Last week someone sent me a message, it read:
“Good life in France, ‘you must be joking’ they don’t like the Brits. Get real.”
It made me feel a bit sad for the person who sent it as clearly that individual is not having a good time. It also made me think, am I just lucky to love where I live in France and have great French friends? What about all my expat friends who live here – they seem happy too.
Do the French hate the British in some parts of France? I do recall a few years back reading about a town in Brittany where graffiti had been walloped all over a wall in the town urging Brits to get out. It seems that the influx of second home buyers to that part of northern France had pushed house prices up. It also meant lots of empty properties outside of the summer season which doesn’t do wonders for a community.
I have hundreds of expat friends and contacts all over France so I was able to ask them for their opinions. The overwhelming majority said they felt welcomed but several said they had to work at being a part of the community in their area. One said ” the French don’t like any bolshy “this is my right” b/s – if you have a problem, they will bend over backwards to help you. If you “demand service”, they will look the other way.” My friend Lucy Pitts who is a writer who has researched this subject said “a little bit of effort goes a long, long, way when it comes to integrating. There are marked differences between the expat and the local communities in most places in France and that’s obviously where making an effort is required. Anyone who made even the slightest effort is warmly welcomed.”
I think of the many kindnesses I’ve been shown over the years here in my part of France. When our fosse septique (septic tank) got blocked, a local farmer rode to our rescue on his ancient tractor towing a cylinder shaped tank used for emptying said tanks. It wasn’t the greatest success, he somehow managed to mistake the suck button for the blow button and everything surged over the garden for a while as he fumbled to rectify his mistake. It was a great introduction to the neighbours who, hearing his shouts of alarm, flowed in alongside the contents of our septic tank to enjoy the fun.
Our neighbours are always popping by with fruit and vegetables from their gardens or home made jam. When I first arrived several neighbours attempted to teach me how to cook when they found out I had almost burned the house down trying to make a sauce. Most of them have given up but they still share recipes and bring me a slice of their perfectly made cake from time to time. They have helped me with phone calls when my French wasn’t good enough, invited us to dinner taught us how to play petanque and introduced us to the art of aperitifs.
However there is certainly one man in our village who does not like us at all. Monsieur P chomps at the bit that the British are taking over the village – me and the Other Half are in fact the only Brits in the village. He rails at the fact that I don’t do a “proper job” (I’m a writer) and he thinks that my gardening skills are appalling (he’s right, I’m a learner) and evidence that I am not a worthy villager. One of my French neighbours confided that Monsieur P considers himself a true local and that unless you are born here you are a foreigner, that includes J-P who comes from 5km away but married a lady born in the village. He has lived here for 30 years but Monsieur P doesn’t like him either and considers him a “foreigner”. I continue to be as nice as I can to Monsieur P, after all I’m the newcomer.
Where ever you live, someone won’t like you – it’s human nature.
One of my expat friends summed it up nicely “Yes, not every French person likes me and there are people who are unhelpful. But there’s plenty of them in the world and I suspect that they are like that to everyone, not just the occasional Brit. (And perhaps the wonderfulness of me doesn’t appeal to everyone – it certainly didn’t in the UK!) The Brits in France that I have come across, who make some effort to speak French, try to mix in their communities and endeavour to understand a different culture, seem to thrive without any hatred directed their way.”
If you’re an expat in any country, you have to make an effort to fit in. Learn the language or at least try. If you need help, ask for it because you can be seen as aloof if you don’t. My French friend Frederic tells me “Once you come and say “I’m a poor Brit and I need help” they’ll love you”. He’s being a bit tongue in cheek but it’s true that there is certainly a sense of community in villages. If you have a problem and everyone knows and you don’t mention it or ask for advice – you can be seen as standoffish and not willing to be a part of the society that exists.
France is no different from anywhere else – you need to put the effort in to let the friendship out.
How to fit in like a local – at the French café
Making friends in France – over a baking session