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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

March 08, 2007

Almost French

This site has now moved to Salut!

......is the title of one of the most engaging books on France, and especially on living in France, that I have come across since making my own move three years ago.

Almost French was written by Sarah Turnbull, an Australian who left Sydney with carefully considered plans to write about the change sweeping eastern Europe, but met a Frenchman and settled instead in Paris.

Her book - which Almost Everyone, or at least almost everyone to whom I loaned my copy, liked - was excellent on personal relationships, and above all on the business of getting to know the French when you're a foreigner.

It was less good when she decided she wanted to be a travel writer and rattled on at length about favoured corners of Paris. But those passages were easy to skip if you felt as I did.

Two years or more after I finished the book, the pages I remember best are those that dealt with trying to make friends.

Despite the advantage of having a French boyfriend, and ready-made introductions to his circle, she found it a nightmare.

People would give her short shrift at parties, visibly disapprove of her Oz ways and tastes (notably her capacity to drink) and generally make it plain that they were out of bounds as far as closer ties were concerned.

Even though Turnbull's French was self-evidently up to understanding straightforward conversation, she remembers listening in horror as one girl within earshot asked her boyfriend (words to the effect of): "So how's your little Australian coming along with her French?"

A couple of years or so later, the same young woman had at last become a friend. Turnbull quite bluntly asked why she and everyone else had been so horrid at first.

The answer was simple: along the lines of "we make all the friends we want at school, college, maybe very early in our careers....we have no need of any more".

I have good French friends, but these friendships were acquired via my French wife or forged outside France (perhaps requiring the French person to make an effort he/she wouldn't at home), or developed in close working environments.

Those who were particular friends of my wife when she was young put up no barriers that I recall. So in that respect, my experience differed from that of Turnbull. But I do have a clear memory of finding others of lesser acquaintance, and even some in her extended family, very hard work.

And as I have observed before, it can be difficult to make a breakthrough in more casual settings, even when common social activity brings you together.

At the badminton club I have found here in the Var, everyone is pleasant with lots of bonsoirs and à bientôts and bisous.

Between all that, though, they generally peel off to grab a court and stick in the same doubles formation all evening. I may be wrong, but I see it as another aspect of the social phenomenon noted by Turnbull.

What, in this specific example, do more seasoned residents of France advise (naturally forgetting that it's badminton; I am sure the same applies to many kinds of sports or social clubs). And have others, wherever their travels have taken them, come up against anything resembling what either of us describe?

I realise that I can hardly impose le modèle Anglo-Saxon on them, with boards, name tags and orderly, democratic rotation of players.

But how, without coming across as the arrogant expat, do I get them at least to consider the possibility that they'd get an awful lot more out of the club if they treated it, well, like a club and mixed, on court as well as off?

The logical extension of the French way is something I have already experienced (at the distinguished Racing Club de France in Paris): arriving on my own at 8pm, as a player of respectable club level standard and - I hope - of a sociable disposition, and slipping away three quarters of an hour later without the least hint of getting a game.

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At March 08, 2007 7:24 PM, Blogger Louise said...

Well, someone has to start...

The members of the club are still probably sizing you up! You will need to make the first move, I think - how about offering a small aperitif, either in situ if they have a club house, or in a bistrot near by...

I always found it took some time to make new friends in France - but once you were accepted it was wholeheartedly.

At March 08, 2007 8:53 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

"But how, without coming across as the arrogant expat, do I get them at least to consider the possibility that they'd get an awful lot more out of the club if they treated it, well, like a club and mixed, on court as well as off?"

Colin you need to be rewired, this is the recipe to disaster.You're not going to change the French one iota and they are perfectly happy with their social customs. They positively dislike the Anglo Saxon way of doing things. Haven't you noticed the French people in London stick together and don't take advantage of the great UK social mores.

Every morning you say to yourself 'The French way is the best possible way and I will learn it' Then spend your day learning it.

My father in law joined a golf club when he was well beyond retirement age. He knew nobody there. Within a year he had numerous friends with whom he played and ate lunch and dinner. Yes he had very long standing friends as well. That's the lie to you and Ms Turnbull.Get to work.

At March 08, 2007 9:11 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

It's a fair point Richard makes. After all, you don't let anyone tell you how to run your blog (and certain people have tried) so why should you tell them how to run their badminton club?

At March 08, 2007 10:23 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

I’ve lived in Grenoble for six years and I’ve only recently made a friend…and she’s Welsh! To be fair, most of the people at the church I go to are of Italian origin and they’ve known each other forever so it is a bit difficult to “infiltrate”, as it were. I had no trouble making French friends when I lived in Aix-en-Provence though, so maybe it’s a regional difference.

On the other hand, my estranged and strange husband went to England to work when he was young, on a six-month contract. He couldn’t understand why the English didn’t take to him but perhaps it was because he arrived at the office every morning dressed in white jeans and a Hawaiian shirt, shook hands with all the men and tried to kiss all the women…

Nobody invited him anywhere. He said it was one of the loneliest periods of his life.

I think that it's a case of when in Rome...

At March 09, 2007 10:18 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

How about approaching the President of the club and asking to be introduced to different sets of pairs so you can get someone to play with. If you play a fair game, there should be someone brave enough to have a go.

I have French friends and non-French friends based on my affinity with them rather than their nationality. On the whole I find the French very hard going when it comes to possible friendships. As I'm very fussy about who I'm friends with, I feel there is either an instant appeal, which I'll cultivate, or there isn't so I drop the effort.

If people don't want to get to know me I certainly won't force myself on them!


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