The day you receive the keys to your French home is a very exciting one. You will, no doubt, be itching to move in and make it your own. There is a huge amount to think about when you do. But let us put the unpacking and sorting out to one side for a moment and think about a very important aspect of your new life in France: your social life!
How do you build a rewarding social life in France?
One of the first things you can do when you move to France is to start to become acquainted with your new home and surroundings is to go to your local Mairie (town hall) and introduce yourself to your mayor. The mayors in French villages and towns have a great deal of local authority and their primary job is to look after the residents. With so many British expats now either living in France or owning second homes here, mayors are welcoming to new residents. They’ll be able to answer any questions you have about your local community and offer you information on services in your village or town.
Café society is alive and well in France. Your local cafe/bar will be the hub of the village. Our local bar opens early to welcome workers starting their day with a coffee and a chat. Begin by introducing yourself there. A cheery “bonjour” will go down well, and you’ll likely meet neighbours and new friends this way.
How do you find out about social gatherings?
Most French villages make a real effort to organise events such as musical evenings, fetes, garage sales, art exhibitions, walking or cycling tours. Whatever your interests are in the UK, you will find similar in France. A village near my home has a wonderful French/English group who meet for informal chats in both languages: an excellent way to not only learn a little more French, but to make new friends.
Cinema and theatre are another super way to kickstart your social life. The French love to perform. Many towns and larger villages have a theatre group, which you can either join as a member or benefit from by attending shows. Again, this is a great way to brush up on your French! Since there are so many British expats across the country, some cinemas have “version originale” or “original version” films, so your favourite movie could be featured in English with French subtitles.
Garage sales or “vide greniers” are very popular in France. Many villages arrange these regularly year-round. Get a pitch and sell some of your wares once you have unpacked and realised you didn’t need all that stuff you brought with you! This is an excellent way to meet people while making a few pennies on the side.
The French playwright Molière summed it up when he said: “Il faut vivre pour manger, non pas manger pour vivre“. This translates as one should live to eat, not eat to live. The French have always taken food and eating seriously. Lunchtimes are still pretty sacred in France, with many restaurants offering a “prix fixe” menu at very reasonable cost, often with a glass of wine thrown in. Eating out with new friends is another perfect way to enhance one’s social life. A good start is to go local: scout around not just your village, but in nearby towns too. Spend time sampling different restaurants and cafés. It’s always good to get out and about at the very beginning of your new French life.
As for eating in, feel free to invite your neighbours over for a meal and a drink soon after you arrive at your new home. You don’t need to worry about cooking a massive meal: it is more about the invitation. Your new friends will be delighted and honoured that you have thought of them. You will find that most French people will be more than happy to help you with any questions you may have about life in France. There is something very heartwarming about having a meal with new friends and neighbours and speaking in two languages. It brings out the humour in people and is a great way to break the ice!
Make use of social media
You can use social media to your advantage in France. Many villages and towns now have groups you can join in this way. Where I live, there is a great support group which arranges coffee mornings, outings and fetes. Join in! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can also start your own group amongst fellow expats. Another friend has set up a book swap, advertising on social media. This has grown to be a weekly social event where people bring books to swap and stop for a coffee at her home. She now has a huge collection of both French and English books and it costs nothing.
A friendly smile and a shake of the hand goes a long way in France
When you meet anyone in France you are going to either shake their hand or kiss them on both cheeks. I have always found this rather quaint and somehow more meaningful than just saying “hello”. Smiling at those you meet and being interested in them is a great way to make new friends. We sometimes forget the very basic things in life but when you move to a new country, a cheery smile goes such a long way to help you integrate into your new French life. You will find that your social life will flourish simply by being cheerful and interested in everyone you meet.