French Language Blog

Who Ya Gonna Call? Not Nine One One! Posted by on Aug 19, 2015 in Culture

After figuring out how les numéros de téléphones français (French phone numbers) work and when things are open (even on Sundays!), there is a big thing some people don’t release when they’re going abroad.

Qui est-ce qu’on appelle en cas d’urgence ?
Who do you call in an emergency?

The American number, 911, does not work everywhere in the world! Knowing the appropriate number is an important part of being à l’étranger (abroad).

In France, there are several numbers you should know en cas d’urgence:

15 – Le SAMU (Le Service d’aide médical urgente) – Medical emergencies
17 – La police
18 – Les pompiers (firemen) – fire emergencies
112 – SOS – all services

If you have trouble remembering all of them, the most important one is cent douze – 112. Having more emergency numbers means “Call 911!” has a few translations in French:

Appellez le quinze ou appellez les urgences !
Appellez le dix-sept
ou appellez la police !
Appellez le dix-huit
ou appellez les pompiers !
Appellez le cent douze !

La raison pour tous ces numéros (the reason for all these numbers) is that le 112 is a relatively new pan-european emergency number. Traditionally you would call a specific number for a specific emergency, et beaucoup de gens (and many people) continue to do so today.

Entre parenthèses (a quick side note, litterally between parenthesis), au Canada francophone (in French speaking Canada) it’s slightly different. The emergency number is the same as in the US, 911, but it’s not read as one number. Instead, each digit is read out – neuf un un (nine one one).

No matter the number, there are a few important questions you need to be able to answer after l’opérateur (the operator) picks up the phone.

Qui je suis ?
Où je suis ?
Pourquoi j’appelle ?

Who am I?
Where am I?
Why am I calling?

You have to let them know whether you’re victime ou témoin (a victim or a witness) and give them un numéro de téléphone so they can call you back. You also need to give them l’adresse précise (the exact address) for where they need to go. Lastly, you have to tell them why you’re calling.

You might be able to speak to l’opérateur in English, but chances are you’ll have to flex your French speaking muscles and try to explain the situation in French! Heureusement (fortunately), answering the above questions is easy:

Je suis victime/témoin.
Je suis à….
C’est un cas d’urgence !

I am a victim/witness.
I am at/on….
I live at/on….
It’s an emergency!


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About the Author: John Bauer

John Bauer is an enthusiast for all things language and travel. He currently lives in France where he's doing his Master's. John came to France four years ago knowing nothing about the language or the country, but through all the mistakes over the years, he's started figuring things out.