One thing expats often complain about is that it’s hard to make friends in France. Indeed, it’s relatively easy to make new friends when you’re a student. However it seems to become harder and harder as you get older and start a family life. It’s not impossible but it does require a proactive approach.
In this blog post, our contributor Cathy Introligator of My Poliglot Life explains what is so special about relocating to another country. She'll also give you 6 tips to increase your chance to make new friends. The same tips apply to natives moving to a different region within your birth country:
I was born in France and lived in 4 different towns before I was 7 when my parents decided to settle for good. Although the 4 cities were located within a few hundred kilometres from each other, the move from the Loire Valley to the West coast in Vendée was quite brutal for me as a child, as it felt like a different country altogether. I haven’t kept in touch at all with my childhood friends or any locals so, every time I go back for an extended period of time, I feel like an expat having to rebuild a social network from scratch.
Although I know the cultural codes, which may not be the case for newcomers going there for the first time, I still have to put in some effort. Let me share with you the most efficient methods I’ve found so far. This is based on my clients’ and my own experience as an expat in Canada (Vancouver, Montreal) and long-term visitor in France.
- I’m living in an “expat bubble”: how will I ever make local friends in France? -
First, relax, it’s totally fine to have other expat friends. Your “bubble” is usually very important for your emotional well-being. It’s your support system. Arriving in a new country, discovering how things work, dealing with frustrations is exhausting.
The expat bubble supports your mental well-being in 3 ways:
It makes things easier: your community can help you find a job, explain everything you need to know about local customs, they can show you around, introduce you to their friends, etc.
You feel loved: they become your family abroad, you can build strong relationships through shared experiences in a short amount of time, they accept you as you are, not asking you to change your identity to integrate.
You belong to a community in this otherwise foreign environment. As humans, our brains are wired to connect with other people, we want to feel part of a group. The “expat bubble” helps us fight loneliness at the beginning.
Please enjoy these special moments with your friends when you can relax, disconnect your thinking/judging brain and everything seems easy. It’s like a breath of fresh air and we do need to breathe fresh air to be healthy!
- Don’t remain trapped within the bubble: how to expand your social network to deepen your integration -
It starts with YOU. Often, consciously or not, we sabotage ourselves and our integration process, mainly for two reasons :
On one hand, we often don’t know where to start.
On the other hand, we fear that by integrating too much, we’ll “betray” our native culture. We see it as either/or. If I don’t protect my core identity as [insert mother culture], I’ll lose myself. Or I’ll go against how my parents raised me. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Understanding the culture you’re now living in doesn’t mean you have to approve of it. You have the luxury to pick and choose and only keep the best of each culture you’re familiar with. Nurture the aspects that allow you to express your authentic self, to stay true to your individual values, and also the aspects that make you feel like you belong. As humans, we want to feel seen, heard and valued as an individual. We also want to contribute in our own way to the community. You have to know yourself in order to find what you can bring to the group. Everyone has something they can contribute.
- How will your singularities as an immigrant or expat enrich the lives of the people around you? -
Even if you’re only touching a handful of people, you’ll feel like you belong to your new environment. It’s ok if everyone doesn't like you, but do look for your “tribe” or your “expat family”, whether they’re locals or other foreigners integrated in the country. More and more French people have lived abroad or are curious about it and would be happy to spend time with you!
6 practical tips to make new friends in France
1. Learn the language to a conversational level
Forget the books, immerse yourself in “real French” and, once you can navigate your daily life in French, improve your accuracy, that is the level of correctness of your speech and your vocabulary. Focusing on fluency first will get you further than any grammar book. Fluency is the ability to communicate with minimal efforts regardless of how many mistakes you make.
Having your kids involved in the relocation, making sure they’re consulted on important decisions is important, but not having to rely on them to translate everything will empower you as a parent and improve the family dynamics.
You’ll feel better and you’ll be able to better support your multicultural kids in navigating their shifting identities as you’re going through this process yourself. It’s not “us” (expats) vs “they” (locals) and your kids stuck in the middle. It’s about creating an “us+they, together” mindset, learning how to deal with contradictions and conflicts. Feel at peace with fluidity.
However, the most efficient way to fast-track your language acquisition is by working on both aspects, fluency and grammar, at the same time in a strategic way. This is what we do in Neurolanguage Coaching. We make sure your grammar skills get built up with your ability to use them in real life situations while developing cultural awareness.
Learning the language will help you integrate more easily
2. "When in Roma do as the Romans do"
Life in France may seem either relaxed or strict compared to your home country. It has a latin Mediterranean background that influences our relationship with time and rules for example. In some regards, people are very laid-back. If you’re coming from Northern Europe, Germany, the USA or Canada, be prepared to experience some frustrations, especially with the administration, customer service and the apparent disorganization of many processes. Just breathe and go with the flow. Observe the locals and try to adapt your mindset and behaviour slightly.
If you’re coming from a country where disorganization reigns, where the heat slows everything down and where people like to throw loud cheerful parties, be prepared to experience some frustrations as well. The French like to break the rules but maybe it’s because there are too many rules to start with! And you never know which ones you can break or not… People enjoy socializing with their circles of friends and family but it can be hard to join these circles as people will most likely keep some distance, at least in the beginning.
3. Socialise the French way
The best way to make new friends in France is probably to focus your efforts around food-related activities and conversations. Sharing food and talking about it is a great ice breaker and a glass of wine or beer may help relax the mood.
Sharing recipes from your home country, learning how to cook French recipes, joining “foodies” events could be a great opportunity to meet people and make friends!
The French aperitif is a great way to socialise
4. Observe without judgement
Develop your cultural awareness. Understand why people ask you the questions they do so you won’t feel offended if you think the question is too personal. Set boundaries regarding what you’re comfortable sharing. On the other hand, be open to experimenting new things! You might discover you actually enjoy this new way of doing things even though you were not used to it in your homeland! Try to “Frenchify” your mindset a little bit to connect with the locals and make new friends in France.
5. Be proactive
People who have been living in the region all their life have built strong social networks, and they’re likely busy with family matters. Or they may not know how to approach you because they’re not familiar with interacting with foreigners. As a result, they may not be the best people to try socializing with at first, unless they’re open and curious to “travel through you”, eager to learn about other cultures, maybe practicing their English.
Try to find activities, events and network gatherings for an international crowd. For example events with French who studied or lived abroad and other expats or activities around your passions. Facebook groups can be helpful to help you meet people beyond those you see at work, in your neighbourhood or when picking up the kids from school. Be specific and creative in your search. Don’t give up as it may take time to find the right ones. Language meet-ups have become my go-to strategy to socialize whenever I arrive in a new city!
Find an activity which allows you to meet new people
6. Hire a relocation agent.
They’ll take care of all the burdensome logistics and you’ll have more time and energy to focus on your social life and mental well-being! They’ll also fast-track your integration by decoding some cultural traits for you, increasing your cultural awareness. In addition, they know a vast network of professionals, for example if you’re looking for language lessons.
Every relocation to a new place is an opportunity to grow as a person and as a family. No matter the constraints, if you put everyone’s mental well-being at the forefront, everything will turn out alright. Once you’ve identified your motivation and goals (what you want to achieve, how you want to feel and why it matters to you), all you have to do is jump into action. Do it one small step at a time! Knowing you can count on your support system, whether it is your expat bubble, your relocation agent or your language coach, will give you a boost of self-confidence to keep on track.
Interested in knowing more about learning French efficiently? Receive a free coaching sequence by email to change your mindset and receive more practical tips and resources to be a happy, successful learner (emails in English or French with English translation).
About the author:
Cathy Intro is a French language coach from France, in love with her country of adoption, Canada. She helps adults move beyond the feeling of speaking like a 5 year-old in French. She does that by provoking “aha!” moments in the learner about their mindset and the grammar. As a certified Neurolanguage Coach®, her holistic approach blends in language skills, coaching and knowledge from neuroscience research about how the brain works to learn efficiently. For her, learning a language is the perfect opportunity to know oneself better while opening up new perspectives, creating bridges between cultures and people. Through targeted conversations and with the help of strategic grammar tools, she helps learners become more confident expressing their ideas and values in French. Her dream is that learners discover the language and society beyond stereotypes so that they can contribute to the diversity of the francophone community.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Are you relocating to Grenoble, Chambéry, Lyon? At Breeze Relocation our core business is to offer relocation services to anyone moving to heart of the French Alps. We offer personable services that include: