Paid partnership with Prêt à Parler.

There is one word that describes the process of getting comfy in a new city or country – integration. Yes, folks, I’m sure you hear this word now more frequently than ever before. It’s a journey that won’t look the same for everyone and will vary from location to location. Many cultural differences play a significant role, but there is also the language. Yes, this bloody French. (But don’t worry, Prêt à Parler can help).


For many expats, French looks like it may have been invented by someone playing scrabble with their eyes closed. So many combinations of letters that make the same sound, so many letters we don’t pronounce… A language with so many rules and exceptions, that head starts to spin. And then, there’s this bloody “r”.


Here’s a funny thing: French is not the same everywhere. You may know the French café au lait but… that does not exist in Geneva! Here we say un renversé. In a shop in France, when asking for a bag, you’d say le sachet but… Surprise, surprise! Not in Geneva! Here it’s a un cornet – but don’t use it in that context in France unless asking for an ice-cream waffle. The list goes on. Phew!


The bad news is, without French, you will never feel 100% at home. For those coming here only for a short time, it won’t feel like a vital skill, but one will soon conclude how practical it is! It is even more useful for parents with kids in public crèches and schools. Being able to speak with the teachers, other parents, will prove to be a useful, anxiety-busting skill.

I remember how stupid I felt when my 4-year-old daughter invited a friend over. I had no idea what they were talking and giggling about. For all I knew, they may have been planning a bank robbery. (They weren’t, but one can’t risk it, right?)


This leads us to Prêt à Parler, a Geneva-based French online school for busy people like you and me. Isabelle Nicolas-Johnson, an expat herself, started this brilliant company a few years ago. Even though her mother tongue is French (born and raised in Quebec, Canada), she also needed to learn new expressions to better communicate with the locals.


As she explained to me recently, French in Geneva is exceptionally polite in comparison with the French spoken in Montreal, where she has lived for over 7 years. I’m also sure you noticed that every invoice you receive, even the simplest, is composed with more text than needed. That is because they are packed with polite expressions which are important to understand in order to respect the way things are done here. Think Permis C, Swiss naturalisation, and that kind of thing as you will have to send a formal letter sooner or later!


There is a French-Swiss movie, “Bienvenue en Suisse”, which is about French people coming to Switzerland to claim an inheritance. In one scene, they need to ask a question to a local stranger, but they start with « Excusez-moi » – wrong! The stranger quickly interrupts them by saying “En Suisse, on dit bonjour”.


All of the “Super Profs” at Prêt à Parler have been thoroughly trained to prepare people to pass the infamous FIDE exam – don’t worry, it’s not as bad as it sounds, and they even make it look easy! For those of you who haven’t heard about it yet, it’s a mandatory French-language exam for everyone requesting a permit C or Swiss naturalization. The exam is divided into 4 parts: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Its content is based on everyday life situations, which people need anyway while living here!

My husband is currently preparing for his FIDE exam with Prêt à Parler and he is very happy with his lessons and the progress he made since he started. I already wrote about the advantages of their great French online programs in this article.


Since Covid-19 arrived in Switzerland, it became clear to me how fundamental French is when living in Geneva. Had it not been possible to quickly find the correct local info on the COVID-situation, because of the language barrier, I’d probably be covered in grey hair by now! Being able to watch press conferences of the Swiss and Geneva authorities really made me feel safe and at home in Switzerland. Reading local newspapers also gives me the same comforting and reassuring feeling.


And now, after Prêt à Parler posted about it on Instagram, I am diving into French Netflix series! I hope I will learn more everyday expressions and get to the next level by dipping my toes into… French slang! Netflix is my oyster!

How about you? Do you feel that you need French to make your life in Geneva easier? Or maybe you already speak French and would like to share how it changed your Swiss-life experience? Don’t be shy; share your experience or questions in the comments!

* This article is a result of a paid collaboration between Parentville and Prêt à Parler.