December 4, 2013

How to Befriend a French Person

There is a typical American stereotype floating around that French people are cold. The truth is, they're not. They're just as friendly as anybody on the planet - of course, it's unwise to generalize everybody on the planet, so why generalize everybody in France?

Maybe if you befriended one, you'd have someone cool to bring up in conversation. Why yes, Celine is spending the weekend on the cote d'azure with her boyfriend Fran├žois, who will be taking her wine tasting on saturday. How exotic of you to have a european friend!

But how to approach making friends with a French person? Here are some tips to give you a fighting chance.

Number 1: Complain with them
You'll find this the second you get off the plane and into your Taxi. You cabby will start spurting about something, probably politics, and they're no avoiding falling into conversation. You see, in France, you don't randomly talk to people at bus stations or doctors' offices, something it took my mother a while to comprehend. It's only appropriate to initiate conversation if you're - pardon my language - bitching about something. Politics. The unreliable bus. The weather, sometimes. You'll instantly feel like you've known them forever.

Number 2: Be ready to have people laugh at you
Jokes in France tend to revolve around somebody, and, as a foreigner, you tend to be at the butt end of most of them. But that's ok - they mean no offense! I tend to get strange looks here in the US when I pull out my French humor. No, I'm not insulting you! The French will often joke about their own country's short comings (agree but say nothing!) and about American Stereotypes (agree with strong emphasis!). It's very important you adopt self deprecating humor. Being able to joke about yourself and your shortcomings shows that you're not trying to put yourself on some kind of pedestal, which the french seem to assume a lot of American.

Number 3: Try everything, no excuses
Food will seem weird. Experiences will seem daunting. Just roll with it. Remember that the French have a lot less diagnoses of people with allergies (Gluten allergies are almost unheard of - almost) or ADHD, for example. If you make up an excuse to get out of something, make sure it's a good one. Instead, just roll with it.

Number 4: your accent will speak louder than you
I can't tell you how many times I've had to say the word "hamburger" to my French friends, to hear them burst into guffaws. For some reason, they love it. If you enter a shop, and someone hears you speaking english, they will try their english out on you. Complain about things together, compliment their triumph.

Number 5: Tone it down
The French seem cold to Americans, while American seem off the walls to the French. It's just a matter of opinion. But, truth is, Americans are loud. We have a tendency to be loud. Our country wants us to be loud. If you're speaking with a french person, tone it down, of you WILL freak them out. Speak as if no one else is around. Calm down, stay casual. Stop waving your arms around if you're excited. Tone. It. Down.

There 5 tips will help you approach, and eventually,  befriend a French person. Bonus tip: don't go crazy if they don't know of a certain product or pop culture reference. A stereotype of Americans is that they think everything revolves around them: so when a French person sees someone going crazy over some american product of no consequence, this only serves to re-enforce the stereotype. Again, tone it down.

Bon Courage a tous!

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