If you are a beginner in French, saying anything in the language of Molière may seem daunting. Or simply impossible. Or you may think that nobody is going to understand you, or you may find a million reasons why not to try. They’ll surely understand your English or Spanish or Italian, right?
Well, I’m sure they do but, in a city, as diverse as Geneva it’s a shame not to try. Surely your pronunciation of the word “café” cannot be so bad that a waiter who is asked for a coffee hundreds of times a day wouldn’t understand that you meant to say “coffee”.
But ordering a coffee in French is really very simple. Actually, it goes like this:
« Un café, s’il vous plait. »
It’s the way native speakers say it every day. First, coffee is masculine, we will never know why but it’s nice to remember that you drink a masculine liquid. So do remember it’s “un café”, not something else.
And the second part is the “s’il vous plait” (please). If there is one piece of advice I can give you, please don’t try to be on friendly terms with the waiters or actually anyone straight away and never ever use “s’il te plaît” when people expect from you a “s’il vous plaît”.
In francophone consciousness being polite is a question so vital that far exceeds any other country’s standards. Children above 15 are already referred to as “vous” by their teachers, can you even imagine that? I’ve been there, done that: French speakers do take offence at being referred to as “tu”. So before locals reinstall the guillotine because you dared use “tu”, I strongly advice you just to learn to say “silvu:ple” as if it was one word. Silvu:ple.