I will be heading out from le Puy on 8 May 2010 to get as far as I can go in about 25 days. Would be good to hear from anyone setting out around that time. I am a bit worried about my lack of french although I am working on it (without much sucess).
The French were very tolerant of my poor French language skills. If they were irritated, they covered it well and seemed to appreciate me trying. Keep working on the lessons, and do not be afraid to use what you learn (but keep in mind that volume does not improve understanding! I had to self-modulate several times). There were quite a few Quebecois(e) on the route. They were very helpful translators. Few French along the way spoke English, but fellow pilgrims often had English in their repertoire. The May-June-July weather was variable, from snow to extreme heat. Prepare for them all; dress in layers so that you can change with the weather.
I know of at least two others who never had much French. Janet found the tourist offices were very helpful with booking gites etc. A South African woman I met carried a mobile phone with her Miam Miam Dodo, and would point to entries she was interested in, and fellow French pilgrims would willingly ring ahead for her. I found there was quite a 'community' feel on the Le Puy route, and the French speakers all looked after me.
One thing you might want to be aware of starting on the 8th: it is a Public Holiday (1945 Victory Day), as is Thursday 13th (Ascension Day). Public Holidays in France tend to turn into Long Weekends, with more people in the outdoors, and food shops closed when you might not be expecting. It doesn't mean that you should avoid starting then, but it just means you need to think about booking gites ahead/buying food etc a bit more around this time.
It is great that you are starting from Le Puy. That route really speaks loudly to me. You might want to check out Margaret's blog about her walk through this area - the pictures are beautiful and her writing style makes it an easy read.
At the heart of it, the French are perfectionists and can be rather shy about speaking English. What is paramount is that you attempt to speak French. In doing so, you demonstrate your respect for their language and you also make it easier for them to try speaking when should they have any training. When in trouble, talk to the young since they all study English in school. If you are a novice to the French language, try learning simple phrases rather than grasping the entirety of French vocabulary and grammar. You will be fine and all will be well with you.
Good advice above - I couldn't add to it, except to say that it might be an idea to have a few sentences ready made such as 'Where is the auberge, please?' Where is the way ? ' I'm looking for the GR 65' etc etc.
I think you will especially enjoy the 8-10 day section between Le Puy and Conques - it is very beautiful. :arrow:
C Frances 2005, 2007
Le Puy en Velay -SdC 2009
Via de la Plata 2011
gr 653 from Oloron to Puente la Reina 2012
Gr65 from le Puy to Figeac 2013
Irun to Santander 2013
Porto to SdC 2014
Astorga to SdC 2015
About the language: I went from Le Puy last summer and was a bit scared because of my inability in French. I learned a bit French in school more than forty years ago, and had forgotten nearly everything. I read some tourist French before I left and got myself a list of words that could be needed for shopping, food, je voudrais une chambre, how are you and so on.
It was not so difficult as I suspected. I never met bad reactions, most people was friendly and polite. People tried their best to speak English too. After a month on the road in France, I even took a phonecall or two in French.
I stayed one night in a small hotel in Maslacq and when I came down for dinner, the madame in the restaurant had picked out some regular guests that she knew spoke English to dine with me, so that I could have someone to speak with she said. And it was good company.