You’re all ready to take the plunge. You’ve decided to change your life and your lifestyle. You’ve done the due diligence around practicalities of moving to France but that final nagging doubt suddenly creeps in: How will I cope away from friends and family? How do I go about making friends in France? Here are some tips to help.
There’s an age old adage about making friends at university: in the beginning, you know no one and you’ll speak to anyone. They say you spend the first three months making friends and the next few years ridding yourself of the ones who aren’t really for you. Well it’s the same principle – better to have too many from whom you can ultimately pick and choose “your kind of people” than too few! In the beginning of your time here, don’t turn down any invitation and try to say yes to every opportunity even if you’re tired, you just never know what it may lead to…
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You, your attitude and your smile
The most important asset you own to help you making friends in France is yourself! The way you approach others, your smile, your openness to attempt to communicate and integrate – this is without doubt the thing that makes the difference. Profit from the slower pace of life here by just getting out there and taking time to speak to anyone and everyone you come across. Don’t assume that everyone especially in rural France speaks English, they don’t – but they will certainly appreciate any attempt to communicate from you! From greeting people warmly, to acknowledging each and every single person you meet (even shop owners and other customers whenever you enter any shop) will start the process. Try to get involved in anything you can within your local community, help people out if you can and the rest will come naturally.
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Dogs and children
Now this may sound slightly mercenary but if you have dogs and children, use them wisely. If you have children, speak to other children’s parents and get involved. If you own dogs, get out there, get walking and say a cheery hello to everyone you pass. You never know who you’ll meet and what will come from it – friendship or even business contacts. One of my best friends here is a French neighbour I bumped into whilst walking my dog. I found myself wishing that it wouldn’t seem totally bizarre to ask her for her phone number so we could deliberately rather than accidentally walk together. The next time I saw her, not only did she ask me for my number, she phoned me the next weekend. Despite no longer living in the same village we still walk together each and every weekend. A dog walk with a friend and the added benefit of a free French lesson on the side is a triple win.
If you don’t speak the language or not to a level you can truly converse in, then I urge you to take French lessons. No judgement but I can unequivocally tell you that life is so much easier when you speak the language of your host country. And when it comes to making friends in France, it makes sense that by not speaking French, you simply just diminish the number of people you can ultimately form friendships with. So why wouldn’t you grasp the opportunity? To find out where, ask those around you, ask at the “mairie”, look at noticeboards – French lessons are a brilliant way of not only making friends with other English-speaking people but also increases the number of possible friendships you can create thereafter with locals.
Your local town hall (mairie)
When you arrive in France, check in at your local mairie to say you’ve arrived. Not only is this common courtesy to the mayor (especially within smaller more rural communes) but can be really helpful and in future may become useful to establishing the start of your residency here. Mayors in France have gravitas so always ingratiate yourself. If you’re planning any building works or need any information, this is the first place to call. Once the mayor knows you’ve arrived, so in turn does the village/community you live in. Notice boards at the Mairie can also provide details of village events and clubs or activities – whether walking groups, coffee mornings or one off local events.
When you arrive in France, check in at your local mairie to say you’ve arrived. Not only is this common courtesy to the mayor (especially within smaller more rural communes) but can be really helpful in the future to establishing the start of your residency here.
Local bars and cafés
When I arrived in my tiny little village, my greatest fear was not about making friends but the fact that I lived on my own – what if something happened to me and no-one noticed? I spoke to my brother about this fear and he gave me some invaluable advice. He told me to frequent the local bar for my morning coffee. Simple yet very effective. Doing this without fail for the first few months not only allowed me to meet all kinds of people who also popped in for coffee both from my village and surrounding areas but also got me noticed as a permanent village fixture. Even now, if the owner of the local bar doesn’t see me for several days, he calls or texts me to see if I’m ok. How comforting is that?
Facebook forums and Google groups
Especially if your French is not yet up to conversational standards with the locals, there is a huge “expat” community in France. If you can’t find them simply by wandering around your local area then you’ll certainly find them on forums on Facebook. Some of these groups cover France as a whole but some are more localised. If you’re lucky (like we are in the Charente), there may also be Google groups which offer everything from free business advertising and items for sale to a safe space where you can ask about help and advice on any subject. These groups are invaluable places to ask for advice on how to tackle French administration, how to find local and trusted tradespeople, advice on things to do in the area but are also potentially great ways of making friends in France. Even if you do speak French, sometimes after a long day it can just be a blessing to talk to someone in your native language. I would however err on the side of caution here – if you truly want to integrate into French life, don’t limit your friendship circles to people of your own nationality.
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Local restaurants and markets
We all love to eat and what could be better than going out for fabulous food and at the same time making friends in France? Support your local restaurants; so many of them work so hard and are superbly welcoming and good value. You never know whom you may meet or start talking to in a restaurant or whilst wandering around a market. Only the other day I started talking to a chap in my local restaurant here only to find out that he comes from the same town in the UK that I do. I’ve even made business contacts in restaurants and whilst at markets.
You never know whom you may meet or start talking to in a restaurant or whilst wandering around a market. Only the other day I started talking to a chap in my local restaurant here only to find out that he comes from the same town in the UK that I do.
Pay it forward with fruit and veg gifts
A lot of us find ourselves buying properties with large gardens. You often find hidden gems of fruit and veg in these. Not only do the French (particularly in rural France) rely on this for self-sufficiency and money saving but they also get real pleasure out of giving vegetables and fruit as gifts to friends and neighbours. Since arriving in France, I’ve not yet had to buy a tomato or courgette during summer season due to the copious veg gifting bestowed upon me. Equally I have discovered some typically English produce in my garden which my neighbours love. Bramley cooking apples, green (as opposed to white) asparagus and gooseberries – all gratefully accepted and appreciated by my French neighbours.
Another brilliant way of making friends in France, especially if you have some time on your hands is volunteering. Think about what interests you and once again get involved. Local rescue shelters are crying out for volunteers to walk dogs and care for animals, charity shops of various descriptions always need help. What could be more rewarding than not only finding something to keep you occupied that you love doing whilst at the same time forming friendships in your new life.
So now you’re all set for making friends in France just don’t forget your old ones. Granted, it may not be as simple as before, where you could just “pop” in for a cuppa. And if your friends’ lives are as hectic as mine, sometimes it feels like arranging a work meeting trying to coordinate a suitable time for a long catch-up but commit to doing it and make that effort. Computers and mobiles are definitely your friend on this one – Whatsapp, Messenger and Skype are invaluable when it comes to staying in touch with friends and family, wherever they may be, so make that effort to stay in touch and let them know that despite loving your new life, they are missed. You never know, they may even come and visit with some creature comforts in tow…
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