Great (over) expectations of France

Paris - Great (over) expectations of France - Sandra Brown - MyFrenchLife.orgWhile there are many wonderful things about France and French people, they lack one apparently vital trait: they are not mind readers.

The expectations of France from foreigners who live, or have lived, in France, seems to be that the French should know instinctively that we are there to discover love, learn the language and find friends. It’s a consistent theme running subtly (and not so subtly) through books and blogs about foreigners’ experiences of living in France.

I’ve put together my list of top reasons expats apparently decide to visit France. Yes, many of them might be clichés – and perhaps that’s why expats so often find themselves disappointed by reality.

1. Paris in love

Paris - Great (over) expectations of France - Sandra Brown -

Ahh… the city of lights, love, and the delightful French accent. Finding romance in a romantic city seems to be a given, doesn’t it? Surely the French know that’s one reason why we visit Paris! However, just because the elements of romance are alleged to exist, it doesn’t mean that they do, or that romance will happen.

In one book I read, the author (who lived in Paris) had a few dates with Frenchmen and didn’t find love, blaming it on lack of communication and cultural differences in socialising. Then, thinking that dating a chap from her own country would lead to love, she tried that too – again without success.

As we all know, expecting love doesn’t equate to its occurrence. To me, the successful pairings of foreigners and French natives appear to be with those who don’t expect the French to fit a stereotypical model of suave romancers.

2. Parlez-vous …?

Paris - Great (over) expectations of France - Sandra Brown -

Speaking of stereotypes, one thing expressed without fail by expat writers is that communicating in French is difficult.  As I have experienced, expecting to learn French just by living in France is an idea best forgotten. One has to actually suffer for the art of learning a language. While you suffer, you will be lonely, you will feel rejected and you are probably going to be an outsider.

While the French do seem to embrace those who try to learn the language, expecting the French to gently guide and correct you through a conversation is unrealistic. The shopkeeper might be pleased at your chirpy ‘Bonjour Madame!’ as you walk in the door, but patiently listening to you stumble through your fromage needs is not going to happen when there’s a line of customers behind you.

It is better that you pay for a tutor or lessons to practice your grocery order, and ask the locals to help you when they have time.

3. ‘No friends’ foreigner

Paris - Great (over) expectations of France - Sandra Brown -

Many people dream of being French – but realise this a dream that doesn’t have a realisation yet. The next best thing for some is becoming a French local. Yes, that’s right: some expats dream of simply becoming expats.

However, living amongst the French and becoming a local is more difficult than it appears. Time is needed when making friends. You may have to accept that loneliness is a choice you make when you move to a country which uses another language.

You also can’t expect the French to know you are lonely if you don’t tell them, and subsequently they are likely to continue to gravitate towards their usual group of friends.

However, despite being often portrayed as a cultural group who keep friends from childhood, the French don’t strike me as unfriendly or unwelcoming to newcomers. Perhaps the key to making friends in France is to avoid the clearly close-knit work or social groups.  Instead, make an effort with French people who are also looking to increase their friendship numbers.

Love, relationships, and friends: did you have any (over) expectations when you travelled to France? How did you resolve disappointment? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Image credits:
1. Eiffel Tower at dawn, by Nitot via Wikimedia.
2. Love lock, by pixelcreatures via Pixabay.
3. Lonely day in Paris, by Christine Zenino via Wikimedia.
4. Paris romance, by Dammonnofar.

About the Contributor

Sandra E Brown

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  1. Elise Mellor Jul 8, 2014 at 2:53 PM - Reply

    Those poor French, subject to such lofty expectations from us fanciful foreigners….

  2. Jill Craig Jul 8, 2014 at 4:19 PM - Reply

    There is hardly anything that annoys me more than hearing people say they would probably `pick up` French if they lived here. So much more work goes into learning a language, and I think especially if you’re an Anglophone you can fall right into an expat group and speak (or hear) very little French at all.

    • Sandra E Brown Jul 9, 2014 at 8:23 AM - Reply

      I agree Jill. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with tourists not knowing much French when they wander through France on their 21 day tour of the world. But saying you can ‘pick up’ a language? Good luck:) Language immersion takes a huge effort and is often unrewarded for a long time. It is rather fun though for me now when I listen to French radio and can actually understand some of what they are saying!

      • Elise Mellor Jul 9, 2014 at 9:43 AM - Reply

        To be fair though, exposure to a language is invaluable in learning it. Before I went to South America the only Spanish I knew was from Ricky Marting songs (and telling someone that “I’m lost without you” won’t get you quite as far as knowing how to say that you are, in fact, just lost), but after cruising around for a month I’d really gotten a ‘feel’ for the language. Maybe that’s what people mean when they say you’ll “pick it up”: that actually being in the midst of it will help you to learn… but you’re totally right – actually learning all that pesky grammar and what not is a lot of work and doesn’t happen by osmosis…

        • Sandra E Brown Jul 9, 2014 at 10:00 AM - Reply

          I agree with you Elise that exposure is invaluable – IF one wants to learn the language. My article was more about people who go to live in France but don’t learn the language because they don’t make an effort and then whine that the French are unfriendly! You obviously embraced the language in South America and when one IS open to learning a language, I agree that you can ‘pick it up’, generally at least:) As for those pesky grammar rules …it is lucky for me that I like studying!

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