France: Don’t be Snobby Parisians!

Patrick O'Brian

I’ve been living in Paris six months now, and although there are some aspects of it that I love, it’s hard to make new friends.

My girlfriend’s circle are really great: smart, funny and kind, but there’s no way they would have become my friends if not for her.  In Canada, I’ve made a few friends just by random chance: neighbors across the hall, hockey fans in a bar, or people playing soccer in the park, but in Paris it’s not that easy.

We don’t introduce ourselves when we pass our neighbors on the stairs, we don’t talk to strangers in bars, and we don’t play soccer in the park because there are no parks where they allow you to play soccer.  Parisians who want to play soccer have to join a club and reserve fields in the suburbs, a long time in advance.  I was hoping to bring my frisbee and try to start a game somewhere, like my friends used to do in Ottawa’s Strathcona Park, but Parisians are much too reserved to join strangers in a park.

On top of that, no one here has ever heard of ultimate frisbee.   I found a soccer club that needed substitutes on Craig’s List, but the guy who posted the ad is originally from England.

I had lunch recently with one of my English students just after her last lesson, and she said that she didn’t have any trouble meeting new people at the Starbuck’s in our neighborhood.  However, she is an attractive young woman, which surely can only improve her chances.  She later agreed with me, and said that for a man, especially a foreigner, it must be difficult.  It’s especially difficult for me as I spend the whole day traveling alone between students; I don’t have any work buddies to share a pitcher of beer with after 5pm.

It seems Parisians have smaller circles of friends than we Canadians, but what few friends they keep are very close to them.  Social interactions seem to be more structured; I can’t picture groups of Frenchmen in their twenties bar-hopping together like we do.  Going over to someone’s apartment for dinner is more of an occasion: expect finger foods, followed by starters, mains and desserts every time.  I get the impression that before I arrive they’ve been stressing out over the food, whereas it was always much more relaxed back home.

All that being saidthe friends I have made are some of the most thoughtful and kind I’ve ever met. Once you’re in, you’re in. When I forgot my passport and couldn’t use my PC Financial MasterCard to get another plane ticket, one of my new friends whipped out his credit card and booked me a ticket.  I wonder if I’d be so kind to a foreigner in the same situation.