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I was in a restaurant near Paris recently where you order at the counter and when the person asked me if I was ready, I said "un moment s'il vous plait" while looking at the menu. They immediately asked in English if I wanted an English menu. I figured it was my accent, since I've always struggled with a native-sounding pronunciation of the word moment, but later I was talking with a Senegalese fellow who had lived in Paris for some years and he said it was most likely because I was using an Anglicism, and that a native speaker would be more like to say "Excusez-moi" rather than what I had said.

Is it true that that would be a more normal way to ask for time to look at a menu? As an English speaker of course it sounds odd since you would not say "excuse me" with that meaning in English.

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    You'll need a huge level of proficiency for people to be unable to tell you're an English speaker. Even when you reach the level of confidence and fluency where waiters won't seem appropriate to offer an English menu, they'll still be able to tell right away that you're not French. You shouldn't worry too much about that :) Apr 18, 2023 at 9:11
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    I have never had a problem with people trying to speak English to me in Spanish-speaking countries, I just reply in Spanish until they stop.
    – Tom
    Apr 19, 2023 at 14:55

5 Answers 5

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Idiomatic answers to Je peux prendre la commande ? would be: Pas encore or Non (merci), je n'ai pas encore choisi.

Excusez-moi alone would make no sense unless you immediately state that you are not yet ready or want some clarification about the menu.

Un moment s'il vous plait is not wrong but odd and somewhat rude. When you say Un moment, you ask someone to wait here while in that case, that's the opposite. You don't want them to wait but to resume doing other things and come back later. A moment also implies a somewhat lengthy period of time so we'd rather say Un instant, s'il vous plait if we really want the waiter to stay.

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    +1. Un moment, s'il vous plait can also sound old-fashioned, overly formal and/or stand-offish. Apr 18, 2023 at 12:05
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    Boy it's these kind of things that 10 years of learning French in America just doesn't teach you. It's not till you reach a counter in Paris that you realize you're still saying some little thing in an English way. Apr 18, 2023 at 17:20
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    @temporary_user_name if it makes you feel any better, 5 years living in France never taught me this one either!
    – terdon
    Apr 19, 2023 at 11:05
  • @temporary_user_name You generally have to be immersed in a culture for years for all these nuances to become natural. And as terdon says, you'll still miss some.
    – Barmar
    Apr 19, 2023 at 15:19
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    I can't tell for the English "moment" but in French, despite what some other comments or answers say, there is definitely a difference in usage between moment and instant. For example, J'en ai pour un moment means "Don't hold your breath, that will take longer than you expect" while J'en ai pour un instant means "Hold on, it's imminent."
    – jlliagre
    Apr 19, 2023 at 21:36
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"Un moment s'il vous plait" can be used in two important types of circumstances; a person making use of this request may be asking for a delay or they might use it for a request in which the delay is only virtual; which is the case is to be found out from the context. The length of the delay can vary a lot.

Virtual delay

You are not asking the interlocutor(s) to grant you a delay but instead you are interrupting the flow of interaction and asking them to pay attention to what you have to say, The tone of voice will make the difference between a request that can be considered polite and one that will be characterisic of a cold injunction.

(Les mille et un: romans, nouvelles et feuilletons ... - 1845) Mme Del… fit un mouvement pour se retirer ; mais M. de M… l'arrêta et lui dit d'un ton alarmé:
— Un moment, s'il vous plait, qu'est-ce que tout cela veut dire ?
Mme Del… le regarda en clignant, et fini par lui rire au nez.

(Un certain goût pour la mort — P.D. James · 2016) Dalgliesh attendit qu'il eût atteint la porte pour demander doucement :
« Un moment, s'il vous plaît. Que savez vous sur Diana Travers et sur Theresa Nolan ? » Garrod s'immobilisa une seconde, puis se retourna lentement.

(Le Monde de la musique - 1982) Aussitôt une tête blonde apparait.
— Un moment, s'il vous plait. Pouvez-vous attendre encore un peu et m'excuser. Je vous verrai tout à l'heure.

(L'Aviation marchande - 1949 ) — Un moment, s'il vous plait… Puis-je vous rappeler dans dix minutes ?

In the last two examples above it can be seen clearly that the interlocutor(s) is (are) not being asked to wait, and that what is being done by the locutor is merely trying to retain their attention so as to ask them if they could wait and if they could be called later. The "moment" can indeed be very short, but pinpointing this fact is not meant to prove that "moment" can be used in the second context because of the shortness of the length of time that can be implied; this has nothing to do with the possibility of using "moment" in the context at hand. I just thought it would be useful to identify the difference that has been mentioned.

Delay

(Rendez-vous en terre d'Ecosse — Ann Lethbridge · 2016) Il frappa à la porte de la chambre qui leur avait été attribuée. — Oui ? Qui est-ce ? Au moins, Rowena MacDonald faisait-elle preuve d'assez de bon sens pour ne pas ouvrir à un inconnu.
— C'est moi, Drew.
— Un moment, s'il vous plaît.

In this type of situation—typical—, the length of time for which one has been asked to wait is not precise, although it cannot be too long. It can be as long as the time it takes to put some clothes on or to put them away so as to tidy up the room, or as long as it takes to finalize some arrangements in a talk on the telephone.

Instant, moment

(TLFi) A. − (Petit) espace de temps. Synon. instant.
• Je pars pour la campagne (...). Venez me voir dès que vous aurez un moment (Labiche,Célimare,1863, iii, 2, p.101).En ces estampes, où la couleur saisit d'abord, c'est l'émotion d'un moment qui prend force d'éternité (Alain,Beaux-arts,1920, p.287).Le temps objectif (...) est fait de moments successifs (Merleau-Ponty,Phénoménol. perception,1945, p.318)
•[Les Grecs] n'ont point le sentiment de cet univers infini dans lequel (...) tout être borné (...) n'est qu'un moment et un point. Taine,Philos. art,t.2, 1865, p.109.

− P. ell. [Dans une conversation] Un moment! Accordez-moi, attendez un petit espace de temps.
• Halte-là! un moment! rendez-moi d'abord ma montre et ma mule! (Bertrand,Gaspard,1841, p.171).
• (...) Vous feriez mieux d'aller vous coucher. − Un moment! fit le petit juge (Bernanos,Crime,1935, p.830).

As the definition in the TLFi shows, "moment" can very well be used in the type of conversation referred to, in particular if "s'il vous plait" is added. The length of time that the word "moment" presupposes can be longer than that for "instant".

  • Ils ont vécu un moment à la campagne. Ils ont vécu un instant à la campagne.

See also "passé un moment à la,passé un instant à la" and "passé un moment au,passé un instant au", among other possible combinations showing the use of "moment" for comparatively longer lengths of time.

However, in the context that the OP's question elicits, the TLFi's assertion of synonymity does apply.

https://www.google.com/search?q=%22h%C3%A9sit%C3%A9%20un%20moment%22&tbm=bks&lr=lang_fr

  • Il hésite un moment, regarde tout autour de lui.
  • Il hésite un moment , puis se mouche bruyamment
  • Il a hésité un moment, a lancé un regard inquiet au buffet, puis s'est emparé d'une assiette, y a édifié une pyramide instable de gâteaux
  • J'hésite un moment avant de décrocher car je ne connais pas le numéro, mais je décide tout de même de répondre.

The frequency of occurrence for "un instant s'il vous plait" is greater than for "un moment s'il vous plait", but the use of these two forms is the same.

un moment s'il vous plait

un instant s'il vous plait

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It can be seen from a web page that "instant" is perhaps chosen in preference to "moment" in various contexts of translation from English (L'anglais des paresseuses — Amita Mukerjee, ‎Soledad Bravi · 2006).

enter image description here

Instant, delay

(La Lucidité José Saramago · 2014) Le commissaire regarda son subordonné immédiat, lequel, enflant la voix, lâcha le mot Police, Un instant, s'il vous plaît, dit l'homme, il faut que je m'habille. Quatre minutes s'écoulèrent, le commissaire refit le même signe, ...

(L'honneur des Goémoniers — Joël Raguénès · 2003) Un instant, s'il vous plaît... Elle mit quelques interminables secondes à apparaître. « Oui ? Que puisje pour vous, GwenAël ? » lui demandatelle, en s'inscrivant dans l'encadrement de la porte.

(Histoires incroyables d'un anesthésiste-réanimateur — Jean-Jacques Charbonier · 2010) Un instant, s'il vous plaît, je vais consulter son dossier. Après encore une longue attente: – Hummmm, le voici : il a bien mangé aujourd'hui, sa tension artérielle et son pouls sont stables, il réagit bien aux nouveaux médicaments prescrits, ...

Conclusion

As the two words are synonymous, if the intention of the customer is to recapitulate briefly on the order—as it is arguably the case—, "moment" is as good and idiomatic as "instant"; the only difference is that it is comparatively rare, but rareness does not mean non-idiomatic.

"Excusez-moi" is out of the question in this context.

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In my opinion, a more typical answer would be something like j'ai besoin d'un peu plus de temps.

Indeed, un moment s'il vous plait seems like an anglicism or a germanism (Ein moment, bitte). Foreigners are easily recognized by their accent and using idioms not characteristic of French. That they address to you in English does not necessarily mean that they recognized the origin of your accent, but rather because this is the most likely language (other than French) that you may understand and/or they speak. Note that there are also many second generation British and Americans in France. (I attest this as somebody who is not a native English speaker. And having a British parent was often the explanation in answer to my complimenting somebody's English.)

Finally, excuse me has a very universal meaning in English - whether asking to wait, to let pass, to ask a question, etc. This is not so in France, where it is mostly an apology. Also, when asking a question, do not forget to say bonjour - even if in English starting with excuse me or could you... is already considered polite enough.

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  • "un peu plus de temps" - pas "du temps" :-)
    – Frank
    Apr 18, 2023 at 13:58
  • @Frank merci. Je l'avais supçonner aussi, mais google m'a donner les résultats recherche avec du, sans rémarque qu"ils étaient vrament pour de.
    – Roger V.
    Apr 18, 2023 at 14:06
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Are you sure it's not the tone of voice? ''Un moment s'il vous plait'' could sound especially rude given the tone, it's like ''One moment please, OK? Are you listening?''

Regarding not sounding French, you will probably always sound a bit foreign unless you grew up or were educated there. I work in a math department in the UK and of all the PhD students there are maybe two that don't sound obviously foreign when they speak English (one went to school in England and one has an English parent).

Regarding use of English, it's not necessarily ''an insult'' or due to the fact that you are English or have an accent. It's just that English language is so widely used and common that you are likely to know it (in fact, some French people are secretly jealous that the English language has taken precedence as the international language which can be used everywhere and so has become much more influential than French).

I have a friend who is German and he said that people quite often try to use English when they speak to him even though his French is probably not that bad.

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    Apr 19, 2023 at 22:22
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Excusez-moi alone does not work to ask for more time, but excusez-moi, donnez-moi un moment is fine. Excusez-moi alone should be used to signal yourself went you need the way (to walk to tak an object), or when you apologize for something obvious or when you want to make sure that no offense is intended (take an object, stand up during the meal, cough).

Other mentioned un instant, s'il vous plaît and un moment, s'il vous plaît. Both are fine for this context and have the same meaning, and are totally equivalent.

Un moment could mean a longer duration, but not necessarily, i.e., un instant is always short but un moment can be short as well as long; and un moment is not posher or older fashioned in any way.

Rather, for a more distinguished way to talk, your might want to avoid to apologize and thanks instead. Hence un moment/instant, merci is posher than excusez-moi, donnez-moi un moment. But not many native French even know the difference.

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