It can be hard to make friends outside of work anywhere, especially if you’ve moved abroad. Here’s a guide to making friends in France.
As a foreigner living abroad, you might feel like a bit of a pain to talk to at parties. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it to make French friends in France.
Making the effort
How many times have you been at a party and there’s someone whose English is not quite up to scratch? It’s quite an effort to talk to them, but you’re a nice person so you try. Even if you’re kind-hearted, after a little while the idle chit-chat and the effort of trying to make yourself understood takes its toll. You make your excuses, find your friends, and leave the foreigner to the next person. I’ve never really felt bad about it. Until now.
There I was, at a 90s themed party of people channeling Cyndi Lauper, a Spice Girl, the cast of Baywatch and my own hopelessly unstylish teenage years where, despite my frizzy hair and crop top I, and my Backstreet-Boy-gone-down-the-wrong path fiancé, were the elephants in the room.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the people there were really very lovely. They made more of an effort to chat to us than a lot of people would have in the same situation.
A bit too much work
But there’s always going to be the odd person who takes a physical intake of breath as they see you approaching; those that smile as you talk to them and then excuse themselves to get a canapé and then never come back. They know each other and you’re not only new, you’re just a little bit too much work.
Once I realized that it wasn’t because my scrunchie was causing offense to everyone with style in the room, it strangely made it easier. I’ve been on the other side and it really is nothing personal.
We soon realized that some people weren’t ignoring us because they couldn’t be bothered with us, but they were just a little shy that their English wasn’t good enough. However, when we made the effort to speak French with them, their fear subsided. We found that language barriers are no barriers to bonding over the joys of high-waisted shorts.
By the end of the night as the cocktails continued to flow, we were rocking the Singstar and analyzing the difficulties of pronouncing the French ‘r’ with a linguistics student. Success!
Making new friends
We already knew making friends in France was going to be tricky. It is really hard making new friends anywhere once the official friend-making-years up to the age of 21 are over. It would have been something we had to deal with wherever we went. But add another language which you’re not fluent in and a few other loner features – we’re a couple, we’re freelancers who work from home and we speak English with each other – we knew this friend-making business was going to take rather a lot of effort.
While it would have been easier to stay on our own and not have conversations, we decided instead to book ourselves into Airbnb apartments. Once in Montpellier we found ourselves in a flat with two awesome guys who made a rule: “we speak English, you speak French.” That way, everyone got to practice. They turned out to be not only great hosts, but within the short space of a week, actual friends.
A few weeks later, we went to their 1990s-themed party where we were going to meet only French people. And we were going to be dressed like a Saved-by-the-Bell-meets-Backstreet-Boy-trying-to-be-Eminem mash-up.
So that was just the beginning. We can’t just cling to our two newfound friends like crazy people.
We’re joining French classes next week. Apart from improving our language, we’re hoping it will be another chance to meet some cool people. There’s a pretty good chance they won’t be English so our common language will be slightly dodgy French. Perfect.
There are other classes I’m keen to do. They’ll keep me active and get me away from the computer when I don’t have to be. It may be a good opportunity to meet people who are also into similar things. At one of the first Estivals, we spotted some amateur salsa going on on-stage. We decided we were going to find some classes and shimmy our way to new friends.
We’ve also chosen, initially at least, to forgo our own apartment and move in with a bunch of other people. We really wanted to move into our own space; we’re oversharing washing machines and arguing over whose turn it is to take out the rubbish. But it’s all worth it for the conversation we get to have with our French housemates and the opportunity to play pétanque on a Sunday night. Plus we live in a castle. Bonus.
The expat community
Finally, there’s that other bunch of people just like us – the expats; we’ve so far met a large group of Californians who all work in one Irish pub, and we know Montpellier has a big community of expats. While we’ll probably be speaking English it’ll still be nice to have people you share common ground with.
So my advice for anyone in the same situation: Forget feeling like you’re the Borat in the room. Make mistakes, make a fool of yourself but make the effort and you’ll make friends.
Would love to hear from any other expats who’ve had similar experiences!