In­te­grat­ing in France

Your guide to set­tling in as quickly and eas­ily as pos­si­ble

Living France - - Contents -

It is of­ten said that when peo­ple move abroad, where the cul­ture and tra­di­tions are dif­fer­ent from home, they go through a four-stage process to set­tling in – the hon­ey­moon stage, the cul­ture shock, ac­cep­tance and fi­nally adap­ta­tion. Hope­fully, if you are a reg­u­lar Liv­ing France reader, the im­pact of the cul­ture shock phase should be gentler as you’ll have gleaned an in­sight into what to ex­pect in your adopted home. That said, when you’re ac­tu­ally walk­ing the walk in the land of les Gaulois (who? Look them up, it’s all part of the in­te­gra­tion jour­ney), you re­alise there’s still a lot to learn and as­sim­i­late about France, the French, and fit­ting into their way of life. But let’s start by putting some balls in your cor­ner and look­ing at ways that can help get you through stage two, once the sun­shine and rosé give way to le mis­tral and a verveine infusion. (A what? You know what to do!)


Wher­ever you go, what­ever the oc­ca­sion, the key to get­ting on and hav­ing a good time is com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and com­mu­ni­cat­ing usu­ally in­volves talk­ing. So, be­ing able to con­verse with the lo­cal peo­ple is prob­a­bly one of the most im­por­tant routes to in­te­gra­tion. You’ll pick up the lan­guage faster once you’re liv­ing in France, but it’s def­i­nitely a good idea to give your­self a head start by tak­ing lessons in the months, if not years, be­fore mak­ing the leap across the Chan­nel.

If you need to hit the ground run­ning as soon as you ar­rive, for ex­am­ple if you need to be able to ex­press your­self suf­fi­ciently well in French to get a job, then aim for greater im­mer­sion in the lan­guage for a sus­tained pe­riod prior to mov­ing. Tune into French ra­dio and tele­vi­sion, fol­low ad­di­tional on­line cour­ses, try to find a French lan­guage ‘buddy’ happy to meet up for French/English con­ver­sa­tion ex­changes (or via Skype), and try to read a lit­tle in French. If you are able to ex­pose your­self to the lan­guage in some form or other ev­ery day, you’ll be sur­prised at the dif­fer­ence it makes.


If you play a sport or en­joy a hobby, pur­sue it in France if pos­si­ble. Do­ing an ac­tiv­ity with oth­ers who share the same pas­sion or in­ter­est is one of the best ways to make friends, and of­ten it’s a more re­lax­ing way to get in­volved in the lo­cal com­mu­nity be­cause the lan­guage side of things can take sec­ond place as you’re ‘com­mu­ni­cat­ing’ in other ways.


Go­ing along to lo­cal events shows your in­ter­est in the com­mu­nity and will­ing­ness to get in­volved. The con­vivi­al­ity of the oc­ca­sion will soften any pre­con­cep­tions (if there are any) and con­quer any mu­tual shy­ness as the wine and beer flows, plus it’s a way to meet a lot of peo­ple in one go. Of­fers of help with events are usu­ally very wel­come, so this is an­other way to get more in­volved – and more pop­u­lar! Fur­ther down the line, you could join the comité des fêtes, thereby ce­ment­ing your com­mit­ment to the lo­cal so­cial life.


The work­place in France is more for­mal than in the UK and in gen­eral there is less so­cial­is­ing with col­leagues. That said, you will usu­ally meet one or two peo­ple that you get on well with and with whom, over time, a friendship out­side work could de­velop.

Aside from mak­ing friends, if you work in a French com­pany, sur­rounded mostly by French peo­ple, you will pick up the lan­guage, the cul­ture, the hu­mour and the pol­i­tics (with a small ‘p’) of the coun­try much quicker. In short, the in­te­gra­tion process is ac­cel­er­ated. There is also the ad­van­tage that you are seen to be em­brac­ing the French sys­tem, in terms of con­tribut­ing to the econ­omy and ‘do­ing your bit’, which in a pre­dom­i­nantly so­cial­ist-think­ing so­ci­ety is an im­por­tant fac­tor.


If you have chil­dren of school age, there’s no doubt this opens an­other door to meet­ing peo­ple and be­com­ing a part of the lo­cal com­mu­nity. Take ev­ery chance to ex­change with other par­ents at the school gate and at the var­i­ous events (there is nearly al­ways an an­nual bingo called the loto and an end-of-year con­cert or play). De­pend­ing on where you live, you could also con­sider shar­ing the school run with neigh­bours, as this again can strengthen ties as well as hav­ing prac­ti­cal ben­e­fits.

After a lit­tle while, and if your French is up to it, con­sider stand­ing as a par­ents’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive or join­ing the ‘Sou des écoles’ (school fundrais­ing com­mit­tee). This can bring you into con­tact with more par­ents as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the lo­cal mairie, plus it will give you a greater in­sight into the French ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.


Make the ef­fort to in­tro­duce your­self to your neigh­bours on ar­rival – they can be a valu­able source of in­for­ma­tion when you’re first in the coun­try and, if you’re lucky, will help in­tro­duce you to oth­ers in the com­mu­nity. The Fête des Voisins has be­come a pop­u­lar an­nual oc­ca­sion across France, as in many other coun­tries, and is a great way to fos­ter and main­tain good re­la­tions be­tween neigh­bours, both old and new.


The more you get to know about France, the more you will be able to par­tic­i­pate in so­ci­ety. When liv­ing in your home coun­try, it’s easy to for­get how much knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of that coun­try has been ac­quired over the years, from learn­ing Bri­tish his­tory in school, to recog­nis­ing re­gional and so­cial dif­fer­ences in so­ci­ety, to fol­low­ing cur­rent af­fairs. All of this in­for­ma­tion feeds al­most sub­con­sciously into our daily con­ver­sa­tions, choices and ac­tions.

It will be dif­fi­cult to as­sim­i­late this level of knowl­edge about France, cer­tainly not for many years. But if you try to ad­dress the ba­sics (if you ap­ply for French cit­i­zen­ship at any stage, you’ll be re­quired to), it could go a long way to help­ing the in­te­gra­tion process along. So, why not read up a lit­tle about the French Repub­lic, get into the habit of fol­low­ing French cur­rent af­fairs, and, if pos­si­ble, take a few trips and hol­i­days within France to get to know the re­gions and the di­verse tra­di­tions and cul­ture. It will open up new hori­zons when mix­ing with French peo­ple.

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