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Meet the French in Paris: going local

Meet the French - MyFrenchLife™ - Paris

It’s time to croisez les doights that the phrase ‘third time is a charm’ will ring true for our Meet the French project.

While my efforts in sport and language had provided some successes, this time, I decided to look to what was on locally as a way of meeting the French in Paris.

We’ve already well and truly established the fact that the majority of us who are seeking la vraie vie française are looking for a little more than just café and theatre recommendations. We’re looking to lay down roots, make friends, and become part of the community.

This is exactly what I did when I took part in charitable events and went to an expo dedicated to l’eau sur mars with a group of strangers. But of course, the options are endless!

So – what worked, and what left something to be desired for a young expat in Paris? Let’s find out…

Take part in charitable events

DSC_0077The only way to become part of a community is to get out there and get involved, and this means taking part in what is important in your community.

There will always be people and organisations in need of help – and I didn’t become part of these purely to enlarge my social circle. In all honesty, the Parisian bobo side of my life doesn’t sit well with me: 18 euro club entries, 12 euro cocktails simply because it is:

un beau quartier quoi.

I started taking part in a soup kitchen to get a little more balance and see another side of life. Incidentally, I did meet some lovely French volunteers in the process, and it became a habit to eat together after cleaning up the kitchens. If you’re looking to do something similar, I used this website, or you could try this site too – but as you can see, the options are not limited to soup kitchens!

France Bénévolat is also looking for French speakers and has over 300 listings in Paris alone. You’ll find that they list all kinds of positions, from coaching sports teams to working with handicapped children, or even admin work for Reporters Without Borders.

Accueil des Villes Francaises

This is an ideal organisation for our aims: it’s a non-profit that aims to help people move to new areas of France. They provide not only advice as you plan your move, but act as a sort of ‘welcome wagon’: you’ll be invited along to various events within the local area.

The website has the following words of encouragement (they are such mind-readers!):

Déménagement rime souvent avec dépaysement. Il en résulte quelquefois des moments de solitude. Quitter ses amis, sa famille, se familiariser avec son nouveau cadre de vie, c’est une épreuve ou… un renouveau. 

(“Moving can be disorientating. It can be quite a solitary experience. Leaving your friends, family, getting to grips with a new life is a trial… or a chance at a new beginning.”)

On Va Sortir

On Va Sortir is a website allowing users to participate in organised events around Paris – and it ranges from anything from walking to expos, and from theatre to dinner. Truly, the options are so numerous that it’s a little difficult to choose. The events also attract a varied crowd – when I attended an expo, everyone was a little older, and from completely different backgrounds.

The great thing about this is that it’s easy to fit into your schedule. I joined a group going to an expo on `l’eau sur mars` (which was surprisingly interesting, as I have to admit I wasn’t primarily in it for the educational aspect). 

En fait, the expo was much more interactive than I imagined, and so all the scientific information concerning how and why we should preserve our water resources didn’t go completely over my head.

The advantage with On Va Sortir is that when people click, they continue applying to the same events as others. This is how I ended up going for dinner in a nearby Belleville restaurant the following week with a few of the same people. So, make sure you get chatting with everyone in the group and find out what other events they like to take part in!

Université Populaire

This is yet another organisation run by volunteers and has 230 branches across France. It has grown in popularity in recent years and is an association which offers a wide range of cultural class options (think language, drawing, politics and cooking).

The classes are affordable, and no grades or diplomas are required or awarded. The aim is to bring people of similar interests together, through culture. So French.

MyFrenchLife™ - bakery - meet the french

Become recognisable

This is the overall aim: it doesn’t matter at all whether you’re in a small town or in the capital, a sense of solidarity and a variety of group activities are important if you want to become part of the community.

I found that this was even true when I worked as an au-pair for a French family – making the effort to go along to events hosted by the school, to after-school picnics organised by some of the children’s’ mothers, and even volunteering to pick the kids up from their birthday parties meant that they began to engage me in conversation and wanted to find out more about me.

Du coup, we strongly recommend consistency. A great idea would be to look up what’s going on at your local Mairie.

(For example, I followed this link when I lived in Paris!) There are activities for all age groups, particularly children (a bonus for expat families), and it lists the number of spaces available for each activity.

Obviously, becoming recognisable is a slightly drawn out process, and is about more than just buying bread in your local boulangerie every morning (although this helps too!). Do some research, find out what is locally on offer and above all: become involved!

Have you had similar experiences? Let us know in the comments below!

Image credits:
1 & 2. © Hannah Duke.
3. Bread in a boulangerie, via Wikimedia.


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  1. Katie Wilkinson
    4 days ago

    Great article Jill and some really handy tips for those trying to become part of a new community. I do often look back on my time spent in Montpellier several years ago and wish I had known a little more about these type of organisations. I suppose just turning 20, I was less confident and was often reluctant to step out of comfort zone.
    For others making the move to France, I would highly recommend just giving everything you can a go! It may be a little daunting however throwing yourself in at the deep end can have some positive benefits!