal spoken French.
Switching back to your own imaginary French cocktail party conversation, you may use the same kind of phrases to express that something has been going on for a long time :
“Je joue de la guitare depuis longtemps “
“Ma femme travaille dans la société depuis 6 mois”
“J’habite ici depuis 2010”
“On se connait depuis la fac” (since college).
She replies “c’est bien de rester en contact avec ses anciens camarades”. Through this sentence she’s stepping away from personal considerations - in this case the personal relationship between the man and the party host - and back to more general ones.
With “c’est bien de …”, she’s expressing her approval about staying in touch, and is basically congratulating him.
Likewise, if you say to someone “c’est bien de ne pas trop boire”, you’re giving them your blessing for not drinking too much.
C’est bien de travailler dur.
C’est bien de respecter la nature.
C’est bien de faire la vaisselle.
In our sample cocktail party conversation, the woman congratulates him about “rester en contact” (keep in touch) “avec ses anciens camarades” (with his old buddies).
The expression “rester en contact” is often used in social situations. For example, say you’re talking to someone you’ve previously lost touch with. before leaving the person you may say “on reste en contact !” (let’s keep in touch !)
You might say “Je suis resté en contact avec tous mes collègues”, referring to past colleagues at a previous job.
The man in our example French conversation agrees with her comment about staying in touch : “oui c’est vrai”, he says. At this point the man and the woman are connecting well socially, expressing converging views.
He adds “nous ne nous sommes jamais perdus de vue”, suggesting he and Emilie never lost touch throughout the years since college. “Se perdre de vue” is equivalent to “perdre le contact” or “perdre contact” (the opposite of “rester en contact”).
Literally, “perdre de vue” means “losing sight of”. You say about a person “je l’ai perdue de vue”, or you can use the reflexive form “nous nous sommes perdus de vue”.
“Jean et moi, nous nous sommes perdus de vue depuis l’enfance”
“Tu as des nouvelles de Marie ? Non, on s’est perdus de vue”.
French conversation for a cocktail party : work and occupation
Next, our woman character takes a bolder step, and decides to ask about what he does for a living. It’s important to note that for the French, asking about someone’s work is not as obvious as in the English speaking world.
Some people find these questions inquisitive and indelicate - although this is slowly changing due to the strong influence of the English business culture.
Being subtle is probably the reason for the woman not directly asking something like “qu’est-ce-que vous faites dans la vie ?” (what do you do for a living ?)
Another way to ask about someone’s occupation is “vous bossez dans quoi ?”, which is a more colloquial phrasing than the above.
Instead, the woman subtly asks “êtes-vous architecte ?” Note she doesn’t say “êtes-vous un architecte ?” Although the second phrase is just as grammatically correct, when you ask about someone’s occupation you typically omit the “un(e)” :
Êtes-vous médecin ?
Vous êtes avocate ?
Êtes-vous commerçante ?
Vous êtes entrepreneur ?
The woman then justifies her question saying there are many architects at the cocktail party : “Il y en a beaucoup ici ce soir”, that is, “il y a beaucoup d’architectes ici ce soir”.
He replies "oui exact", which is equivalent to "oui c'est vrai". Again he's expressing agreement with her. You may use “oui, exact” to strongly confirm a specific point someone is saying :
“Tu as rendez-vous à 16h ?” “Oui, exact”
“Tu as bien dis que le prix est de 20 euros ?” “Oui exact, 20 euros”
The man then adds, “mais moi, je suis voyant”. He uses “mais moi” to emphasize that, in contrast to the people she’s talking about, he’s not an architect but a psychic.
Also note how he says “je suis voyant” and not “je suis un voyant”, as discussed earlier regarding someone’s occupation.
So during your own French cocktail party conversation, you might say “je suis professeur”, “je suis analyste”, “je suis ingénieure”, or whatever your occupation is.
French conversation for a cocktail party : unexpected revelations
That last revelation from the man about his work surprises the woman. She expresses her astonishment saying “vraiment ? ça alors !”
“Ça alors” roughly translates to “how about that !”, a typical reaction to something unexpected and surprising.
So during your conversation at a cocktail party, should someone say to you “ce soir la femme du président de la République sera là !”, you may reply “ah ça alors !”
The woman then reacts with a comment about his work, saying she’d better watch her own thoughts : “je dois faire attention à mes pensées alors”.
Note the expression “faire attention” which means to be careful about, to watch out for something.
“Fais attention à la voiture”
“Il faut faire attention aux courants d’air”
“Fais attention à ne pas trop boire”
She also adds the word “alors” at the end, indicating what she just said is a direct consequence of what he previously said - since he’s a psychic, she’d better watch her thoughts.
The man’s response “je ne travaille pas ce soir” is somewhat ironic - it’s hard to believe a psychic turning his mind-reading powers off after work.
But apparently he wants to be reassuring as he says “ne vous en faites pas” (don’t worry). This is a very common French expression you can use to reassure a person about something.
For example, at a French cocktail party you’re at, suppose your glass drops to the floor and shatters. The host may come to you and say “ne vous en faites pas, ça arrive à tout le monde” (it can happen to anybody).
Another example : at the buffet, you get the last piece of chocolate cake, then you realize the person behind you has been waiting for a piece too.
After you apologize to her for picking up the last one, she says “ne vous en faites pas, je vais prendre de la tarte au citron” (I’ll have the lemon pie).
Back to our conversation, the woman then replies “me voila rassurée”, indicating she's comforted by the fact that her new psychic acquaintance is not working tonight.
In conversational French, the phrase “me voila” can be used with certain verbs to mean “to stand + verb”, e.g. “you stand warned” or “you stand notified” :
“Me voilà rassurée” : I stand reassured
“Te voilà prévenu” : you stand warned
“Le voilà ramené à la réalité” : he stands called back to reality
“Les voilà bien attrapés” : they’ve been caught
French conversation for a cocktail party : getting a drink
Our man then says “je vais aller chercher une bière au bar”. The word “chercher” suggests he’ll be right back to pursue the conversation.
In contrast, “je vais aller au bar prendre une bière” would have meant the end of the conversation because he's about to walk away and have a beer at the bar.
He then says “vous voulez un verre de vin rouge, c’est bien ça ?” In spite of what he said earlier, he seems to be using his psychic skills to read her mind and find out what she wants to drink without asking her. “C’est bien ça ?” is just a confirmation of something that's quite certain.
In your own real-life French cocktail party conversation, - and assuming you’re not a psychic - you may just ask the person what he or she wants to drink :
“Je vais aller au bar chercher une bière. Voulez-vous que je vous ramène quelque chose ?”
“Puis-je vous prendre quelque chose ?”
“Vous buvez quelque chose ?”
This concludes our French conversation template for use at a cocktail party.
Again, your actual scenario and comments are likely to be different, but hopefully you’ll be able to use many of these phrases.
If you like this story, please share it with people you know who are interested in speaking French, particularly at a cocktail party.
If you have any questions or remarks, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below - in French or in English !