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As a former Parisian (not working in retail or anything) -- I used to switch to English in the hopes that the tourist asking me a question would too . Not because of any snobbishness but because I could understand their native English much better than their erratically pronounced basic French. No disrespect meant; I was just trying to understand them better.
You have just pinpointed why I'm afraid to speak French in Paris.
... And of course I just couldn't tell them: "Man, your French is unintelligible, I can't understand anything you say. Let's stick to English" ;-D
(To be fair, my English isn't all that intelligible either; but I couldn't possibly answer a question I didn't understand anyway, so it was still the better option)
Fair enough! I guess it's up to the foreigner to say, "no, really, let's stick to French, be patient, I'm trying to learn." I have to do that here in Germany all the time.
Unknown --- that's very interesting, since I don't remember a single occasion after living in France for 2.5 years now that a native French speaker has not understood our "broken" French. But I do remember zillions of occasions when we have not understood them, and that is when they switch to English in frustration.
Hope you didn't take me wrong. I was referring to tourists who picked up a few sentences from a phrasebook or have vague memories of middle school French, not to people who can actually speak French (as I imagine you did after living in France for over 2 years). Plus, I do have difficulties understanding people with strong accents (which is why I try not to take it personally when people don't understand my English).
As a French person, I guess it's also related to the fact that in Paris a lot of people can speak English. In the countryside, they can't this much. :)
I can make myself understood (though never as well as I'd like). But when I was in Montreal, I became convinced that Canadian French was beyond me.