Foolproof ways to make French friends in France

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Foolproof ways to make French friends in France
Photo: Arslan/Flickr

It’s generally easy enough to make expat friends, but it’s essential to make local French buddies if you really want to integrate into French life. But how to meet them?


We've asked some expats, including authors and readers of The Local who know a thing or two about getting in with the French, to offer some tips for making pals - or potes as they are known in France.

Get involved locally

“One thing I think that really helps is to get involved in local issues,” says journalist and author Helena Frith-Powell, who has written extensively about France. “Every village has a mayor so I’d advise getting into local politics." 

Janine Marsh who runs the website The Good Life France concurs: "Most Town Halls will hold fetes and they are always looking for help. These are often organized by mums with babies, who have access to a wide network of people.”

Join a club

Zlatan Ibrahimovic of the PSG football club. Photo: AFP

You can always do as Swedish megastar Zlatan Ibrahimovic, above, and join a club (though getting a place on the PSG squad may be tough).

“Join something, not – or not only – an expats’ society but something the French do, too,” says the Daily Telegraph's former Paris foreign correspondent Colin Randall.

“I play badminton so have found badminton clubs. Others may choose a hiking group, a line-dancing club (yes, I know but the French are crazy for it) or the local football or rugby supporters’ club. Or just turn up at the same bar each time there's a match on the telly.”

Meet the parents

The French school run can offer a great opportunity to find some new amis. “Some of my closest French friends are friends from my son’s school,” award-winning author and Paris-based journalist Janine di Giovanni told The Local.

Keep an door policy

Photo: Julien/Flickr

Columnist and author Samantha Brick was surprised by how in rural France the French would just knock on her door and walk in. "In the UK I wouldn't answer the door unless it was pre-arranged," she said. Brick also says its important to look after your French guests if they come round. "You'll be expected to serve them an apéritif. It can be seen as a big insult if you don't," she said.

Mr. and Mrs. 

"Don't be put off when people don't tell you their first name," said Marsh. She says when getting to know French people it is important to stick to the formalities until they wear off naturally.

"The French can be very private people. I hear people telling me that they are unfriendly, but its not true, they are just private. If they prefer Mr. or Mrs. then stick to that until the right moment. It doesn't mean they are being aloof.”

Curb your enthusiasm

Photo: Five Furlongs/Flickr

Remember that we anglophones have a tendency to be slightly over exuberant at times, whereas the French tend to be more reserved. French national Beatrice Haranger, who has a fair bit of experience dealing with expats, says we should tone it down when meeting French people if we don't want to frighten them off. "Often anglos will act like they have won the lottery when they meet someone they know. But too much boisterous enthusiasm could put us off.”

Learn familiar French

If you think that memorizing the contents of a French dictionary will get you friends, think again.

“In order to understand a conversation with a future French friend you must learn the language he or she speaks: familiar French,” says French businesswoman Géraldine Lepère, who teaches expats how to overcome French social barriers.

“You can either learn by reading it on blogs or even watching French TV programmes online,” she says.

Go to a language exchange

Heading to a language exchange is not only an excellent way to improve your French, but it's a brilliant way to meet real life French people. 

It's common for members of the groups to exchange numbers and socialize outside the groups (which also means you can avoid having to pay for the experience). Voila, you've got new French friends. 

Check out Franglish for more info on a language exchange near you. 

Be in the know

Photo: Connie Ma/Flickr

A large chunk of conversation between French people is dedicated to current affairs, so if you don’t know your French left-wing politicians from right-wing ones then don’t even think about going to a classic French soirée, advises Geraldine Lepère.

She recommends watching news channels like ITele, reading 20Minutes or the website Or of course, there's always our personal favorite… The Local France.

Watch your mouth

The French don't always enjoy talking about the same subjects us English-speakers do and there are certain things you shouldn’t really mention if you want to have any hope of building up a friendship with locals.

One of these things is money, says Stephen Clarke, author of the "In the Merde" series. So before you ask how much your French neighbour paid for his new car, think again. That’s what Google is for.

An original version of this story was published in August 2013.

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