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LIVING IN FRANCE

How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France

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.

How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France
AFP

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

For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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