While spending time in France, it shouldn’t be a difficult quest to meet and come into contact with the French. And yet, so many savvy Francophiles in our community have this exact problem. We travel to France full of great intentions for fast French friendships, but return somewhat disappointed.
Especially in a city such as Paris, it can be hard to be surrounded by people, and yet feel so utterly alone. It’s not astonishing that such people often fall back into expat friendships, finding much more in common with their fellow countrymen. But to give up too easily is to miss out: we believe persevering is worth the effort!
To help you do so, we’ve made up a list of ten tips to tackle connecting with the locals, so you don’t end up coming home empty-handed…
1. Embrace your exoticism!
If you are reading these tips, you are probably not French. Nor will you ever be, but you can make this work to your advantage. You are seen as exotic – so revel in it! This element makes you different in a circle of French people; it’s not an automatic negative! And, it’s even better if you’re a foreigner who can speak French – in our experience, this rarely fails to amaze and impress.
2. When in France, do as the French would do…
This sounds obvious, but look out for places where the French would spend time, such as local gyms and markets. Do things that locals would do – so if you’re in the country, join in with local events like markets, elections and church events.
Furthermore, stay clear of activities in a similar vein to English-taught croissant making classes. This is not where you will find Parisians.
As Jacqueline, our Parisian-based correspondent so fittingly put it: these events are “swarming with Anglophones”.
3. If the website is in English, this is a bit of a giveaway…
This leads straight on from our last point: websites like Meetup can be great for meeting fellow expats, but they won’t really draw the French in. Instead, when you are searching for activities on search engines, try doing so in French.
4. Try, try and try again
We know from experience that it can be off-putting and a little disheartening when you feel that your efforts aren’t paying off. Our advice is to just keep trying, because it only takes one person to respond positively and welcome you into their group or invite you along.
Lindsey Tramuta from Lost in Cheeseland describes on her blog just how trying she found the process to be in the beginning. “Making French friends was brutal, trying to find where I belonged was stressful and trying to reconcile the separation from family and friends from within a tiny studio apartment was isolating,” she writes.
“French partner or not, Paris can break you down. That is, if you don’t use the bountiful resources at your disposal to get comfortable.”
But she persevered, lived to tell the tale, and it’s a successful one!
5. Be aware of the cultural differences…
Getting to know the French can be a slightly different experience to the one you’re used to in your own home country, as we talked about in the previous article of our ‘Meet the French’ project.
Even Pascale, a lovely Belgian woman who moved to the south of France, found it to be a slightly more difficult experience (and her French was obviously completely flawless in comparison to my own!).
Pour se faire de nouvelles relations, il faut aller soi-même vers les gens et enfoncer les portes.
When I asked her about it, she noted that:
« Concernant notre intégration en France, je dirais que ça n’a pas été facile de faire des connaissances. Pour se faire de nouvelles relations, il faut aller soi-même vers les gens et enfoncer les portes. En Belgique, c’est tout l’inverse : les Belges vont spontanément vers les étrangers qui arrivent dans leur pays et les invitent très vite pour faire connaissance. Mais une fois que nous avions compris cela, nous nous sommes faits de nombreux copains français 😉 ».
(“In regards to our integration in France, I would say that it wasn’t easy to meet people. To meet people, you have to take it upon yourself to go and make the first move. In Belgium, it’s the complete opposite: Belgians go right up to newcomers and quickly introduce themselves. But once we had understood that, we began making lots of French friends!”)
6. Don’t be afraid to speak
Even if your French isn’t amazing yet, don’t be afraid – the only way to improve is to keep trying. In the words of a very wise French person: « il faut parler, tout le temps, tout simplement. »
En plus, some French friends (yes, that’s right, they do exist) have often told me not to be ashamed of my accent : « mais Jill, non, ça te rend intéressante ! » So don’t let one or two bad experiences put you off – just open your mouth!
7. Be brave, and try new things!
Being abroad is always a chance to try something new, and it’s the best way to meet people. So join the gym, start running, join a book club, and chat to people – or at least try one of these things!
This was the key to a good friend’s enviable success in her attempts to building friendships with locals. She joined a ballet class, and afterwards described how “the wonderful teacher loved having a foreigner in his class and would shout random English words to try and impress me!”
“Although everyone was kind, I did have to make an effort to have a proper conversation with the other dancers,” she confessed to me. “They didn’t really open themselves up to longer conversations unless I instigated them. I was really glad I did though as they soon started inviting me to social events with them which really helped me improve my French and make more French friends.”
8. Go it alone
At MyFrenchLife™, we’ve come to the conclusion that being alone works better than being in a couple, or with a group of friends.
Il ne faut pas oublier: it can be intimidating for a French person when a group of Anglophones approaches him or her. You are much more approachable by yourself!
9. Don’t believe everything you read on the web
It can be disheartening reading about other people’s difficulties in getting to know the French. It’s all about your own attitude, and your own expectations, so don’t go into the experience with a negative attitude. Be hopeful!
In the wise words of Lindsey from Lost In Cheeseland: “Take every anecdote and bit of advice with a grain of salt, otherwise you’ll probably get a bit freaked out.”
“We all love helping by sharing our down and out experiences, but no two expat stories are alike,” she continues. “The headaches and tears shed by one expat while at the bank or post office should not dictate your expectations.”
“Keep an open mind about everything and know that your story will be your own regardless of how many people have terrible experience at familiar haunts like the préfecture de police.”
10. The French need friends too!
As intimidating as they might currently seem to you (the style! The elegance! The Parisian frostiness!), remember that once in a while, the French need friends too.
So our advice is to look for places where people who are also lonely will go too – our correspondent and Paris liaison Jacqueline suggests a trip to the spa, while I’ve found conversation exchanges to be a great success for meeting the French. They love to practise with you!
Are you ready?
It’s a brave move to spend time in a foreign country and to be intent on building friendships with the locals – and a move we fully applaud. There is no better way to learn about a culture and improve your skills in a foreign language while meeting such interesting people.
Stay tuned for more as I chronicle my experiences with an odyssey of activities across Paris to find which were the most successful for meeting the French.
Disregard the many unsuccessful stories – it’s completely up to you to make your own friendships, and we have every confidence you can do it.
Let us know about your own experiences – we would love to hear about them! Share your comments with us below…
1, 3 & 4. © Hannah Duke.
2. via Unsplash.
6. The party, by Martin Allen, via Flickr.