“When I move to France I only want to have French friends”. This was a line in an email I received from a couple of Brits. They wanted advice on where to move to in France and this was one of their criteria. They also wanted to be near a town that has a market, vineyards, a choice of restaurants and bars and friendly people. “Can you give us some advice on where to go?” they asked.
Little Britain or full immersion?
It’s actually not that unusual, expats wanting only friends born in their newly adopted country. Perhaps they feel it makes them belong more. Or, maybe they feel they are making more of an effort than those who have expat friends. Some expats cut themselves off completely from having dealings with other expats. I know of one who runs a bar, he refuses to speak English even to British customers who can’t speak French. I didn’t even know he was an expat for the six years I went to his bar until his mum, who was visiting, told me. When I spoke to him in English the next time I saw him, he was upset and angry that she’d “betrayed” him.
There are also expats who only have expat friends. Generally they mostly don’t set out to not have French friends, But, finding the language and even the culture a bit of a struggle, they give up. It’ true, not all French people will persevere with having mates who can’t speak French. But, there are plenty who do go the extra mile to befriend les étrangers. I have neighbours who help me with my French, to understand the administration requirements and make sure I’m included even when I don’t have a clue what’s going on!
You can have both
The thing is, you can have both expat friends and French friends in France.
It might be tricky having an in-depth conversation with your new French friends, but a glass of red wine helps. And, so does finding common ground. For instance, asking where the best boulangerie is, or market, fromagerie or bar. I’ve never met a French person who didn’t have an opinion, and, they love to share their knowledge. “I don’t know” is not something you will hear often from a Frenchie.
Take them up on their advice, go back and tell them you enjoyed it, perhaps invite them to join you for an apéro (aperitif) as a thank you. It’s a good way to start off because aperitif time normally means an hour or less, just a couple of drinks (Champagne is always popular) and nibbles. Etiquette dictates that you be invited back. I’ve often found that my neighbours will invite more of their French friends too and British friends if they have them. It’s a great way to widen your circle of potential amis.
Having French friends will help you feel part of the community. A bonus is that you get to discover more about where you live – its history, culture and people. And you’ll find out where to buy the best baguettes, cheese, wine and who can help if you have a plumbing emergency!
When it comes to expat friends, if you’re lucky enough to find someone you get on with then why not? Expats share a common background and heritage which can help to quickly create a bond. Being able to have a chat in English can give you a break from learning French. Sharing your experiences will help you realise you’re not alone at being confused by French bureaucracy or the love of raw mincemeat and snails!
A friend is a friend is a friend. It doesn’t matter where you are born and what language you speak.
And what did I reply to that email? I wished them luck of course. And I suggested they consider moving to Champagne-Ardenne. It reputedly has the lowest number of resident Brits of any department in France!
Janine Marsh is the author of My Good Life France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream
More tips for making friends with your French neighbours