5 ways to integrate into your new community in France

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Local events are a great way to have fun and support your community; pictured here is the Fête Roi du l'Oiseau in Haute-Loire - Credit: ©J Damase/Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Tourisme 

How can you make friends and get involved with your new community in France? Whether you’re young or older, there are lots of fun ways to integrate and contribute to your neighbourhood. 

Making friends as a child is easy; meeting people as a young adult whether at university or work happens on a daily basis and parents of young children generally find a ready-made friendship group at the school gates. However, as we get older and perhaps move to a new town, the opportunities for meeting new people seems to dwindle.   

This is especially true for those moving to a new country. Not only do most new arrivals experience some level of language barrier issues, there’s also the early retiree/self-employed factor to take into consideration, and making friends and social connections can prove difficult.  

The first and most important thing to take on board is that you will need to be proactive. You need to get out there and engage with the local community around you and chat to people whenever the opportunity arises! This is easier said than done if you have a more reserved type of personality but making an effort from the start will pay off.     

1) GET TO KNOW THE LOCALS  

It’s always a good idea to go and introduce yourself to your immediate neighbours, and many firm friendships have started this way. You could invite them round for the traditional French early evening drink, known as un apéro or un apéritif depending on the region, which takes place from around 6.30pm or 7pm for a couple of hours or so. These days l’apéro dînatoire is also increasingly popular; this lasts for longer and features an extensive selection of snacks and light dishes and is a great alternative to a more traditional dinner party.   

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Your local town hall or ‘mairie’ can provide advice on local activities - Credit: Archant

It’s also a good plan to pop along to the local mairie (town hall) and introduce yourself there. Even if the mayor is not present, the secretary is bound to pass the news of new arrivals on and it’s the ideal opportunity to enquire about what is going on in the local community.   

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Participating in local events is absolutely key when it comes to integrating and meeting people. Most villages organise an annual fête of some kind or another and almost always need volunteers to help plan and organise the events.  

There are often several community meals organised throughout the year. These may be publicised in the local magazine if your commune has one, or online via the commune’s website or via a flyer dropped into the letterbox. Keep an eye out, make a note of the date and go along.  

It can be intimidating going along to an event where you know no-one but people are generally hugely welcoming and delighted to see some new faces. Local hunts normally also organise an annual meal and these are usually open to everyone. Even if la chasse is not your scene, going along will give you an opportunity to meet another group of people in the local area.    

2) BUILD SCHOOL RELATIONSHIPS  

Those with school-age children will find making contacts easier simply by dint of being at the school gates twice a day. However, if your children take the bus, the opportunities to chat to other parents are more limited. But again, schools, especially primary schools, are often in need of volunteers to accompany the children on school trips, swimming lessons, help organise events and so on, so do always go along if you can.  

This is also a good opportunity to get to know the teachers too and, who knows, maybe they will become contacts or even friends.   

Encourage your children to invite their friends round after school for le goûter – an after-school snack – which is a ritual taken seriously by both young and old alike. Most French people are now very keen that their children start speaking English as early as possible so you may well find that your teatime invitations are highly sought after!   

3) JOIN A CLUB 

Joining a club or association is a wonderful way to meet likeminded people and if you have common interests or goals, eventual friendships are much more likely. Your mairie will probably be able to tell you about local cycling, rambling clubs and the like as well as providing details of gym, dance and fitness classes that are held in the commune – usually in the village hall or la salle des fêtes.   

It is also worth going along to the Forum des Associations if there is one in your area. These are usually held on an annual basis, usually around the time of la rentrée in September, and the bigger ones last for a couple of days.  

Almost all the clubs and groups in the area will have a stand and provide you with information on their activities and volunteering opportunities. So whether you want to do judo, play chess or join a choir, visiting the forum is a brilliant way to find out exactly what is going on in the locality.   

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Joining a local association or club can help you meet likeminded people in your area - Credit: Forum des Assocations

4) LEND A HELPING HAND 

Volunteering is a tried and trusted way to expand your social circle and almost every charitable association is looking for additional volunteers. Animal rescue charities are always looking for people to help with fundraising and home visits; dog walking is another popular volunteer activity. There are numerous individual organisations throughout France or you can contact the SPA - La Société Protectrice des Animaux – a nationwide organisation, and find your nearest branch.   

If you are lucky enough to have un café associatif in your area, do check it out. These vary widely in terms of the types of events they organise, and food and services they provide, but the overall principle is the same; they are not designed to make a profit but instead provide a community service and a place for people to go and meet one another in a convivial atmosphere and take part in various activities.  

Some are only open to members (membership is normally very reasonable or even free) and some are open to all. Food and drink prices are low and some offer services such as cut-price laundry facilities. The activities organised might include karaoke, board games, yoga, knitting and sewing circles, crafts, themed nights, the list is endless!  

Some have links with the local AMAP – Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne – and have locally produced fruit and vegetables for sale. Participating in the events they organise is a great way to improve your French while meeting people at the same time.  

5) LEARN THE LINGO 

On the subject of improving your spoken French, joining a conversational exchange group or even setting one up yourself is a very good way to meet people in your area.  

If starting a group is a step too far, a postcard in the local supermarket offering to swap conversational English lessons for French may well yield results. These days all kinds of people want to improve their spoken English for both personal and professional reasons, and being willing to chat to people is the key to integrating into your local community.   

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Joining a conversational exchange group is a good way to improve your French and meet new people - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Social media is another way to find people in your area who are actively looking for new contacts and Facebook is a good source of local community pages and groups, all of which are full of potential new contacts. You could write a short post introducing yourself, listing any hobbies and interests and suggest people get in touch with you; be brave and make the first move!  

Always remember the adage that a stranger is just a friend you haven’t yet met and make sure you go out of your way to speak to as many people as possible on a daily basis. Even a simple bonjour is a good start! Being ready to join in and engage with others makes settling into a French community much easier and far more enjoyable.