How Do I Make French Friends?

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Dear Frenchwoman,

How do I become friends with a Frenchwoman? I’ve been living in Paris for 6 years and I still don’t have any French friends. What am I doing wrong? Do French people just not want American friends?


I haven’t — not once — connected with the locals. A Chinese woman never invited me to her home to meet her family. In England, only my dear friend Nicola had me over but that’s only because she isn’t a real Londoner. She is a citizen of the world, very open minded and an avid traveler, so much as I love her, she doesn’t count.

Seriously, why do locals banish foreigners from their inner circle? I used to wonder when I was an expat: Is it me? My strange drinking habits? My fetish for boots, cheese, wine and long hair?

Then I started thinking… Do I have many foreign friends now that I’m back to being a Parisian?

I have to admit that I’m guilty as charged. Let’s just say it: It is hard to bond with the natives.

There is this American mum in my kids’ school. She is lovely and so is her daughter, who is friends with mine. But the mum, she is just… too American! She immediately wanted to connect over coffee. Doesn’t she know that Parisian mums do school drop-offs showered and fed, in designer clothes, fully made up — and don’t have time to even greet their kids’ teacher much less have a coffee?

She also asked me about the school PTA. Haaaa!!! Those people. A handful of overbooked parents who don’t even know the teacher’s name painfully gathering to organize a dreadful school fair on a rainy Friday night in June. That cracks me up!

Then she asked me for our piano teacher, guitar teacher, pediatrician, gynecologist — perfect contacts you get after at least 10 years in Paris. You swear never to share them unless given the best dermatologist or allergist in return!

The final straw is the babysitter: It took me years to build the perfect list of sitters. Yeaaaars! Some were blacklisted because they yelled at my kids; others because they let them stay up until 11pm on a school night because my kids said they could. There was one who left me her dishes to clean up and then the one who saw me so drunk when I got home, she had to help me take off my boots. I never called her back, too ashamed! Anyway, I don’t share my husband so why would I share my babysitters? (They’re way more useful for a good night out.)

I realize that the main problem of most Parisians is our territorial issues. We don’t want you to become as good as us. Look at the people back in Marie Antoinette’s day: They tasted our bread and took down the Bastille!

You Americans are, after all, Americans! You are the people of Martin Luther King, McDonalds, Apple, Levi’s, Star Wars and John Wayne! Your teeth are whiter than ours, you smile more, you have a black president and you speak English! In so many ways, the French envy and despise Americans. If it weren’t for you, we would all be Germans now. Think about that…

So, dear American friends, you can try your best but I think it’s a lost cause. You will never infiltrate Parisian life the way James Bond can go into any casino and call it home. The only consolation I have for you is that I’ve felt the same way anywhere I’ve lived.

We Parisians aren’t the worst, just part of it.

If by chance you meet your Parisian match, be gentle, speak slowly (French usually don’t speak a good English) — and don’t ask for the babysitter’s number!

 

Image via Street Peeper


Do you have something to Ask A Frenchwoman? Email frenchwoman@leslolos.com with your questions.

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About Author

Alexandra Guitelmann

Alexandra Guitelmann is a married Parisienne with three kids. She is a maman bear who loves taking care of her babes but is also an event manager for only the chicest clients and events in Paris.

13 Comments

  1. This article sums up the weaknesses in French education and attitude. Mesquinerie, petitessesse, egocentrisme; quand l’auteur avait besoin d’amitié étant loin de chez elle, aide et confort, elle savait les trouver (système D). Peu importe si elle était incapable de se lier avec les autochtones. Mais rentrée chez elle entourée des siens elle a oublié la solidarité et l’entreaide, puisqu’ELLE n’en a plus besoin. Aucune empathie a été apprise pendant ses années expat. C’est son éducation française qui lui a formée comme ça et fera en sorte qu’elle ne saura jamais les joies du partage, de prendre plaisir dans le bien être des autres, savoir collaborer efficacement pour la réussite d’un projet commun. I feel sorry for you. You had the opportunity to travel and live around the world and you returned home having not grown or gained a bit of empathy. Amazing. And if you think empathy is unimportant, see TED talks b6 world leaders on what skills people need in the world to adapt and suceed.

    • Dear LRothFl,
      Reading about the weakness of my education and attitude would be hurtful if I hadn’t the luck to appreciate irony. You should try, it helps to make life easier, softer and even sweeter.
      Thank you for your empathy which seems to be your gift, you surely seem to love french people.
      I advise for your next reading to try Desproges, don’t be too sensitive about it, like all humorists, it can shock…

  2. This is a bit naive. The way to connect with the locals is to understand their values and connect over those and not to push ones own.

  3. Then am I an odd one out with local friends in every place I’ve stayed at for more than a month? Perhaps it’s that I reach out in advance with an excitement to embrace the culture rather than simply be surrounded by it. Then again, I’m not a mother. Perhaps that changes things.

    • admin@leslolos.com on

      I think living someplace for an extended period as an expat changes things—you’re not the shiny, cute new visitor who’s there for a few exciting weeks. Also, motherhood does change everything. It’s that much harder to have a social life. Add in a new country, new language, and you get the reason for this expat’s query!

      Thanks for your POV, Rachel! So appreciate it. X, M

  4. I’m a New Yorker who has lived in Taiwan, three different countries in Africa, and now just outside of Paris. I’ve made local friends in each of these places, and was invited into their homes. I also learned the languages if I stayed long enough. It took some practice in France because I was too enthusiastic … too American. But I adapted – and once my kids started attending school, it was pretty easy.

    I know you were aiming for irony in this post, but unfortunately it just came off as mean-spirited.

    • admin@leslolos.com on

      Lucky you, Jennie, for being so adaptable! That’s wonderful.

      Yes, satire and irony aren’t for everyone. When Swift wrote about eating poor Irish kids to solve the poverty problem, plenty of people thought it was mean-spirited—to say the least. Chacun son gout, as it were.

      Thanks for your input!

  5. I thought it was funny. I’ve been in Paris for 4 months with my young family and have met some wonderful Frenchies who have gasp invited me to their homes! Maybe I’ve got the knack for being friendly without being too keen or nosey. Or maybe their relieved when they realise I”m not American, I am Australian.

    • Maggie Kim

      Hahaha, Bree. Well the laid-back Aussie vibe is diff from Starbucks American mama, right? (Tho I’m one of those…) Glad you enjoyed the humour 🙂

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