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I recently received a large amount of help from someone in our Canadian office.

I want to send him a quick thank-you email and am wondering whether or not I should greet him in French, I'm far from fluent in it but can hold a written conversation with some light googling for vocab.

My thinking is it might be a nice gesture to make the effort but I'm worried it may come across as patronizing.

Some relevant info:

  • French is his native language.
  • English is my native language.
  • The help he provided was in English and he is fluent but has some clearly non-native idiosyncrasies to the way he writes.

To clarify, it's merely the greeting I plan on writing in french and perhaps the salutation at the end, not the whole email.

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    "The help he provided was in English and he is fluent but has some clearly non-native idiosyncrasies to the way he writes." Is this actually relevant? – Lilienthal Jun 18 at 10:41
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    If you are not fluent in someone else's language, stay away from it. – Joel Etherton Jun 18 at 14:18
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It's a nice touch to greet people or sign off in their native language. I wouldn't think it would come across as patronising. If anything I'd imagine it would be perceived as a positive, friendly gesture.

Because English is such a common second language across the world, people who speak English natively (of which I am one) are very fortunate we rarely need to learn (or try to communicate in) a second language. Over the years I have worked with people in Argentina, China, Germany, France, India, Brazil, Romania, Sweden etc. etc. We have always communicated in English - partly because my French/German/etc. was limited (or non-existant) but also because their English was excellent.

While compromise normally means meeting somewhere in the middle, When somebody converses with me in their second language they are coming completely over to my side. If I can greet them and ask how they are in their language, it's me attempting to at least take a step or two in their direction. I think people would appreciate that.

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A greeting should be fine. Issues tend to arise when you switch to French for the entire conversation as it might be interpreted as you getting frustrated with their English ability.

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It is best to have this discussion in the language that is the most comfortable for both of you - which seems to be English. If you try to use a language you do not master, you run the risk to say something wrong, and the effect on the other person will be less than you expect - or even opposite.

In similar situations in the past, I did the same thing, I used English, and expressed my feelings so they understand exactly what I want to say.

However, it is OK to say the words "Thank you" (or something similar) in their native language, if you know for sure that you can say them correctly enough - and there is no risk that you will say some similar, but bad word.

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  • To clarify, I don't intend on sending the whole email in French, merely a "Bonjour X, ca va?" Kind of thing – Persistence Jun 18 at 10:16
  • I would actually prefer to express my feelings verbally. If face to face is not possible, than using a phone or other technology is still better. Written text is quite impersonal. Yes, saying "Bonjour X, ca va?" is OK, but expect that the discussion might continue in French ;) Consider starting the discussion in English, and then say something like Mersi or Mersi boku in French (sorry, but that is my level of French). – virolino Jun 18 at 10:21
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    Isn't that spelt "Merci" and "Merci beaucoup"? Just for other people's reference – Persistence Jun 18 at 10:22
  • @Persistence: that is already advanced French for me, sorry. I know how these words sound, but their correct spelling is another matter - out of my current reach. – virolino Jun 18 at 10:58
  • I speak French, and yeah it is @Persistence. – scampi Jun 18 at 13:13

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