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Make a call and chat to a random French person

Have you ever wondered what the French think of the Eiffel Tower, what their favourite restaurant is or where they like to go to the beach?

Wonder no more, because Parisian entrepreneur Marc Baillet, 41, has set up The French Number (also online at www.thefrenchnumber.fr) so people from all over the world can “Get connected to a random French person and talk about anything.”

Following a dip in tourism, Mr Baillet wanted to set up a light-hearted way for French people to promote their own country. He said: “People can call up from all over the world and talk about whatever they want – many want tips on where to visit, others want to practise their French or chat about anything fun.”

About 2,500 French people have signed up to take calls. Some 80% are aged 25 to 40, with the rest mainly retired. There are about the same number of men and women.

“I think the people who have signed up are people who are passionate about their country and want to share all that is good about France. There has been so much negativity about it in the media in recent times.”

Calls are put through a telephone platform to random people until someone answers.

A service which allows people to start an SMS conversation with a French person instead of calling is also due to be rolled out soon, as is a facility to allow users to decide where in France they want to call.

The service was launched in France in July and to the rest of the world in mid-September. So far there have been around 5,000 calls from 80 countries, averaging three minutes in duration.

“So far news of it has only spread via word of mouth and social media rather than advertising but even so, around 200 to 300 new call handlers are signing up each week,” said Mr Baillet.

“It’s been very popular – we’ve had a lot of good feedback. People seem to be enjoying hearing about the real France from real French people. “I’ve also heard about French teachers encouraging their students to call to practise their conversation skills.”

Social media feedback so far has been good: One caller posted from America: “I really want to see France. This makes me feel good about the state of the country….merci beaucoup!”

Mr Baillet is a graduate of the McCallum Graduate School of Business (MBA Boston) and has 15 years’ experience in finance, new technologies and business strategies.

Call handlers (called “ambassadors”) must be over 18, French, have a French mobile number and live in France. They must also be happy to speak English. They sign up via the app and simply wait for calls – they can also easily unsubscribe at any time. The service is linked to Atout France, France’s tourism development agency. There is no obligation to answer calls when they do not want to – if one person does not answer, the call simply moves on to another.

The French Number can be called from any country on +33 176 498 498 for the price of an international call – there are also a number of “special numbers” available which cost 80 cents a minute and offer premium services such as being able to listen back to previous calls. Mr Baillet hopes it will soon take 50,000 calls a month.

If you try it, tell us your experience at news@connexionfrance.com.

We put the service to the test

Trying out the app was at first slightly frustrating – after an automated message telling me I was “about to be put through to a random French person” and that my call might be recorded, quite a few calls went through to voicemail, a couple put the phone down (I suspect they thought I was a sales call), one man was on a train and, though seemingly willing to chat, was almost impossible to hear. Another was in a meeting when I called.

Eventually I got through to Abdel, aged 24, an IT engineer from Paris, who told me I was his first call after having signed up a month earlier.

He said: “I thought it would be a good way to improve my English. I’m also planning a trip abroad – but I don’t really know  where I want to go so I thought speaking to people from all over the world might help give me some ideas!”

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