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How do I get to know the French people in Paris better?

I travel to meet people. In Paris, I apologize for not speaking French. I respect people not having time to talk. When people do talk, I keep conversations short. Many French people even in tourist businesses did not appear friendly. Costa, a British coffee chain, provided great coffee and a friendly staff. In Luxembourg Gardens, the French seemed friendlier. Does it help to go to French residential neighborhoods?

In Paris, Other tourists, immigrants, and foreign residents were friendly and very helpful with information.

Any pointers on how to get to know the French people? I’d like to get to know them better. Thanks.

Posted by
4535 posts

A few things are working against you. First, Paris is a massive urban city and like most such cities, people are less openly friendly and more likely to just go about their business. Second, most people you are likely to meet are used to dealing with tourists and may be nice enough, but see more than their share of tourists and therefore are less curious about you. Third, the French are more reserved and find the open friendliness of Americans somewhat odd, or at least different from their culture. They are less likely to open up to strangers. Last, I find the French to be very self-aware about their English language skills, and less likely to want to chat if they are not really proficient in English. Even French people I have know that speak excellent English tend to be concerned that their proficiency is not up to par. Without knowing French, you will find it difficult to get French people to open up to you personally.

I lived in France for almost a year and rarely had much interaction with French people other than cursory exchanges. The people I did get to know better were almost accidental meetings or people that I got to know through other people.

Maybe others will have tips on places to go where you are more likely to get people to engage in conversations.

Posted by
290 posts

A few thoughts, in no particular order!

  • Does it interest you enough to learn to speak French? Speaking to someone in their own language makes such a huge difference.
  • You could try smaller cities and towns. I've heard plenty of French people characterize Parisians somewhat negatively. Plus, people living their normal lives in a highly touristed area may feel less patient with someone they interpret as a tourist.
  • Maybe look for meet-ups of people wanting to practice English? You're more likely to find someone who wants to strike up a conversation.
Posted by
23 posts

For your next trip to Paris, consider arranging something with Paris Greeters. You'll be matched with a local person who can show you around based on your interests. I did this and the tour was just myself walking with a Parisian woman who showed me some interesting places off the beaten path.

You could also sign yourself up for dinner with a local. I have not done this so don't have an organization to recommend. Having a look online, there seems to be several options.

I realize these suggestions will probably only offer surface-level interactions but may give you more time to talk. Also, a local person involved in these types of activities is obviously interested in meeting others.

And finally, during your stay in Paris, or any town or village, take your morning coffee or afternoon wine at the same cafe every day. You'll be recognized and that will help to start a conversation.

Posted by
5648 posts

Brenda’s suggestion about becoming a “Regular” definitely works. In Nice (not Paris, but close enough) I went each morning for croissants and a baguette to the sand boulangerie, and by day 3 they greeted me as Madame Anericaine. I didn’t have coffee with them, but there was a connection on some level.

Another thought, sign up for a cooking class. You’ll spend a couple hours with a French chef, preparing a meal, learning about real French ingredients and cooking techniques, then sit down to eat, sharing a meal. We took a class in Avignon (OK, not Paris, but close enough) and most of the fellow students were French, and they enjoyed a chance to practice their English. Even if your instructor is the only French person, you’ll have time - quality time with them.

Entering any shop, cafe, or other establishment, say “Bon Jour” to the person working there. It will get things off to the right start.

Posted by
7276 posts

I got a BA degree French lit lang at 39 because I was so impressed with France. If you have a hobby or are nerd when it comes to something enjoyed around the world that is the best way to get to know people in a culture. For example I have a friend who loves Flamenco. She went and took lessons two weeks in Spain. That is a good way to get to know people. But of course you have to do your part and learn at least some of the language.

I love jazz and go to many festivals in France. The festivals in small towns that last over several days is where you tend to see the same people. When everyone is having fun moving to the music that is good way to get to know them over the duration of the festival. I also have been listening to the same podcast on Radio France for 8 years. They some times have a new release cd giveaway if you can be one of the first ten who can answer a trivia question jazz related. I've one more than 20 times and they send the cd to my house all the way from Paris. One time I emailed the DJ to say I was in going to be in Paris and he invited to the studio while he did the show.

Also Paris is big city. They might think you are trying to pickpocket them. Here in Chicago a big tourist town I do not like when complete strangers say "well what do you do" or get in my space either. Unfortunately when you live in big tourist town like Paris or Chicago tourists seem the same where you get sick of them.

Posted by
749 posts

Alcôves and Agapes bed and breakfast group specialize in accommodations in the homes of Parisiens. When you stay with someone like that there is more time for meaningful conversations over breakfast and otherwise. Alcoves and Agapes
One host invites her guests to tour the neighborhood with her when she and her daughter walk their dog.

Edited to add: if you stay in this type of lodging you can also ask your host to make a reservation for you at their favorite neighborhood restaurant. I’ve done this frequently and the welcome at the restaurant is wonderful. A hotel desk clerk cannot produce this.

Also, about a year ago someone on this forum mentioned Comme une Française for learning colloquial French. While that may not be your interest, this lesson may offer some ideas:
https://www.commeunefrancaise.com/blog/french-culture-meeting-new-people-french-vs-american

Posted by
13026 posts

My French is limited, quicker at reading than speaking. I don't apologise for not speaking it well, and don't expect them to apologise for their linguistic short-comings. I keep trying to continue in the language instead of using English, which does not do me any good.

If your French (or any other foreign language for that matter,) is not up to par, then you keep plugging away at it....simple as that.

Posted by
15075 posts

Try Paris Greeters, where fluent English speakers who are locals volunteer to spend a couple hours showing tourists around a part of the city. You may or may not get a native Parisian, but you will get someone who lives permanently in Paris.

On one visit visit, I spent several evenings in a "neighborhood" bar in the Marais, which got a good mix of locals and tourists. The staff spoke fluent English and I had opportunities to speak with them (when they had a few rare slow moments) and a very few of the local regulars. It certainly helped that I could speak basic French. What probably helped more was that everyone was drinking.

The only place I had real conversations with locals and got many glimpses and some interesting insights into their lives was in Ireland. It's a combination of a common language and a real openness and pleasure that someone is taking an interest in them.

Posted by
4698 posts

If you want to meet French people, then go to the south of France where people are kinder and more chatty. Ultimately, you must accept that your average French person has no interest in you or any visitor. It’s just not worth their time.

Posted by
8293 posts

It doesn’t matter if people are “kinder and more chatty” in the South of
France. The OP does not speak French so chattiness will not help. I fail to see how anyone can expect friendly interactions in France if you can’t speak French. This type of post appears often with reference to France ,,,, so unfriendly, won’t converse ..... but seldom if ever about other countries in Europe.

French lessons are available in most cities or on line. Try BBC. Speaking even rudimentary French will get usually friendly responses and life becomes pleasant.

Posted by
4229 posts

To add my 2 centimes on the issue, for 95% of English speakers in France, speaking English is an effort. Very few people speak it on a daily, or even weekly, basis. It follows that people will not want to be overly chatty in English. Add to that an educational culture that does not leave much room for mistake (hence the fact that even good speakers are self conscious about their supposed lack of skill), and you get why we seem "cold".
If you do speak some French, a whole different world opens, especially outside Paris. I must say that
- in Paris, people remain guarded, and with the constant flow of outsiders it is difficult to be noticed. For instance even after three years there is only a handful of shops in my neighbourhood where I am recognized.
- the art of small talk is not as developed as in the USA
- people are generally more abrupt, and less overly enthusiastic than in America. For instance, an excellent meal will more often than not be deemed pas mal ("not bad") by diners. Similarly, when my American partner uses the French translations of the usual American hyperboles (awesome, amazing, etc), it often elicits a smile or gentle mockery from French folks, as it sounds decidedly foreign.

Posted by
13733 posts

I travel to meet people.

The thing is, local people probably don't have the same interest in you, especially in a city where those locals are positively tripping over tourists everywhere to begin with, and your language is not their own. The vast majority of them will also be working or otherwise engaged in the day-to-day tasks we all do when not on holiday: shopping, cleaning, errands, visiting family/friends, minding children.... They don't have the time or inclination to just chat you up.

Does that mean you can't meet other interesting people? No. In fact, our most interesting exchanges on our travels abroad have been with other tourists from all over the world. Like ourselves, they were on vacation so weren't focused on work, daily tasks or their own friends/families, and they didn't necessarily speak the local language either although their English was much, much better than I can say for MY fluency in THEIR languages. Boy, is THAT ever humbling!

I do think there's something to many Europeans finding overly gregarious exchanges with people they don't know to be a bit odd. LOL, I've heard more than once that some think we Americans "show too many teeth all the time" (smile too broadly and too often)! 😬

Posted by
8515 posts

My 2centimes, too. The culture is built on rules that respect each other’s privacy. Generally, people are careful not to impose on others. In casual situations people mind their own business, but they are efficient and professional in their jobs. You would have to define what friendly means to you.

For friendships, people take their time and wait to be introduced but once you’ve been introduced, the friendships are long and strong. We’ve had the same friends in France for forty years and our French friends and family have those sorts of friendships with their other friends. Once you make one friend, others follow. The art of conversation is very important.

Breaking the ice is no different north or south. Individuals are different, some more open to a conversation than others. Because my husband and I are relaxed while on vacation and because we’re fluent French speakers, we have conversations with locals wherever we go. I absolutely want to dispel the myth of the unfriendly French.

As balso said, “pas mal” is high praise. They don’t gush. But you will find a different body language that lets you know they are listening closely to you.

As for all the advice written by others, it’s good.

Posted by
2440 posts

I find the French to be very self-aware about their English language
skills, and less likely to want to chat if they are not really
proficient in English.

Our RS Guide for our tour in May touched on this subject on one of our bus ride lectures which were an excellent source of information into french culture. She explained that the french education system is always challenging and reminding students that they can do better. As a result, she says that even if a French person has good english skills they may be hesitant to use it because they feel they are not good enough at it. I can think of two examples that made sense to me after she had explained this. The first was at a subway station in Paris. My wife and I were having trouble interpreting the map and where we needed to go. We asked the employee at the station (in our butchered version of french) if she spoke English. She gave a reserved smile and said she would try. Her english was fine. The second was our tour guide at the Lascaux caves. He was a young guy and apologized at the beginning of the tour that is english was "not so good, but I will try." His english was outstanding, and I don't recall him ever stumbling to find the proper words to answer a question. I suspect that just like us trying to speak something other than english that it can be a confidence thing, even if they are reasonably good at it.

Posted by
1849 posts

Alcôves and Agapes bed and breakfast group specialize in accommodations in the homes of Parisiens. When you stay with someone like that there is more time for meaningful conversations over breakfast and otherwise.

It might have been Barbara's mention of Alcoves and Agapes in earlier posts that led me to them. We used them for our trip to Paris and had an absolutely wonderful experience. We stayed in the top floor of a home that was our host's grandfather's house. The grandfather was an early abstract painter and was commissioned by the French government to create camouflage during WWI. His studio was our study and they turned another room into a bedroom and bath.

We hit it off immediately with our hosts. While they respected our privacy we asked them to join us for breakfast and we got to know one another over fresh croissants and coffee. Their cat "Boo Boo" would curl up in my wife's lap and purr while we ate. They provided lots of useful information. They went way above the call of duty and we insisted in treating them to dinner at their favorite local restaurant. Her 92 year old mother, who lived with them, joined us as well and we had a fabulous dinner and even better company.

Posted by
8293 posts

It occurs to me that as the OP says he “travels to meet people”, I suggest he travel to countries where English is spoken.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, India, Kenya, UK, Scandinavia, for starters.

Posted by
3493 posts

I fail to see how anyone can expect friendly interactions in France if you can’t speak French.

Hmmm, OK.

I have been to France 10 times in my life. I know maybe 10 sentences in French that don't have to do with food (and yes, I try to add to this as I don't expect anyone there to be fluent in any language other than French), and I have had nothing but friendly interactions with all of the French people I interacted with, even the supposedly rude French waiters in Paris.

I can hardly wait to go back again even with my lack of language skills.

Posted by
4730 posts

'The French' isn't one homogenous mass of identical stereotypes, they're as varied as any other nationality, stating that you want to meet 'them' and get to know 'them' better is a bit patronising.

Who in particular do you want to meet and why? People aren't going about their daily business whilst waiting for complete strangers to approach them and strike up in-depth conversations. Of course everything you've encountered is on a superficial level, it would be weird if it wasn't, it's the same everywhere.

Let's say you wanted to know the English better, you could have many long and in-depth conversations with me but that wouldn't mean that you'd know Nigel, Emma, Jennifer or even Nick ; ) any better.

I've met many people through my travels but they've all been superfluous and entirely in keeping with what to expect when you travel. The most interest I've experienced has been from Americans much of which I put down to our shared language making it much easier to communicate on a less formal and more in-depth manner.

Posted by
6882 posts

If you want to have a non-transactional experience with someone, you have to get away from the transactional settings and into something more natural, for lack of better words (tourist settings are very transactional). People who are truly friendly will attempt to communicate in spite of a language barrier; they won't hide behind it. Paris probably isn't the best place to meet people - you have to go somewhere less urban where the locals aren't jaded and oversaturated with tourists and are genuinely curious about them and want to communicate with them (I've had great experiences in the Balkans, Turkey, Mexico and southern Italy). Knowing the language - or at least trying to practice it - does break a lot of barriers. I've had locals I met through a mutual connection host me in Naples and show me around in spite of the fact that my Italian wasn't perfect, I've had many old/er men talk to me in Sicily unprompted while riding the trains and buses or walking around. They were outwardly warm people, and I bet you can find people like that just about anywhere but it takes some work, some luck, and knowing how to break the ice. Some of this might be gender and cultural norms, some people might find it easier to talk to certain people vs. others. But, in the end, it can't be forced - it should just happen naturally.

Posted by
387 posts

To met French people socially you have to join a club - be it a sports club, a cultural organisation, or a mutual interests club. We have joined the local historical society, a walking club, we swim every day with the same people, and we belong to a car club. We also arrange social evenings for local people. After 10 years we have a group of French friends who have an iea of what we like, and what mutual interests we have. Not that you have to wait that long: after 6 months or so people were starting to chat with us on he street when we saw them.

As a tourist most people you meet will be in their professional capacity. It's not exclusive to France though - it goes for anywhere you're a stranger. Even French people don't make new friends out of the blue when they're visiting somewhere in France.

Posted by
5648 posts

Here’s one more Transactional option, if you want a guided museum tour. We’ve done several tours with Paris Muse, which often uses art professors or graduate students to give you a one-on-one (or just your small group) tour for a couple of hours. You get a better understanding of art at, say, the Louvre or Orsay art museum - whatever tour you pick, and have some quality time with a Parisian. They’re not cheap, but are an excellent value. And you’re dealing with someone you’ve paid for their expertise, but can chat between paintings.

Posted by
2002 posts

Here's a good book you might want to get: Demystifying the French, by Janet Hulstand. There are many books about French people and culture -- a fascinating subject and good information for visiting France. I find the French are generally reserved and not overly friendly toward strangers, but if you interact with them, they can be very friendly and interesting. I too recommend doing a Paris Greeters walk.

Posted by
212 posts

I got drunk in a small bar in Southern France "Malemort-du-comtat". I went to the bar a few times and ended.up staying to close with locals. We both spoke little.english and french...it was a great time though hahah.

Posted by
1691 posts

Knowing people better is not a bad idea and like already said many times here mastering the language is essential, but you have to start somewhere and do it step by step. My experience is that every improvement gives a (little) boost and that are the moments I cherish.

I never feel the need to get close with the locals, it doesn’t go further as asking for directions or sometimes I meet somebody with the same interest and have a little chat. Just enough to feel more or less at home. Getting real intimate with the French you have to speak their language flawless and having the same kind of humor is as important too before they think accepting you.

Posted by
120 posts

Sometimes, it just amounts to being in the right place at the right time. During my first trip to Paris, i stopped for lunch at a small restaurant and ate my meal outside. The owner/chef/waiter started extended conversations with me when he started serving me and we ended up talking about his travels and mine through out my whole meal. I went back a couple of nights later for dinner, arriving a few minutes before they opened. The workers were all out on the sidewalk talking and when he saw me, he called out, hello, Brenda. I commented that i just realized i was a little early for my reservation and that i would walk around, no rush. He insisted i come on in, gave me a free glass of wine, and brought out his CDs and asked me to pick the dining music for the evening.

Another time in Belgium, i stopped briefly into a souvenir shop and the older gentlemen began talking with me and we talked for about 30 minutes.

I think sometimes people can tell if you are one who would like to talk by your first couple of interactions. After saying bonjour, some folks just proceed to ignore the proprietors. If you speak as you walk around and ask how their day is going, or how they are, they know you are open for conversation.

People sit so close at cafes in Paris, I nearly always end up in a discussion with the travelers or locals who happen to be sitting next to me. I have met people you were teachers like me, but in Germany and people from England who were actually aware and keeping up with a law case my lawyer son was working on in St. Louis, Missouri. You get a chance to see how small the world can actually be.

I had other tourists confide in me they were afraid to try the Metro. We ended up going together and i showed them through the system for 3 station changes and they were then confident enough to do it themselves and were very proud of themselves. It made a great afternoon for all of us .

I stopped in a florist once and the lady wanted to add some greenery and wrap my purchase. We had a nice conversation while she worked.

One of the best parts of traveling solo is that you are not always focused on the person you are traveling with. Meeting other travelers and locals really makes a trip more interesting. Try to be open and let people know you want to enter into a conversation.

Posted by
8436 posts

I have to speak up for Parisians... i realize i’m in the minority on this forum, but i find most Parisians to be very friendly and easy to have conversations with. I do speak French, which many here have pointed out makes all the difference. I am usually recognized and warmly greeted the 2nd time i go to a café or bakery or shop, and i have fun conversations with many Parisians all day, every day while i’m there.
Maybe it also helps that i grew up in Paris and my love for Paris and France is appreciated. Hmm, maybe because i’m a hybrid - half French, half American - that makes the difference. All i know is, in my experience, Parisians are very kind and friendly.

Posted by
13026 posts

I remember the very first time I rode the Metro, Sunday morning, July 1, 1973, the day of arrival from SFO on TWA at Paris Orly.

The Metros seats were still made of wood. Admittedly, I was not alone but with my girl friend, also on her first trip to Paris, just as I was, ie two greenhorns landing in Paris after an 11 hr. non-stop flight on a 747. The metro train we boarded wasn't very full at all as it was Sunday morning and we were heading to the stop "Nation" Unlike her, I didn't brush up on any French...not a very wise decision.

My main concern and interest on that arrival day was to get to the Invalides on the Metro from "Nation" after lunch at the hostel.

What you see, observe and encounter, you don't forget the first time or day in Paris.

Posted by
41 posts

Thank you to all who shared comments, ideas, and suggestions. I understand not only the French people better, but also my fellow travelers. I have always been curious. I ask questions at home in America and wherever I travel. Your information was helpful, interesting and fun. Thank you again.

In September, I’ll be going to Paris for the second time with my wife who is going for the first time.

Posted by
6734 posts

Locals are really not interested in getting to know tourists passing through who are an annoyance at best. The French tend to be private; we were probably on our 10th trip before we were invited into a French home and most of the 'locals' we now socialize with are people we had connections to before we came to France through friends or through my husband's blogging.

Locals who make their living on tourists tend to be friendly and obliging but are not likely to form personal relationships.

One venue to meet locals who like to meet tourists as well as other tourists is Jim Haynes dinner salon near Alessia station in the 14th. In good weather you gather in the courtyard outside his small apartment; in bad weather it is sardine like indoors -- we are talking one tiny room here.
https://www.jim-haynes.com/sunday-dinner/
I haven't been in a few years so don't know what the current fee is for the dinner; I'd guess about 35 Euro cash. It is cooked and served up by his friends and we have met some interesting people here that led to invitations to vernasages and dinners by artistic types who attend. We never went without meeting someone interesting and a couple of people became folks we met with for coffee on each trip over the years. You eat standing up; it is basic fare usually a nice salad and a hot dish of some sort (stew, thick soup, pasta dish etc) as well as endless boxed wine and fruit juice and some sort of dessert. It is about meeting people not about cuisine or comfort.

Posted by
2067 posts

I never contributed more than 20€ or 25€ to the Jim Haynes dinners. Obviously I am more frugal than others. He had a serious health problem and the dinners were suspended for a while. They may have returned but there are other venues such as Eat With, Mamaz Social Food, or Social Dining.

The truth is that unless you speak French, you are not going to meet many residents in Paris. Luckily, as you are not French, it will be a lot easier for you to meet people than it would be a French person without some specific common association such as work, church, or family.

Posted by
15075 posts

If you are going to be there for the 3rd weekend in Sept. check out the Journées Européennes du Patrimoine (European Heritage Days). Places that are inacessible to the public are open and gorgeous - the Hotel de Ville, Luxembourg Palace, Élysée Palace are open, for example. They rival Versailles in gilt and elegance. Lots of French people visit then. The lines can be long, but you may get a chance to chat with French tourists!

Posted by
3789 posts

I've been reading this blog for a while and today's e-letter covers the topic"It’s not about the miles that you travel but the people you meet." Personally, I am the introvert who puts the people I meet as secondary, but I still want to know more about the people of the country so I do some of the things discussed in this article.
Many have been discussed here, but it might be a one stop review for you to consider. https://solotravelerworld.com/tips-connect-with-locals/
The blogger has numerous articles about Paris and 3 that would be easy to do is get a Paris Greeter, do a dining experience, and visit the numerous free city museums.

Posted by
1849 posts

In September, I’ll be going to Paris for the second time with my wife who is going for the first time.

Tom, I hope you and your wife have a wonderful time!

Posted by
10 posts

I have a few thoughts on this, having lived in Paris for a year, dated French people, and lived with a French family, all while not speaking French.
First, the French can be quite cliquey. I would never want to go to school there as an international student because I can only imagine that it would be so difficult to meet people, as you are finding. I think one of the best ways is to become a regular customer at a local spot and make your best effort to be polite, use the little French you can, even if it's just "bonjour, je ne parle pas francais." I don't think that, as many people say, Parisians are unkind, but they are very straightforward and often don't suffer fools.

Second, while many people in France also speak English (and speak it quite well in comparison to English people trying to speak French) many don't, and those that do often feel like they struggle with it. It is hard to be friendly, welcoming, and chatty in a language that isn't your own. If you really want to be friendly, your best bet is to learn as much French as you can. If you're in Paris for a while, one great option is to find a language exchange (I think you can find them online? I don't remember now. You can also sometimes find them on notice boards) where you are matched with a French speaker and they speak with you in French for half the time so you can learn and then you switch and speak to them in English for part of the time so that they can learn.

Third, there will be some cultural disconnects, both in terms of country culture and big-city culture (if you're not from a big city). Again, I don't know how long you are in Paris or how often you go, but the best way to pick up on some of these is to just spend time there. There's nothing wrong with acting like a tourist if that's all you want to be, but if you want to ingratiate yourself with the French, you have to pick up on their habits.

Posted by
11978 posts

Try the American Church in Paris. I came across it one Sunday morning, after visiting the Army museum. They were singing in English so I went in for a service. Afterward I was invited to spend an afternoon in a park with mostly French citizens and some Americans who were working in Paris. It wasn't the kind of thing that makes it into a travel guide but I had a great relaxed day.

Posted by
784 posts

In 7 trips to France/Paris I found my interactions with the French increasing in satisfaction as I learned more and more French. It is definitely worth it to invest the time to learn French. I personally like the Pimsleur Method, which uses CDs and repetition, because I learn best by listening and repetition. Pimsleur also emphases phrases and conversations that you are likely to need as a visitor. I found Rosetta Stone lacking in this area. As I learned more French, and I am far from fluent, I found it opened the door to connecting with the locals. Two examples:

On a very foggy day we visited Rocamador, and as I ascended a stairway up to the chapel, the sun suddenly came out and I said "Ah, le soleil!" There was a man sitting at the top of the steps with his dog, and he just beamed at me and started talking in rapid French. I didn't understand much, if anything, that he said, but we smiled and laughed together for a brief moment, and I felt that we made a connection.

Another time, we made our daily trip to the local boulangerie near our vacation rental in a small village, and as we entered, I greeted an older woman coming out with "bonjour, madame." When we left the shop, there she was outside waiting for us and she walked with us for some distance, chattering away with me nodding and saying "oui, oui!" Again, it was a brief encounter, but a connection was made, as well as a memory.

It is not possible to get to "know the French" on a personal level while on vacation. I know of expats who have lived in Paris for years, speak fluent French, and have very few close French friends and no more than a "bonjour" acquaintance with people living in the same building.

Posted by
269 posts

Well if you really want to know the French, it helps to lay the groundwork ahead of time rather than just show up in Paris and hope to find locals to hang out with. For example, I sometimes host French high school students in the summer (with a program called LEC - Loisirs Culturels à l'Etranger) and through them I have learned French language and culture and made lasting friendships. One student loved our family so much he returned the next year bringing his mom and brother. His mom is my age, a native born Parisienne, and we had a BLAST together, both here in Atlanta and later when I visited them in Paris. I stayed in their apartment overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg and was treated to home cooked family meals, giving me a taste of the real Parisian lifestyle. They also took me to the little places that locals go, and I felt like an honored guest rather than just another tourist.

And I have met other French people on My Language Exchange.com. We have Skype sessions where we practice one another's language and I have developed some friendships which have also resulted in mutual visits. One "Language Exchange" friend and her daughter came to visit me for a few weeks, and then I stayed in their home when I was in France and they took me all over Brittany. There are many French people who want to know the American way of life and learn English. Especially those in my age group (50s) they are not always confident of their English skills, so they are thrilled to meet someone of their generation who is trying to improve their French. One-on-one the French are delightful, but they are reserved among strangers. You need to meet them halfway - don't just apologize for not speaking French, but study it, and try to speak it. Show a sincere interest in their culture and make a deliberate effort to speak to them in their language. (But be prepared to be rebuffed if you approach strangers in France, because that is just the Gallic way. I have experienced this, too, in spite of speaking French better than the average American.)

Next month I am going back to France and will stay two months - I have lots of friends to visit from Nice to Normandy. I cultivated these relationship by seeking out French people who WANT to know Americans - and there really are a lot of them - but they are generally slow to warm up so you have to make an effort. I realize most people don't have the same degree of motivation as I do (I minored in French, and did Study Abroad in France twice) but for anyone who wants to really know the French, it is worth offering your hospitality and studying the language so you can get to know them personally.

Posted by
269 posts

@ Susan,

I have to agree that in general I found Parisians to be friendlier than people in small towns in France. I spent several months in Amiens a few years ago and while it was a beautiful city, I remember once going four whole days without being spoken to by a single person other than the bonjour everyone mumbles without making eye contact. I actually can't think of a single time someone was friendly to me while I was there, but after a while I got used to it.

On the other hand, I was surprised that some Parisians actually chatted ME up when they heard I could speak a little French. A ticket agent in the Metro asked me if I was American, and what state I was from, and complimented me on my French, and had an entire conversation with me although I'm sure he saw bazillions of tourists every day and probably got sick of them. He was almost as friendly as someone in Georgia, and that is saying a lot! lol

Posted by
8436 posts

lisalu910, that’s exactly what i’ve experienced in Paris and it’s nice to hear you say you’ve experienced it too. I meet every day Parisians all day, every day who stop me and will chat for hours. A guy working in the hardware section of BHV, a lovely 80 yr old man on rue Mouffetard, a mêtro worker, a cop on a street corner, shopkeepers... i could go on and on... : )

But yes, i agree with you and others, you have to be able to speak French - not perfectly, but well enough to have a conversation.

Posted by
1849 posts

I would never want to go to school there as an international student because I can only imagine that it would be so difficult to meet people, as you are finding.

Fortunately my grandson, who spent last year as an international student in Paris, was able to meet and make several friends.

We joined him in Loches in May. That's where his girlfriend lives. As we walked through the charming town of Loches on market day, I was amazed at how many people, young and old, would call out to him and warmly greet him. It seems that he knew half the town!

Of course, being fluent in French (and having a French girlfriend) certainly helped!

Posted by
269 posts

I want to reiterate something several people mentioned because it is worth stressing: the French (especially those in the 40+ age range, I think) are notorious for not speaking English. Not that they don't know it - almost all of them studied it in school - but because they take language very seriously so if they can't speak it well, they tend to avoid it. They take their own language so seriously they have actually have an institution, l'Académie Française, to protect it and keep it "pure." So while people in other European countries - think Poland or the Czech Republic, for example - will easily converse with you in English, the French not so much. I also have to chalk this up to Gallic pride - these are people who think their language and culture are superior (I'm not necessarily arguing with that! lol) and don't see a reason to communicate in broken English in THEIR own country with someone who doesn't seem to appreciate French enough to learn it.

However, among the younger set this might not apply as much. The college-aged French people I personally know speak flawless English (one of them is visiting me right now) while their parents who are my age struggle in English about like I struggle in French. But because I speak their language imperfectly (but am making the effort to improve) they feel more comfortable with their own imperfect English skills when speaking to me. We can laugh together at each other's mistakes and nobody feels stupid about it. You just have to find a way to make that connection, and away you go.