Is making French friends a mystery to you?

As you are starting over your life, you need to build connections, friendships. Yes, it becomes a need! But how to make French friends? We often take our friendships as granted at home. They just happened. Maybe as a child, when growing up, maybe at university, or later at work or just life, it was easy.

Now it is a whole other story and the pandemics definitely doesn’t make it any easier! If you have arrived in France this year, the possibility to connect with French people during a pandemics was more than a challenge. With this new year, arrive new hopes and also opportunities to socialize more. Let’s all be optimistic!

But, in a “normal” context, why is it hard to make friends in France? Are the French so difficult, even in “normal circumstances”? Let’s find out how to make French friends!

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The Expat loneliness

Moving abroad comes with a set of challenges. Once you are settled, you have your new home, your bank account, your French healthcare, your job… You are all set!

And now you want to enjoy your French experience! But how to make French friends or even just friends?

If you have already moved cities or countries before. You already know that it is harder to build friendships as an adult. People start having more obligations, less youthful lack of care.

Somehow it happens, we are more selective… At home, it’s ok. We have our support system, our family, our closest friends and so many more friends… We do not necessarily NEED new ones.

Now, no one, or maybe just our partner but we still need friends! You have met this neighbour the other day. But how to connect? This need to connect and make friendships makes us realise how lonely we are. How much we need to make real connections.

Now you are in a new country, with a new language… social codes you don’t always understand. You may have moved for or with a partner but it doesn’t change this need of having your own friends

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I have felt this loneliness and social codes misunderstanding so many times… and it always led to more introspection and self-awareness. A life present in my opinion!

Embrace it but don’t get stuck in this introspective loneliness! Get out there, it is going to be fine! I assure you!

Is it harder to make friends in France as an expat?

Do you know the social codes?

Yes, it can be harder because we don’t know the social codes. It makes us lose our confidence. We sometimes lose our natural dynamic. The spontaneity to invite people or to initiate plans, especially when talking to locals.

For a long time, I thought the locals should make the first step and invite me as a foreigner. But what if the local’s time frame and the way to making friends were different?

Two other elements will also make it harder to make friends in France.

Do you speak French?

First, the language! If you want to make friends with French people, speaking the language is a must. Unless you meet French people that are fluent in English or another language you may speak.

Let’s say you made good French friends and you do not speak French yet. This is great! You will get to discover a side of France you wouldn’t otherwise!

However, there will be very little chance these friends will introduce you to their group friends due to the language barrier. It is unlikely French people will want to make the effort to speak English during a social gathering, at least not the whole time.

Avoiding this situation is often the most common reaction.

How long are you staying in France? 

Have you noticed that it is often one of the first questions you are being asked?

Making friends in France takes time. And if you are staying just a few months or even one year. Some people will unconsciously rule out the friendship possibility. Not everyone of course! But it can happen.

A French person, living in its comfort zone, doesn’t need more friends. New friendships are possible as adults, but they take time to build in France. And you will need to be proactive to make it happen.

life in France
Photo credit: Mika Baumeister

The different scales of friendships in France

Making friends in France is like looking for a job!

Before I give you my tips on how to make French friends, let’s see what French people mean by a friend. Do you have different layers of friendship in your country? Do these layers of friendships make any difference to you? Or maybe anyone you appreciate is a friend to you?

Before you become friends with a French person, you will have to move up the scale! The scale of friendship in France! Yes! It may seem to you like a recruitment process…

I have to admit, it can seem like an effort, that can make sense when you take into account the 3 elements I have just described before.

Contact, first!

When you first meet someone in France, you are a contact. This is pretty neutral. It can be a promising contact or not.

It is also used in the professional context. As you may have noticed networking is key in France. Unless the conversation switches to more personal topics, you may remain a contact or become an acquaintance if you meet regularly when doing a weekly activity for example.

Network in France
Photo by Melinda Gimpel

Acquaintances: the spell in the expat wilderness (connaissances)

You meet someone several times, you have good contact and even get along! In some countries, at this stage, you are a friend. You would quickly exchange phone numbers and go for a drink. It happens fast and easily!

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It is not the case in France.

You may need to see this person a few times before the affinities and trust grows for the French person to open her or his social life agenda to a new person.

You may even have had the chance to be introduced as a friend of a friend! This can help you to go up the friend scale faster!

At this stage as an expat, I had often expected the locals to make the first step to exchange numbers or go for a drink. It was a mistake…

I assure you, if you do that, this is the best way NOT to become friends! Also, you will wait a longer time than you are used to (or that you need) before a French person makes the first step. And most of them will accept when you make an invitation or a plan to a meet-up.

Finally a friend!

Hold on, again, there are several layers here! You are becoming friends with a French person! But what is a friend in a French person’s mind?

A buddy (un copain, une copine, un-e pote)

An informal way to call the first stage of friendship. Depending on the context, the expression “pote” can also mean “ami” which has a much stronger meaning.

Don’t get confused with the expression “mon copain” or “ma copine” with the possessive article. This means a boyfriend and a girlfriend. French people will mainly use the demonstrative article (un, une) not to have a misunderstanding.

A buddy will be a friend you go for a drink with, you have fun and share some personal experience and confidence but up to a certain extent.

A school friend (camarade d’école, d’université)

The school friend can be a “copain” or an “ami”. The fact to be a school friend just brings more history and background. It is usually important for French people to keep in touch with their school and university friends.

A friend

To be a friend (un-e ami-e) in France carries a forever meaning. There is a strong sense of loyalty and trust. A friend is a person you feel that you can call in the middle of the night for any problem. A person that knows some of your dark sides and that will be here to support you.

People usually do not have so many friends in this sense.

It can be hard to build this level of friendship with a French person, especially if you have a return date. It is possible but less probable.

friends
Photo credit: Melissa Askew

A best friend

Some people feel the need to emphasise even more the friendship meaning with the meilleur-e ami-e. Not every adult still uses this expression that is more commonly used in French by children or students.

Do you have all these layers of friendships in your country? I’d be interested in knowing the differences.

mademoiselle guiga from expat in france

My tips on how to make friends in France?

1 – Join a local club or activity

Get involved in your local community to know people. Practice your favourite sport at the local club or go to the knitting local association if this is what you like. It will help you connect with people from your area.

2 – Join local Facebook groups or online forums

You will find many Facebook groups about anything you like in your area. Some people will be happy to practice their passion and to speak English at the same time. It is also, of course, a great way for you to practice your French. It is worth trying!

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The social media are in general a great way to connect, especially in today’s context… Virtual connections can sometimes lead to nice real encounters and friendships!

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Photo credit: Tracy le Blanc

3 – Go to language exchange meet-ups

I love going to language meetups! I have been to language exchange meet-ups as an expat abroad but also as a local in France. It is a great way for me to keep practising Spanish that I don’t get to practise that much otherwise.

Also, believe it or not, for French people, it can be hard to meet expats and get out of their comfort zone even if they want to. Many French people are shy to speak in English and are ashamed of their accent.

Going to these events is a great way to break the ice and meet open-minded people with an international interest.

4 – Volunteer in a local association

The possibilities are infinite. You can serve food to the homeless or give English classes to unprivileged kids. There are associations for every taste and also types of volunteers. Choose the association you are in line with, go once or twice to feel the atmosphere. If this one is not for you, another association will! It is worth trying several ones.

5 – Ask for contacts to your entire network

Almost every time I move to a new country I send an email to my network, friends and family to let them know. I also take the opportunity to ask them if they know anyone they could put me in contact with, maybe a friend of a friend, a distant cousin.

I have met great people this way and one of them is a very close friend today!

6 – Socialize with your colleagues

This is not necessarily part of French culture to mix professional and personal life. But let’s not generalize. Your company culture may encourage social gathering and many people do become friends with their colleagues if you are patient.

7 – Make the first move

I’m repeating myself here, but I think it is worth it.

Making the first move to invite a French person or trigger the encounter is essential. The French are slow to make friends. If you want it to happen, make it happen! And the French will appreciate the initiative. I assure you!

Photo credit: Philip Lansing

How to make French friends in France wrap up

Are French people cold and distant as per the reputation?

Some people can be, but it is more about being private. Being proactive will help a lot.

One extra tip: if you are used to being over expressive, tune it down a bit if you don’t want to scare the French away.

I hope these tips will inspire you and motivate you to get out there in the coming new year to make new (local) friends. Hopefully, 2021 will help us all to open ourselves to the world!

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2 thoughts on “How to make French friends?

  • 20 December 2020 at 16 h 29 min
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    What a great list! I’m planning on doing some volunteering or joining an association if the pandemic is better in the Spring to try and meet some friends outside of work.

    Reply
    • 21 December 2020 at 8 h 30 min
      Permalink

      Hi Camden,
      Thanks!
      It sounds like a great plan! Let us know how it goes!
      I hope you’ll find the association you like!

      Reply

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