There are several expat discussion forums on the Internet that can be a great source of first-hand information from people living in the country to which you are moving. The one I like the best is Expatforum.com because it tends to be full of positive, helpful advice and the moderator keeps everyone on topic and is very knowledgeable about French culture, daily life, government issues, and other challenges we are likely to encounter.
One current discussion revolves around making friends and was started by a young man who has moved from the US to live with his French boyfriend in rural Brittany where he is having some trouble feeling at home. The suggestions offered by members of the forum have been so helpful I thought others might benefit from them as well. Most would be useful to anyone relocating while a few are specific to France. Some will work better in smaller communities than in Paris or New York City.
- Be patient; it takes time to find people with similar interests
- Frequent your local bar/tabac to see the same people on a regular basis
- Visit the AVF (France’s version of the Welcome Wagon) to find out about local clubs, plus languages classes for French and for English (where you might be able to volunteer)
- Stop by the Mairie (town hall) to get a list of local associations you might join
- Say hello to everyone you pass, especially if you see them on a regular basis
- Take your neighbors something stereotypically American: muffins or chocolate chip cookies
- Invite people to your home for coffee or a before-dinner drink
- Attend your community’s annual Forum des Associations, the first weekend of September, to talk with members of all the various clubs such as biking, running, painting, cooking, historical touring, etc.
- Attend town council meetings on a regular basis so that elected officials get to know you.
- Cultivate your favorite vendors at the market and ask for cooking advice
- Walk your dog where people can stop to chat with you, because they will!
- Get out of the house and out of your comfort zone
I just read an update message from the guy who started this discussion saying that he’s found a basketball club where he’ll be able to play the game without having to speak perfect French. Time and again on the forum the members say it’s not how good your French is but the fact that you attempt to use it. Your efforts will be met more than halfway by the people around you who just happen to speak a language other than English.