Qu’est-ce que vous faites, dans la vie?
kess-kuh voo FETT, dah lah vee? Click below to hear this.*
What do you do?
A crucial difference between French and English comes to the fore in this expression. Since French grammar doesn’t distinguish between What are you doing? and What do you do?, the French needs a little helping phrase.
Qu’est-ce que vous faites? refers to the activity of the minute. It asks What are you doing at this very moment? Whether you don’t understand your friend’s activities or whether you can see perfectly well what he is doing but you think he’s nuts, you can use this.
On the other hand, Qu’est-ce que vous faites, dans la vie? is for people you don’t know very well. By adding the tag phrase, you are asking What do you do in life?–which usually means, what’s your job? Where do you work? Unlike the frequent practice in the US, in France this is not the first question you should ask a new acquaintance. That would suggest that a person’s value lies only in his or her money-earning power.
*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file: