Petite conversation, très important!

door Regina Coeli

With a little knowledge of the French language, you might be able to sort out what a French text is all about. And perhaps you could write an email with the help of Google Translate. But what if you’re paying a visit to your French supplier? Of course, you take the time to prepare your story in French well. L’affaire est dans le sac*, you might say. But then the moment of truth arrives. Your contact person receives you enthusiastically and fires a few questions your way with a big grin. In French! Quoi? You weren’t prepared for that!

Parler de la pluie et du beau temps

In France, business appointments are quite similar to those in the Netherlands. Before getting down to business, you first make a bit of small talk. In French, making small talk is called ‘parler de la pluie et du beau temps’. ‘The weather is indeed a good subject for breaking the ice,’ says Corinne Bekkers. She works as a French trainer at Regina Coeli. Because she grew up in France, she knows everything about ‘petite conversation’ in French.

No matter how ‘petite’, that little chat beforehand has a major impact on the rest of your appointment. ‘By talking to each other informally, you ensure that you come across as congenial, especially when you show interest in the other person.’ That has another advantage: a good question from you keeps your French interlocutor busy for a while. If you show that you’re listening closely by nodding and occasionally uttering ‘mmm’, the other person feels good, even if you only understood half of what was said!

Three tips for great petite conversation

  1. Keep it short (max. 5 minutes). French people are quite business-like.
  2. Don’t talk about yourself too much—you could end up coming across as arrogant.
  3. Show interest in the other by asking questions.

Corinne has given you some frequently asked questions that you can prepare for to help you on your way.

Things you can say before starting a formal appointment

Was it busy on the road?


Pas de problème sur la route?

How was your trip?


Vous avez fait bon voyage?

Could you find it easily?


Vous avez trouvé facilement?

Where do you come from?


D’où venez-vous?

How is your hotel?


Comment est votre hôtel? Of Vous êtes bien installé(e)?

How are you doing?


Comment allez-vous?

Do you already know Paris? (or whatever city the appointment is in)


Vous connaissez déjà Paris?


Things you can say in an informal situation with, for example, a colleague

How was your weekend?


Comment s’est passé votre week-end?

Luckily, it’s almost the weekend!


C’est bientôt le week-end!

What do you do at weekends?


Qu’allez-vous faire ce week-end? / Vous avez quelque chose de prévu ce week-end?

What lovely weather!


Quel temps superbe!

Petite conversation for advanced speakers of French

If this goes well, you can venture into a more informal business situation: lunch or dinner in French. Fortunately, this is often accompanied by a good glass of wine, which makes talking a bit easier.

You should never talk about work or money at the table. On the other hand, you can talk about current events, the food itself, hobbies, and your children. ‘But stay professional,’ warns Corinne. ‘Keep it positive, and when it comes to personal things, it’s best to remain superficial.’

What not to keep too superficial is your knowledge of things going on in France. Be sure to follow the news. COVID-19 has also resulted in some new vocabulary for the French. ‘By reading the headlines on French news sites and an article here and there in French, you pick up on important words and be able to converse with the French,’ suggests Corinne. C’est simple comme bonjour!**

* Piece of cake!
** It’s very simple.

Regina Coeli

This article has been written by Regina Coeli. If you really want to learn French quickly and well, follow a language course at our institute. For example, by immersing yourself in French for a week or by attending a short French training course.
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