One of the things everyone struggles with when they first arrive in France is making French friends. You want to practice your language skills, and you don’t want to spend all of your time surrounded by other English speakers, but it can be tricky to figure out how to make connections.
The truth is that it takes time – often quite a bit of time – to go from friendly acquaintances to friends in France. But once you’re friends with someone, it’s for life.
I think there are a couple of reasons why we find it hard to make friends in France, but I wanted to share some advice.
- Learn French. Obviously, one of the most helpful tips is to work on your French. A LOT. And not just academic talk-about-literature-and-history French, but watch some modern movies or listen to some conversational podcasts to listen to how people really talk. It can be difficult to effectively communicate your personality in another language, and if you seem insecure, or withdrawn, or like your brain is going to explode because you’re focusing too hard, others might read that body language as disinterest.
- Be confident and friendly no matter how many mistakes you make. We’ve all been there: some days, you have really great days where you can form complex sentences and communicate deep thoughts with ease. Other days, you forget basic words for essential grocery items and their grammatical gender. It’s a learning process. But embrace the mistakes, and focus on whether you are being understood by the people you’re talking to.
- Accept corrections gracefully. Don’t even worry if French people correct you or your French. It’s their love language, and they probably don’t even realize you might not like it. You don’t have to be self-deprecating about it, or feel bad. Just correct yourself and move on.
- Don’t expect colleagues to be your friends. People often become friends with a colleague or two in the US, but it’s not common in France, where there is a strict separation between work and professional life, and private life. Being friendly with your colleagues is nice, but don’t expect lots of after-hours drinks or social events.
- Join local community groups. Lots of Americans in France meet their French friends either through their partners, or through their children. It becomes easy to see the same people regularly when you bring your kids to school and run into the same moms, and joining a regular activity will have the same impact. Go to your local Associations Fair in the fall to find opportunities to join community associations, and go to networking or professional events in your area. Frequency and proximity lead to familiarity, which can help you to develop a friendship.
- Go to places where you’ll meet French people who have learned English, traveled extensively, or lived and worked abroad themselves. People with international backgrounds know what it’s like to be the outsider and how difficult it was to make friends abroad, and probably enjoy the company of open-minded and well-traveled people like you.
- Keep showing up. Friendships in France develop over time, and anywhere, including the US, people complain about not having time to see their friends without months of planning after about age 24. So don’t get discouraged, and don’t try to move too fast. If they think you might leave to move home, they might not want to invest the time in becoming your friend. Get-togethers with new friends will probably be every couple of months, not weeks.
- Be yourself. This goes for any relationship in any country, but don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t feel like you have to represent ALL Americans (or Brits, or Australians…) or be a diplomat. Just be who you are.