Living alone in France: young single expat social networks

Asking for your regular glass of Vaillant Domaine in your neighborhood café, bar, or pub may actually be a key to fighting off une nostalgie trés singulière when living in France alone.

Sipping on a glass of Bordeaux in a quaint bar is but the beginning of a love affair with France. Truth be told, this transformation can happen in any country. Allowing yourself to become immersed in all that surrounds you in a foreign place can coax your senses into a subtle yet overwhelming transformation.

Embrace it!

This is the difference between just experiencing the culture and becoming part of it. It’s important though to realise, that locals, (French natives), are very different, to young expats, in terms of their relationship with both alcohol and what draws them to cafés, bars, and restaurants.

Why do young single expats flock to bars and pubs?

When in foreign places young expats find that bars and pubs are ideal forums of convenience for unwinding and finding their comfort zone.

This scene may appear clichéd for the typical study abroad student in Paris. Nonetheless, ‘Friends on Tap’, a UK report from 2016, stresses that it is not about consuming alcohol to excess or the wine of choice, but rather the relationships fostered in this locale that is drawing the youth to these places. However, the impact of COVID-19 on the industry may change how and where expats form social networks in the future.

Bars and pubs are havens that many young expats enter to be both, alone, and at the same time, among people. For most single expats living alone in France, the absence of familiar faces in daily expat life and routines often contribute to a seemingly overwhelming, isolating nostalgia.

In this regard, bars are a fitting environment where they can let their guard down, find a sort of quiet confidence, and take that initial step toward building their social networks. It can be thought of as a form of therapy.

Pub, bar, or cafe – health benefits?

In fact, psychologists say that being a regular at such places may pose many benefits for your health as it fosters relationships -of lower intensity but still important- through familiarity. These environments, bars, and pubs provide a space for impromptu or unplanned meetups that do not carry the burden of making formal arrangements, allowing any interaction to be authentic and natural.

“Pubs provide us with a venue in which we can serendipitously meet new, in many cases like-minded, people. They offer an opportunity to broaden our network of acquaintances –something that has advantages both in terms of the potential to translate acquaintances into new friendships and in terms of widening our contact with a greater diversity of cultural groups by bringing us into contact with people from other walks of life and other cultures whom one might never otherwise meet.”[1] says the ‘Friends on Tap’ report.

According to this report, most inner circles contain only 150 people, most of whom are extended family, and while inner circles are limited in size, single expats are constantly searching out and creating communities, which makes living in large cities and foreign countries a less daunting challenge. Through face-to-face interaction, bartenders and waiters typically anchor these relationships. These are the individuals you will eventually think of as friends or acquaintances.

Welcome to your other social network. This is now your place and by extension, your peace.

Whether you interact beyond placing and receiving an order, the framework for the connection has been laid.

As the familiarity grows, you develop ties to this community, and you begin to crave the adrenaline from introducing yourself to a new person, a smile or nod of acknowledgment of your return, or simply mundane questions about your day from bartenders, waitstaff, and other regulars.

Living alone, social networks and Covid-19

These bars and pubs often become the heart of the expat community or a home away from home for young singles. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of the capacity of bars and pubs to withstand the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus seems to threaten the social networks that many expats rely on.

Despite many countries lessening lockdown restrictions, in June 2020, it is certain that the pandemic will have an impact on local bars and pubs for years to come.

Will bars continue to offer takeaway drinks to adapt and survive in the market?

Will tables set further apart and a limit for patrons become the new norm despite many bars relying on their capacity to maximize space usage for profit?

Unfortunately, many locales that young single expats patronize regularly will disappear; friends and family will lose jobs.

With the spread of the coronavirus and the sudden necessity for video conference platforms like Zoom, homes are becoming the (begrudgingly) preferred social venues of many. It remains to be seen how such changes will alter how young expats connect with one another and create new relationships in and outside of these locales.

In the midst of countries reopening, many expats hope to see the return of France’s café culture and lively bar scenes. Yet, a return to normal may be dependent on more than opening of local cafes and bars. Many are still grappling with the anxiety of being outside of their homes and the mistrust of others who may be less concerned. What makes France’s café and bar culture so special for young single expats are the conversations and relationships that are begun in the communal space.

What changes in the café and bar scene do you expect to see in the following weeks? Are you confident that bars and cafes will continue to be a communal space for single expats? Join the conversation below in comments or on twitter @MaVieFrancaise

[1] Dunbar, R. (2016). Friends on Tap. Oxford: Campaign for Real Ale. Retrieved May 30, 2020, from

Image credits – all images were taken pre-COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
1. Café Life Paris by Londonexpat via Flickr
2. Café le Nemours Paris by Will Willson via Flickr
3. Café de Flore by Henrik Berger Jorgensen via Flickr
4. Sidewalk Wine by Joe DeSousa via Flickr

About the Contributor

Amber Malone

I’m a MA student at The Johns Hopkins University in Italy. Prior to joining MyFrenchLife as an Editorial Intern, I was an ESL teacher in France. I returned to the US to pursue research on migrants in the EU and non-profit work. Passionate about traveling, I hope to share my experiences with others.

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  1. thara Jun 24, 2020 at 6:47 AM - Reply

    I love to visit France. And I love to have the opportunity to practice my French at a cafe bar or restaurant as well. I get to chat in French as I order up some tasty food or talk to another stranger in French too. What will happen to the once flourishing French bar and cafe industry though? Not to mention the French churches, hotels or the shops as well. Only time will tell I suppose.

  2. Duane Huff Dec 8, 2020 at 10:08 AM - Reply

    The first picture in this article, the one at the top of the page, is mine. I am pleased you thought enough of it to use it. Thank you.

    • Judy MacMahon Dec 8, 2020 at 10:48 AM - Reply

      Great photo – We have sourced this image from Flickr and cited the Creative Commons source – London Expat. Is that you?

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