Why finding French friends in France might be trickier than you think

So you've moved to France, you've found a place to live, powered through the bureaucracy and now it's time to make some French friends - which is the easy bit, right? Actually maybe not, as British Normandy resident Natasha Alexander explains.

Why finding French friends in France might be trickier than you think
Finding new friends in France is not always easy. Photo: AFP

You’re in France, you speak a bit of French (or at least have the illusion that you do) so it would follow that you will make French ‘friends’ at a drop of a hat. Erm not quite . . .

This is my take on it, as ever, and I’m sure there are lots of twenty-somethings/students in major French cities making French friends left, right and centre. But, alas, unfortunately I am not in that bracket. Mental note to previous self in a different life – move to a foreign country when you’re young, free and single!

If like me, you have passed your prime and have a shed-load of baggage which includes children and a partner/husband then finding a bona fide French friend can be somewhat tricky.

This is because they’ve already made friends before you decided to rock on up and show your face. They don’t need any more. They aren’t collecting new friends or have a need to utilise an English-speaker in the same way that you need a French speaker.

READ ALSO How I used cold-callers and lovelorn farmers to learn French

Coffee on the terrace is always better with a pal. Photo: AFP

You may be a novelty feature to speak to every now and again but do they want to be listening to you for more than an hour? I imagine people saying 'she’s okay in small doses but I can’t take that haemorrhaging of the grammar for too long.'

Someone once said to me it can be hard for Brits to be friends because so many do return to the UK. The French are aware of this fact, especially people within the retirement bracket. So how much investment do they want to put into a ‘friendship’ knowing that there is a likelihood that they will leave and never to be seen again?

Even if you work with French people, chatting in the office is nice and good for your French, but do they want to be your friend?

But if you do want to improve your language capabilities you need to start collecting a few Frenchies. 


I have a small 'collection' but like any collection, I’m always looking to add to it and some are more prized than others. My French friends which are great for writing, reading what’s pinged back and a whole load of vocabulary in the ‘chit chat’ bracket. Plus I bloody well like them! I cannot recommend this enough. To have written conversations via your phone/Facebook simply change your keyboard settings to French. If you really want to go full on out – change your Facebook settings to French also.

By doing this it also makes you think in French or, at the very least, makes you construct a sentence in a French way. In addition, your phone will predict the verb endings etc and your friend can also correct you. 

So how do you find these French friends? As I said before, they are quite tricky to find and pin down. This is because 1) they have already got their friends/social circle going on 2) they are busy like the rest of planet and 3) family is a big deal and if they’re socialising it’s going to be with their family and established friends.

A girls night out or middle aged woman/mums nights out are not a thing here. Mums drop and run (or maybe there is a secret society of French mums all going back for gin after drop off but if so I certainly haven’t been invited #wails).

If truth be told most people have a proper job (not like me!) and work full-time. The French work long hours despite what the Daily Mail will have you believe. Wrap-around childcare starts at 7.45am and runs until 6.45pm at school. This enables both parents to work.

So, I do have some real life French ‘friends’ – okay we’re not telling each other our life stories but it’s a work in progress and the seeds have been planted and hopefully they will grow over time. Personally, I would like for them, to one day say “do you remember when your French was so bad and I couldn’t understand a lot of what you were saying?”.

And don’t forget you also have something to give. A different approach, a different view point of France. An outsiders view and, of course, you can teach them English.

Plus it’s great fun. Making mistakes with someone that you like and feel comfortable with is great for your confidence and it really does improve your language abilities. 

So how do you catch them?

Naturally, you may find them in your daily dealings. You just need to be a bit forward. They’ll just think its a cultural thing (it’s not – we are quite reserved!) and add them ASAP on Facebook. Suggest a coffee or lunch – whatever it takes. Or simply check in every now and then via a Facebook message. You have to start somewhere.

The internet, as ever, is a great way at hunting down some Frenchies. There are many language groups on Facebook – simply post and say you would like to find someone to talk to. I found two Frenchies during the confinement who I loved to chat to and whilst it was hard work and tiring at times, it was well worth every bit of effort. They will always have a special place in my heart. You know who you are.

Then, of course, you have a very pleasurable way of finding a Frenchie – your local bar. Sink a few drinks and you’ll think you’re fluent in any event. Your inhibitions go and you start throwing out words hoping they all land together to make a coherent sentence. Obviously you may become a slight alcoholic but at least you’ll be a fluent one.

I’d love to hear how you met your Frenchies and any advice and tips you have of hunting them down!

Natasha Alexander does social media management for companies in Normandy and across France and also blogs about her move to France at Our Normandy Life. Find out more here.

Member comments

  1. Get political. French people don’t necessarily realise how much more “deep serious talking” they grow up around compared to other ahem, anglophone, cultures. French people respect passion and intellect, display them together and you will attract French friends. Shy away from them, you will mostly be invisible.

  2. I have found the opposite. Our French neighbours, several families of them, and most folk from the town we meet, couldn’t have been more friendly. As Eleanor above says, many are cultured, involved in local causes and have a civic pride. Many can speak English, but we engage with everyone in our best attempts at French. Of course speaking some French is necessary, but why would you come and live here and not try to learn?

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REVEALED: The problems foreigners have getting started in France

A recent international has ranked France among the 10 hardest countries for foreign citizens to settle in. But what makes getting started in France so difficult?

REVEALED: The problems foreigners have getting started in France

France is among the top 10 hardest countries to get set up in after first moving for foreigners, according to a recent survey by InterNations – a platform that connects foreign residents abroad.

The survey, called “Where expats struggle most to get settled”, used survey responses from people living abroad to rank countries based on how easy they are for dealing with administration, language, housing and digital life. 

Overall France was placed in 44th place out of 52 countries, faring better than Italy (48th place) and Germany (52nd place), but well-behind other European countries like Norway (15th place), the Netherlands (25th) and Sweden (26th). 

Overall, the survey noted that administrative processes and language were the most difficult parts of setting up a life in France for foreigners.

Complex administration 

France ranked among the bottom 10 countries – in 43rd place – when it came to administrative topics. This subsection encompassed things from setting up a bank account upon arrival to the general ease of dealing with local administrative workers and residency permit renewal procedures.

More than half of the people in the InterNations survey (55 percent) said that is not easy to deal with the local authorities – higher than the global average of 39 percent.

About a third of respondents said that it was hard to open a local bank account. Readers of The Local have signalled this challenge as well – many struggle with the Catch-22 of being asked for a proof of your address to open an account, while on the other hand meeting many landlords who will not rent to you until you have a bank account.

The Local created a guide with vocabulary and relevant information for opening a bank account in France – you can find it HERE.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about setting up a bank account in France

One British resident in France told InterNations, “What bothers me most is the bureaucracy, particularly the time it is taking to get full access to healthcare services. In general, France still has work to do to make such official processes easier and fully possible online”.

As for readers of The Local, several have echoed these types of complaints about French administrative procedures. 

In a 2021 survey by The Local on foreigners’ experiences living in Paris specifically, several mentioned bureaucracy as a challenge. One reader, Weronika Lasko referred to French admin as a “pure nightmare’ and others, like Pavan Puli, advised that for “any administrative assistance it takes a lot of time to get done”.

Nevertheless – readers of The Local had helpful advice for those just moving to the country. In a recent survey on applying for and renewing visas and residency permits, one respondent advised everyone to “Bring more paperwork than you think you need and don’t expect anything to make sense”. 

When giving The Local their ‘top tips for life in France’, several readers offered ways to make administrative processes less complex. One reader, Kerstin Hallert, said that it is “absolutely necessary to have a French-speaking friend not afraid to deal with bureaucracy endlessly.”

Despite the challenges many foreigners have experienced with French bureaucracy, several of France’s administrative procedures have been gradually moving online. In The Local’s survey about France’s visa procedures moving online, 78 percent of respondents said they had completed their most recent visa or residency procedure online (rather than in person).

Other tasks that may have been a challenge for foreigners a few years ago – like having to call to make a doctor’s appointment – have been simplified with the advent of websites, like Doctolib, which allow users to register for their healthcare appointments online.

More recently, the French government put forward a new website called “démarches simplifiées” which allegedly speeds up certain admin tasks by 50 percent. 

READ MORE: The website that speeds up French bureaucracy ‘by up to 50 percent’

From driver’s licences to submitting documents related to residency permits for foreigners, the new French website aims to streamline administrative procedures and make more processes that once required in-person, paper-heavy meetings available online.

France is also notorious for requiring large paper dossiers for different tasks in life, notably finding and renting an apartment. This is another process that has been put online – now you can use the tool Dossier Facile which allows you to upload all your house-hunting documents to a single site, have them checked and verified and then gives you a link to give to landlords and agencies, which makes the process a little simpler.

Language struggles

According to the survey by InterNations, 60 percent of respondents said that they find it “difficult to live in France without speaking the local language”, which is almost double the global average of 32 percent.

The survey did find that the vast majority of foreigners living in France speak French fairly or very well (72 percent), but may reported that they struggled to learn it. 

One Greek resident told InterNation that “French is REALLY difficult, even after all these years, and without it you are lost!” 

Readers of The Local have also found language barriers to be one of the most challenging aspects to life in France. For example in a previous survey respondents talked about the difficulty of understanding French people due to the speed they speak the language.

It’s also more important for foreigners in France to learn the language because unlike other countries like Switzerland or the Nordics where locals have a high level of English, France has traditionally ranked low in regard to English levels. The 2022 scores for the Education First English Language Proficiency test actually ranked France at the bottom of all EU countries on English levels. There are many reasons that might explain this ranking, ranging from the way English is taught in French schools to the fact France still tends to dub English language films rather than use subtitles.

READ MORE: Worst in the EU? Just how well (or badly) do the French speak English?

In France, English-levels vary greatly based on several factors, such as region – those that ranked “high” instead of moderate on the test, and the best score (in order) was Île-de-France (the Paris region) and the regions with the lowest English levels were Burgundy, Brittany, and Hauts-de-France.

And if you go up to anyone on the streets of France, hoping they speak a little English, the study also found that those aged 26 to 40 were most likely to score “high” instead of “moderate.”

On a positive note…

The InterNations survey did conclude with a positive message – France scored well in the “Digital Life” category.

According to the survey – France came in 24th place in this area.

“Around nine in ten expats rate the cashless payment options positively (89 percent vs. 84 percent globally) and agree they have unrestricted access to online services, such as social media (90 percent vs. 82 percent globally)”, the survey found.

This stacks up with the figures – in 2013, the French government launched a €20 billion plan to make sure that all households and businesses across the country had access to very high-speed broadband, and that goal was achieved. By the end of 2021, 99 percent of households and businesses had been equipped with it. 

More people also opt to pay using contactless options. According to a study by the group Panorabanques, 86 percent of French people in 2020 opted to use contactless payment with their bank cards – an increase of seven percentage points when compared with the year previous. 

France is also going digital in other aspects – with the goal of reducing waste and its carbon footprint, the French government plans to gradually phase out paper receipts. Customers will still be able to request them, once the new regulation is put into practice.

READ MORE: How France’s new anti-waste laws will affect you

Several local authorities have also begun to phase out paper transport tickets, while expanding options to buy rail passes with mobile phone applications and reusable cards.