The Common Term Tourists Should Really Avoid Calling Waiters In France

Traveling to a new country — especially if it's a destination where you don't speak the language — can be a daunting experience. After all, you never know what might happen while trying to communicate. Will whoever you're speaking to understand what you're trying to say? Is there a chance you might inadvertently offend them? And while, nowadays, there are plenty of translation apps that make communicating abroad a lot easier, the truth is that misunderstandings can still happen.

With that in mind, it's always wise to try and do a little research before your trip in order to ensure that you're prepared and confident with a few phrases if Google Translate conks out at the last second. Take a popular vacation spot like France, for example. While there are plenty of words and phrases that you'll want to know how to say before jetting off, sometimes it's about what you don't want to say while you're there.

One of these instances is using the old-fashioned term "garçon" when trying to call your server's attention at a restaurant. Sure, it might have looked and sounded charming when an actor said it on screen in decades past — however, today, most people will find it outdated...or just plain ol' rude.

Where the term garçon comes from

For starters, it's worth noting that the word "garçon" (the "ç" is pronounced using an "sss" sound in French) literally translates to "boy" in English. The word on its own — even outside of a restaurant or dining establishment — is typically reserved for a young boy or a child.

That said, in the context of a restaurant, the term is actually derived from the full phrase "un garçon de café," which roughly translates to "a server from a cafe." From there, the usage evolved to the short and simpler garçon — which, back in the day, patrons would use regardless of the server's gender.

However — and despite what that old French textbook you have collecting dust in the corner of your bookshelf might imply — the term is actually very outdated. According to locals, pretty much no one uses it, except for the occasional grandparent who might still be stuck in their old ways. It can even sound condescending.

What you can say or do instead

Okay, so if calling someone "garçon" isn't widely used or accepted anymore...what is? Well, nowadays, a more common term that the French use to refer to a server is "un serveur" (masculine) and "une serveuse" (feminine). Nonetheless, this doesn't mean that you should go out to your first Parisian meal and start yelling "Serveur!" with a hand up in the air.

Instead, a much easier way to catch their attention is to simply raise your hand — whatever you do, please don't snap your fingers in the air while doing this — make eye contact, and utter a polite "s'il vous plaît!" ("please!") or "excusez-moi!" ("excuse me!"). Then, simply wait until they come over to your table to either order your food or ask for the bill. Not only will this respectful approach be more effective, but it'll also be a lot more polite — and politeness can go a long way when you're a visitor in a foreign country.