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.
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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.
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.
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?