Why finding French friends in France might be trickier than you think

So you've moved to France, you've found a place to live, powered through the bureaucracy and now it's time to make some French friends - which is the easy bit, right? Actually maybe not, as British Normandy resident Natasha Alexander explains.

Why finding French friends in France might be trickier than you think
Finding new friends in France is not always easy. Photo: AFP

You’re in France, you speak a bit of French (or at least have the illusion that you do) so it would follow that you will make French ‘friends’ at a drop of a hat. Erm not quite . . .

This is my take on it, as ever, and I’m sure there are lots of twenty-somethings/students in major French cities making French friends left, right and centre. But, alas, unfortunately I am not in that bracket. Mental note to previous self in a different life – move to a foreign country when you’re young, free and single!

If like me, you have passed your prime and have a shed-load of baggage which includes children and a partner/husband then finding a bona fide French friend can be somewhat tricky.

This is because they’ve already made friends before you decided to rock on up and show your face. They don’t need any more. They aren’t collecting new friends or have a need to utilise an English-speaker in the same way that you need a French speaker.

READ ALSO How I used cold-callers and lovelorn farmers to learn French

Coffee on the terrace is always better with a pal. Photo: AFP

You may be a novelty feature to speak to every now and again but do they want to be listening to you for more than an hour? I imagine people saying 'she’s okay in small doses but I can’t take that haemorrhaging of the grammar for too long.'

Someone once said to me it can be hard for Brits to be friends because so many do return to the UK. The French are aware of this fact, especially people within the retirement bracket. So how much investment do they want to put into a ‘friendship’ knowing that there is a likelihood that they will leave and never to be seen again?

Even if you work with French people, chatting in the office is nice and good for your French, but do they want to be your friend?

But if you do want to improve your language capabilities you need to start collecting a few Frenchies. 


I have a small 'collection' but like any collection, I’m always looking to add to it and some are more prized than others. My French friends which are great for writing, reading what’s pinged back and a whole load of vocabulary in the ‘chit chat’ bracket. Plus I bloody well like them! I cannot recommend this enough. To have written conversations via your phone/Facebook simply change your keyboard settings to French. If you really want to go full on out – change your Facebook settings to French also.

By doing this it also makes you think in French or, at the very least, makes you construct a sentence in a French way. In addition, your phone will predict the verb endings etc and your friend can also correct you. 

So how do you find these French friends? As I said before, they are quite tricky to find and pin down. This is because 1) they have already got their friends/social circle going on 2) they are busy like the rest of planet and 3) family is a big deal and if they’re socialising it’s going to be with their family and established friends.

A girls night out or middle aged woman/mums nights out are not a thing here. Mums drop and run (or maybe there is a secret society of French mums all going back for gin after drop off but if so I certainly haven’t been invited #wails).

If truth be told most people have a proper job (not like me!) and work full-time. The French work long hours despite what the Daily Mail will have you believe. Wrap-around childcare starts at 7.45am and runs until 6.45pm at school. This enables both parents to work.

So, I do have some real life French ‘friends’ – okay we’re not telling each other our life stories but it’s a work in progress and the seeds have been planted and hopefully they will grow over time. Personally, I would like for them, to one day say “do you remember when your French was so bad and I couldn’t understand a lot of what you were saying?”.

And don’t forget you also have something to give. A different approach, a different view point of France. An outsiders view and, of course, you can teach them English.

Plus it’s great fun. Making mistakes with someone that you like and feel comfortable with is great for your confidence and it really does improve your language abilities. 

So how do you catch them?

Naturally, you may find them in your daily dealings. You just need to be a bit forward. They’ll just think its a cultural thing (it’s not – we are quite reserved!) and add them ASAP on Facebook. Suggest a coffee or lunch – whatever it takes. Or simply check in every now and then via a Facebook message. You have to start somewhere.

The internet, as ever, is a great way at hunting down some Frenchies. There are many language groups on Facebook – simply post and say you would like to find someone to talk to. I found two Frenchies during the confinement who I loved to chat to and whilst it was hard work and tiring at times, it was well worth every bit of effort. They will always have a special place in my heart. You know who you are.

Then, of course, you have a very pleasurable way of finding a Frenchie – your local bar. Sink a few drinks and you’ll think you’re fluent in any event. Your inhibitions go and you start throwing out words hoping they all land together to make a coherent sentence. Obviously you may become a slight alcoholic but at least you’ll be a fluent one.

I’d love to hear how you met your Frenchies and any advice and tips you have of hunting them down!

Natasha Alexander does social media management for companies in Normandy and across France and also blogs about her move to France at Our Normandy Life. Find out more here.

Member comments

  1. Get political. French people don’t necessarily realise how much more “deep serious talking” they grow up around compared to other ahem, anglophone, cultures. French people respect passion and intellect, display them together and you will attract French friends. Shy away from them, you will mostly be invisible.

  2. I have found the opposite. Our French neighbours, several families of them, and most folk from the town we meet, couldn’t have been more friendly. As Eleanor above says, many are cultured, involved in local causes and have a civic pride. Many can speak English, but we engage with everyone in our best attempts at French. Of course speaking some French is necessary, but why would you come and live here and not try to learn?

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Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

If you're looking to rent an apartment in a larger city in France, you're likely to see announcements that require a 'garant'. Here is what you need to know about finding a guarantor in France.

Garant: How the French guarantor system works for property rental

Renting in large cities in France – particularly in Paris – is a known challenge for foreigners, especially new arrivals. In the countryside, it’s a bit easier, with less competition properties, but in the big cities compiling your dossier and landing the right place can be a challenge.

One of the biggest surprises for many people is that most landlords ask for a guarantor (garant) in order to sign a lease for an apartment. It is not a legal requirement, but in competitive real estate markets, it certainly feels like one.

Though asking for a garant might feel a bit juvenile, it is quite common, and applies to a lot more people than you might realise. Here is what you need to know:

Who typically needs a guarantor?

The most common group to need guarantors are students. However, if you are a foreigner who is not employed with a CDI (indefinite contract) and if you do not make over three times your monthly rent, you will likely need a guarantor as well.

If you don’t collect your income in France (or if you don’t have an income) you will need a guarantor.

You will also likely need one if you are still in the probationary period of your CDI, or if you cannot show three months worth of pay stubs from your job yet (even if you pay meets the three times a month requirement). If you do have a CDI, you could ask your employer to sign you an attestation d’employeur which verifies your monthly income. 

If your income is not steady or consistent (perhaps you are a freelancer). Typically, if you use an agency during the leasing process, they will require a guarantor, especially if any of these conditions apply to you. 

It is worth noting that showing bank statements typically do not suffice – landlords are looking for proof of ongoing income, not savings.

Who can count as a guarantor?

The guarantor should be a third party, such as a parent or close relative who agrees to pay your rent if you fail to pay.

This person must fulfil all the requirements outlined above (ie earning more than three times your rent with an indefinite contract).

The other tricky part is that this person must work and live in France, and usually it’s best that they are French themselves.

However, this can pose a problem for foreigners who might not know anyone that fits that description, so thankfully there are some other options fill this requirement, like taking out a caution bancaire or using an online agency. We explained the ins-and-outs of these bellow.

What does my guarantor need to show?

The guarantor needs to put together a dossier of documents including;

  • Proof of identification (a passport or French ID card)
  • Proof of residence that is less than three months old (eg utility bills).
  • Most recent tax returns
  • Employment contract and typically three months worth of payslips
  • If they earn money via real estate, they must also provide documentation for this
  • If the person in question is retired, they must provide proof of pension (again, this must exceed your monthly rent threefold). 

So, what if I don’t have a French person who can be my guarantor? There are a few options for you:

Use an online service

There are two main online services that can act as guarantors for foreigners in France.

The first is Visale, which is accessible primarily to foreign students.

This is a programme offered via the French state through “Action Logement” and it covers up to three years of unpaid rent. You must be between 18 and 30 years old to apply, and you must hold a long-stay visa (VLS-TS) – either a student visa or a ‘talent’ one.

For students who are already citizens of a European Union country, then simply presenting a student card and a valid passport will be sufficient. It can be applied to private housing and student residences, but it is ultimately up to the landlord as to whether they will accept a tenant who uses Visale as their guarantor. The main benefit to Visale is that it is free for the user.

Visale does come with some restrictions, however. Your rent (including charges) cannot exceed €1,500 in Paris, and €1,300 in the rest of the country. In addition, the lease must be for a primary residence, and your rent should not exceed 50 percent of your total income.

Another option is GarantMe, a paid online website that can also serve as an official guarantor.

Landlords might actually prefer this service over a physical guarantor who might refuse to pay or for whatever reason not have the funds to do so. The benefit to GarantMe is that they accept a wider range of tenants for their service, but the downside is that there is a fee. The minimum payment (per year) is €150, but the fee is normally 3.5 percent of the annual rent (including charges) and it renews automatically.

The nice thing about GarantMe, is that in order to apply for the service, you basically need to create a full dossier that will be identical to what you’ll need for your apartment search anyways.

Take out a Caution Bancaire

Basically, a caution bancaire is a bank guarantee, and typically its a bit more of a last resort option because it is quite restrictive for the tenant. It involves blocking off a large sum of money to be used to pay rent if you fail to do so.

Depending on the landlord (and the bank), they might ask you to block between six months worth of rent to sometimes up to two years. This would be used as guarantee during the duration of your lease, but it takes a bit of administrative coordination and obviously requires a large sum of liquid funds.

Sometimes activating a bank guarantee can take a few weeks, and for foreigners, of course, this would require already having a French bank account. There can also be fees, depending on the bank, for using a caution bancaire, and simply closing of caution bancaire account in itself can involve fees.

The other downside to this is that not all landlords will accept it, which is why this option might be best served as a last resort.

Attempt to find an apartment that does not require a garant

This is quite difficult in Paris (and other large cities around France). It is possible sometimes if you stick to foreigner-oriented sites like NY Habitat or Paris Attitude. Another possible loophole could be to see if your insurance plan offers coverage of unpaid rent. This is quite uncommon, but could be a possible option. If you rent specifically particulier-à-particulier (meaning you do not use an agency at all) you might be able to negotiate with the landlord, or if you have a sub-lease you might not need to show proof of a guarantor.

Ultimately, however, in most cases when renting in France’s large cities, you’ll likely need a guarantor.

What should I be aware of when it comes to guarantor websites?

As mentioned previously, Visale is only for people in the 18-30 age group, so unfortunately it does not apply to everyone. It is also intended for lower income people or students, so if you are a high earner you might be rejected.

Regarding using a website like GarantMe, beware that they will charge you every year – it is not a one time fee. This will be deducted from the card you put on the site and the only way to cancel the charge will be to show proof that you have moved out (i.e. an état des lieux or letter releasing you from the obligation signed from your landlord)