InterExchange Working Abroad Ambassador Sarah, Teach English France:
From what I can gather, I have quite a bit in common with the cinematic Frankenstein monster—tree trunk-like neck…broad shoulders…limited vocabulary…lack of graceful movement…the list goes on. And ironically, though we spend much of our time terrorizing small villages and setting things on fire, deep down, the monster and I really just want a friend.
I consider myself to be a high-functioning introvert, yet I am painfully aware of how lonely it can be to move to a new country. No amount of Nutella-stuffed crepes or Berthillon salted caramel ice cream can make up for not having a companion (though it doesn't hurt to try, for the sake of science, of course). So, if you're considering moving to France but are afraid that you will spend all of your days having intimate picnics for one, fear not. Here are a couple of ways that I've been able to meet and befriend fine folks that I don't mind having to press up against on the metro.
PICK YOUR FRIENDS AT PICNICS
Before coming, I thought InterExchange would just be available if I needed help (like in the seemingly inevitable event that I get plowed by a car while riding my bike). I was immensely pleased to learn that it also sets up social functions through its partner in France. My first Friday here, I was invited to one such event in the form of a picnic in nearby Saint-Germain-En-Laye. The group met on the lawns of a stunning chateau on a sun-drenched day. Blessedly, I was surrounded by other au pairs and tutors that had recently arrived in France from around the world.
In order to encourage a cultural forum to develop, we were supposed to bring food items that represented our mother countries. I brought PB&J sandwiches. Mock me if you like, but words cannot express the joy I felt as I shared my enthusiasm for peanut butter with my new Scandinavian, Brazilian and Western European companions. When I wasn't stuffing my face with German apple pie and fresh-baked challah (both of which made my measly sandwiches look…well, measly), I was able to make plans for exploring the city that weekend with my picnicking pals. And, voila! This Missouri monster found friends.
I have another picnic coming up this Thursday in Paris (life is tough). Who knows what timeless American delicacy I'll bring this time. A sleeve of Oreos? A box of Cookie Crisp? The anticipation is too much.
MEET A FEW IN THE PEW
If you attend church in your home country, you don't have to stop when you move to a new one. Adjusting to a brand spanking new home is one of the times when I need a church community the most. After researching English-speaking churches in Paris, I found The Bridge International Church and decided to give it a try.
We tend to throw the word "international" about to the point where it has somewhat lost its meaning (Yeah, I'm looking at you, International House of Pancakes). However, The Bridge is truly an international church. Though attendance hovers somewhere around 100 or so people, it serves expats from over 40 different countries around the world. Last Sunday, I had a woman from India on my right, two gals from Paris and Alabama on my left, and a fellow from South Africa behind. Because almost everyone at the church knows what it's like to move to another country, its members go above and beyond to make visitors feel welcome. By my second visit, I hardly felt like a visitor. I had people giving me hugs and French cheek kisses and inviting me to lunch. It's easily become the highlight of my week. Cue "Cheers" theme song…
Places like The Bridge also offer activities like a French language class and a dinner club that meet on various days throughout the week. It also offers a photography group that walks around Paris and even a group that gets together on Sundays to watch American football. As fun as it sounds, I haven't decided if I will ever show up for a football game. This great American pastime tends to trigger great unintentional napping.
In addition to gaining companionship, I would also point out that making friends is a good way to avoid having to take awkward pictures of yourself in front of famous monuments. No one wants to see pictures of my giant head blocking 90% of Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. From a distance, my giant head now blocks just about 30% of Paris' great landmarks. Something to think about.
Interested in living in France? Check out the InterExchange Working Abroad website for more information on our Teach English and Au Pair in France programs.