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How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France

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How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France
AFP
13:33 CET+01:00
One of the biggest challenges of moving to rural France is the task of making friends with the French locals, something seen as essential to helping new arrivals settle. Here are some tips from those who have done it.

Settling into an antique stone and timber home overlooking vineyards or rolling fields a short walk from the boulangerie in the nearby village sounds the idyllic lifestyle for foreigners who move to the French countryside. 

But for some the dream however, can quickly turn sour with many pointing to the difficulties of making friends with the locals as one of the factors for why the move to la France Profonde can go awry.

Many who have made a successful new life in rural France point to how important it is to try and integrate with the French locals, even if it's just someone to have a brief chat with or someone to be able to call on in an emergency.

So we asked members of the Facebook group Expat Life in France to share their tips for how to make friends with their Gallic neighbours.

Many suggested the simple idea of popping over and introducing yourself to your neighbours, preferably taking something sweet with you and your best small-talk game. Even if your French is limited it's always, always, worth making the effort.

Others said it’s important to simply invite the neighbors over for a coffee or an apéro or even a meal if you are brave enough. And look out for any official village apéros or other social occasions. Make sure you have the right array of drinks in. Just beer probably won't do.

READ ALSO: The aperitif - All you need to know about France's 'evening prayer'

(AFP)

Other foreigners living happily in rural France said to make a few local friends, even a simple act such as walking around the village or town, at least a couple of times a week could work to make your face a familiar one with the locals.

Caroline Tatlow said she walks around the village twice a day with her dog and makes sure to say “bonjour” to everyone she meets.

“I use the village shops, hairdressers, beauty therapist, café etc. I have met so many people and, ok sometimes it's just a quick bonjour other times I can say to my husband "just popping out to get a baguette" (a five minute walk) and be gone an hour!” she added. 

(Stephane.../Flickr)

The most common advice was to get involved in a local social activity. 

“Volunteer to help with your "Committee de Fête". We found this the best way to get to know your neighbours and integrate,” Karen Lea said.

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

And if you have kids, don’t be afraid to get involved with the local French school. It’s an easier place to meet some friends and local parents and also to find some support if you’re new to the French school system.  

Drinking wine or cognac or any other kind of tipple counts as an activity right?

(Daniel Jolivet/Flickr)

One of the most popular social lubricants can be a simple beer at your local pub.

Kaye Day said “to get down to the local bar and buy them a drink - works every time.”

Or be prepared to be invited over for a drink.

As Claire Naisbitt said “I rarely drink in bars in France, they seem to prefer a few verres around a kitchen table. I literally have to sneak past my neighbours house to avoid being dragged in to share a bottle.”

Journalist and author Helena Frith-Powell, who has written extensively about France suggested “One thing I think that really helps is to get involved in local issues."

So if there is a local campaign against anew wind farm or the closure of a rail station then get involved in the fight.

If you’re not into drinking, not to worry there are lots of other activities on the countryside -- take cycling for example. Many villages or towns will have a local club.

If you’re interested in getting outside and being active this could be a great way to meet people and get a little exercise.

Also, if you don’t speak French this could be a nice way to ease into it, since there’s not a lot of speaking whilst cycling especially if you're going up hill.

Others mentioned joining a local club whether cycling, running or archery. And there's pétanque.

There are lots of clubs and parks where locals play pétanque, especially in the south. Pétanque is a very common in the countryside of France, and while many people go to play it’s also a way to socialize.

Several foreigners living in the countryside mentioned one of the best ways to meet locals in rural France is going to a local sports game. “

"Just go and watch your local football or rugby team, there is normally a bar for half time and after the match,” Gillian Maguire said. “And they will organise events during the year (which is a) good way to get involved.”

Or get a dog. 

Many who have made rural France their home said they get stopped all the time by locals while walking their animals.

One wrote “Never knew any of our neighbours until we acquired a Pyrenean Mountain Dog. Now we're always chatting.”

Speaking of chatting, for many foreigners the obvious barrier to making friends is the language, which many struggle with. 

While knowing bonjour, merci and s'il vous plait might be enough to get you a smile at your local boulangerie, it probably won't be enough to really help you get integrated with locals, who given where they live, are unlikely to speak English.

Nevertheless the most common advice is to try speaking and learning French with your neighbours because making a small effort can go a long way. 

Try and avoid saying, “parlez vous anglais?” said one respondent.

Karen Kaylee Linscott said she recently started French lessons, and managed to use a few words just after class.

“We always try to use our limited vocabulary, let them know we are learning, and better yet ask them how you say something correctly,” Linscott wrote. “They seem to get so excited when you get it right, especially if it is a new word they taught you.

"I simply cannot believe how nice everyone is and has been in helping us, sometimes we have to drag out Google translate, but most of the time we manage. So I hope we will be able to join in the community.”

Another option is to find a local language exchange. 

That way you can simultaneously meet new people, learn another language and remind yourself that you are actually proficient in another language. 

To find more information on language exchanges near you, have a look at Franglish. Really you should be trying to learn French from the movement you decide to make the move. Even if it is months of even years away, use the time to arm yourself with some French vocabulary and phrases.

“Learn as much French as you can before, and use it all the time to engage even on a superficial, transactional level,” said Rosamond Bovey.

“Get involved with an organization or civic group that is involved with something that genuinely interests you: France's art, architectural, musical and literary culture is broad and deep, lots of civic engagement on that level because they are so proud of it, justifiably.”

But some advised it might be a good idea to curb your enthusiasm when it comes to initial conversations with the locals. Anglophones especially can sometimes be very excited when we meet someone new. This can be a little off putting to some French folks who are more on the reserved side. 

Janine Marsh from The Good Life France 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."

Many respondents pointed out that it's vital to be up-to-date with French current affairs, so for that you can visit www.thelocal.fr :-)

All in all, the most common and best advice expats have to make a few local friends in the countryside is to just get out there and try.

by Courtney Anderson

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