Some who move to France for a new life suggest French friends are the only ones worth making, while others depend on their mates in their expat bubble, but author Janine Marsh says you can and should have the best of both worlds.
“When I move to France I only want to have French friends”. This is a quote from an email I received from a couple of Brits who wanted advice on where to move to in France.
They also wanted to be near a town that has a market, vineyards and plenty of restaurants and bars.
A tall order for any estate agent – which I am not, but I’m always happy to share my experience of France and to give advice where I can.
Little Britain or Robinson Crusoe
It’s a not uncommon thing, expats wanting only friends born in their newly adopted country.
Perhaps they feel it makes them belong more, or that 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 and gave me such bad service thereafter that I had to go to a different bar.
There are also expats who only have expat friends even though generally, I don’t think that they wilfully set out to not have French friends, but they struggle with the language and the culture and give up.
They fail to realise that though not all French people will persevere with having mates who can’t speak French, there are plenty that do go the extra mile to befriend les étrangers.
You can have both
The thing is, you can have both.
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.
This means you both understand that it’s only for about an hour and will involve a couple of drinks (Champagne is always popular) and nibbles.
Etiquette dictates that they invite you back, at some point, and I’ve found they’ll often invite some of their French friends too and British friends if they have them, so you start to widen your circle of potential amis. Having French friends will help you feel part of the community and you’ll get to know more about the place you live – its history, culture and people plus where to buy the best baguettes or who can help if you have a plumbing emergency.
And, if you’re lucky enough to find another expat 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 and sharing your experiences will help you to realise you’re not alone at being confused by French bureaucracy or their love of raw mincemeat.
A friend is a friend is a friend – regardless of where you are born and what language you speak.
And what did I reply to that email? I wished them luck of course and suggested they consider moving to Champagne-Ardenne in north east France which reputedly has the lowest number of resident Brits of any mainland department in France.
Janine Marsh lives in northern France and is the author of The Good Life France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream and editor of www.thegoodlifefrance.com