Making friends in France
Making new friends when you move to France may seem like a daunting prospect but never fear, help is on hand in the form of the many English-speaking societies scattered around the country...
So you’ve made the decision to start afresh in France. While you’re keen to become a fully-fledged member of la vie fran�aise it can be a daunting task, no matter how prepared you are. Even when you have successfully become part of the French community in which you now live the benefits of meeting people with a shared cultural background are not to be underestimated.
Creating a forum to do just that, thus bridging the gap between your old life and new, the numerous English-speaking clubs and associations which have developed across France have an important role to play.
In the words of that well-known song, you’ll get by with a little help from your friends. Here we meet four groups who are stepping into the breach....
CULTURE CLUB With 350 members of various nationalities, some of whom have lived in the area for many years and others who are newcomers, BritsN�mes is an association for English-speakers in Languedoc’s Gard department. Organising regular social and cultural activities BritsN�mes creates opportunities for members to meet local people, make new friends and familiarise themselves with the area. New members are always welcome, and joining the association is a great way to find a helping hand when one is needed, particularly when settling into not only a new home but also a new country. "I started the association back in November 2002 as a way of making friends and forming networks," says BritsN�mes president Robin Boxall.
"I didn’t want to feel homesick; I wanted to feel secure. I think it’s important when living abroad to meet like-minded people and share your experiences. It’s also useful when it comes to making contacts for employment," he continues.
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There were 16 people at the first meeting but the association grew rapidly. It was well received in the local community and Robin, who works for a French bank, has since become a well-known figure.
With everything from pub nights to coffee mornings, music and book clubs to walks and restaurant visits, the calendar of events is varied, offering a diverse range of activities. These get-togethers provide a forum for exchanging experiences of life in France, and allow children to meet and befriend other bilingual youngsters in the area.
"It’s our 10th anniversary in 2012 and I want to start it with a bang, so I’m currently organising a Burns Night and am hoping to have at least 150 people attending," says Robin.
"I’ve been thinking about starting a photography group and I might even introduce a singles’ night as well. Who knows!" www.britsnimes.com
WINE & HIGH SPIRITS Despite its name not all members of the Bordeaux British Community are British and not all of them live in Bordeaux. A long-established social club for English-speakers, it is open to expats of any nationality, and the 100 families they currently count as members live in all parts of the surrounding region. Brought together by the English language, a desire to meet new people and to learn more about the area they now call home, members pay an annual membership fee of €20.
"I moved to France with my husband Chris in 1991 after taking early retirement," says president Deirdre Rankin. "We chose Bordeaux because it was far enough south to be warm but close enough to the Channel to drive back in a day. The local people in our village were very helpful and friendly, and I became involved with the Bordeaux British Community through the then-president’s wife, whom I met at church. I became president myself for the first time in the late 1990s and am currently in the second year of my second term."
The association organises a varied programme of activities, giving members the opportunity to meet people and familiarise themselves with the area. "What most people appreciate is the chance to relax and chat while appreciating good food and wine and a wide range of activities," says Deirdre.
"We have a monthly lunch, sometimes with a speaker, or a visit to a place or organisation of interest. We also have a monthly walk, plus golf in the spring and summer months. Our major annual events usually include a traditional Christmas dinner, St Patrick’s evening, a summer picnic, a sports day and a children’s party."
A long weekend spent walking in the Pyrenees is another popular event each year, and there are also regular cycle rides and canoeing trips for sportier types. "We’re regarded as a very friendly, welcoming association and are always open to new members," says Deirdre. www.bordeauxbritish.com
A DOOR ALWAYS OPEN Open House was founded in 1987 to support the growing English-speaking population in Grenoble and the surrounding area. Currently boasting more than 150 members from 27 countries, all are linked by the English language and the fact that they are now living, or have lived, as expats. It was set up to help ease the transition during what is an exciting yet challenging time.
Patty Ferreira moved to Grenoble from the United States in 2010, as her husband’s employer offered them the opportunity to spend three years there on assignment. She became president of Open House in June 2011.
"I joined Open House as soon as I arrived, as it seemed like a great way to meet people with similar struggles and interests," she says. "Our main goal is to welcome English-speaking newcomers to the area and to support them as they make the transition to a French way of life. We also aim to provide opportunities for interaction between members of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds, with a pathway to the exchange of ideas and information."
Open House offers a wide range of activities, with regular events including wine-tastings, book groups, coffee mornings and children’s parties. For those who are keen to learn French or improve their existing language skills, there is a fortnightly French-English exchange, while new member mixers’ provide the perfect opportunity for newcomers to the area to meet current members in a relaxed get-together.
"This informal event is for new members and their families to meet current members and to learn more about the events and activities that are going on. Our members are also a source of information on just about anything you would need to know during your time in Grenoble," points out Patty.
It’s a useful resource that is worth tapping in to if you need help with something, be it a major concern or a minor quandary.
"The annual membership fee of €28 enables members to participate in any of these events, as well as giving them access to the members only’ section of our website. We also send out a bi-weekly newsletter, which keeps members up-to-date with the latest news and activities going on both inside the club and in the surrounding areas," says Patty.
"There are so many benefits of being a member of Open House," she continues. "The friendships, the fun activities for both children and adults, and getting answers to the many questions you have when you arrive or that come up during your stay. It also helps to accelerate your integration into the community." www.openhousegrenoble.com
LADIES WHO LUNCH Dordogne Ladies’ Club International was founded 25 years ago to promote social contact and international friendships’, and now boasts 175 members. An annual membership fee of €25 allows people to participate in as many events as they wish, and with a range of activities to choose from, including everything from coffee mornings and lunches to cookery demonstrations and visits to the opera or ballet, there’s something to suit all tastes. The club also organises fundraising events to support charities in the local area.
Current president Penelope Pearce was elected in June 2011, and will hold the post for the next two years. She and her husband decided to make their maison secondaire their permanent home in 2006, having spent three years travelling backwards and forwards between France and the UK.
"A friend invited me to one of the club’s lunches as a guest and I enjoyed the company of the ladies, chatting to them and finding out about the group’s activities," remembers Penelope. "I decided to join and soon found myself on the committee, and after my four-year term ended I was asked to stand for president. I was elected last June so am still finding my feet a bit!"
The club’s members are a mixture of nationalities, including English, French, Belgian and Australian, but as everything is conducted in English, members need to have a sufficient grasp of the language to join. "We arrange a variety of events to appeal to as many tastes as possible, and our members can pick and choose the things that appeal to them. The lunches are for ladies only but we do invite husbands or friends on the outings," says Penelope.
"We’ve organised coach trips to the theatre and ballet in Bordeaux and to the nearby seaside resort in the Bay of Arcachon. They allow our members to explore the surrounding area without having the bother of driving."
The club celebrated its 25th anniversary in December and members both past and present came together to mark the occasion.
"Joining the club is a wonderful way to make friends and find support, particularly if you don’t speak French. Many people retire to France and I think most would agree that it’s much more difficult to learn a language when you’re older, which can often leave you isolated and struggling to settle in," says Penelope. LF [email protected]