Or, How To Be Okay Being The Obvious Awkward Loner British Newcomer In The City Of Light
The Paris and wider Paris region is home to over 12 million people, and among 12 thousand of these are British expats, not to speak of hundreds of other nationalities making the area their home! With so many people in such a small area, one might think that making new friends might be an easy process. Maybe it is for some; I’ve certainly seen many find and fall effortlessly in with their crowd. Nonetheless, as a thirty-something female British expat living in the Paris area myself for the last four or so months, I’ve found that making friends here is actually quite a hard thing to do.
After many a lonely night and some bold and brazen efforts, here are some hints and tips I have discovered for making friends, and they are worth a good try!
1. Don’t be afraid to eat out alone.
This can be a breeze for some, and a pap-your-pants terrifying experience for others. I fall (fell?) into the latter category. I’m talking anywhere you can experience a sit down, sit in meal like a bistro or a restaurant, not a grab-a-toasty-and-run-to-the-park-to-find-a-bench-and-eat-like-a-self-conscious-squirrel moment (which are fine, but you can’t live like that!!!! Unless you want to try and befriend the other toasty squirrels, which is way hard!). You will inevitably feel like a total dork at first, and will think people are staring at you, even if they’re not. But the trick is to keep your head up, speak with confidence, and to take a book. Hell, even freak the restaurant staff out by taking a pen and notepad and conducting your own review of the food and service! The point is that after the first time you do it, you’ll feel well proud of yourself for having overcome social pressures and doing something for yourself. It also gets easier the more you do it! Good places for eating out alone, even if you’re the only “juste moi” there, tend to be smaller, less touristy joints, especially if you want to try out a bit of basic French. In Paris, anywhere is fair game, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, which you are cos you’re going out alone! I would recommend avoiding very crowded places, where servers tend to overlook solo diners for larger tables where the potential for larger tips tend to be leaning in their favour (I’m talkin’ to you, Jardin Notre-Dame) and the very empty ones, which is often an indicator of the quality of the food and/or service (shame on you for such terrible food and service, Onze Bar!! May your ‘beef bourguignon’ return to the Hell from whence it came). My personal favourite is the pizzeria Restaurant Sainte Marie, in Sevres, just outside of Paris. Here the food and service is always excellent, and the host, Marie, is one of the loveliest and most welcoming women I have ever met. The house tiramisu is to die for, and the best part is that you don’t have to share it! (Catch the metro to Pont des Sevres, and then take the 171 bus to Place Gabriel Peri – the restaurant is just across the road behind the roundabout).
2. Find out about local exhibitions and go to them.
Whilst the popular, must-see museums like the D’Orsay and the Louvre should feature on any newbie Paris inhabitant’s list, they are usually full of tourists and other transient types. So unless you want to make a penpal, I recommend smaller, more independent exhibitions and artists workshops. Usually frequented by locals and other new-to-Paris types, the chances that you’ll strike up a conversation and get chatting to a like-minded soul are medium to high. The best I’ve yet discovered include the likes of Galerie Xippas in the Marais, 108 rue Vieille du Temple, which shows established and upcoming artist collections of contemporary art, Agnès B’s Galerie du Jour on rue Quincampoix near the Centre Pompidou, and the Millesime Gallery, which is dedicated to up and comers and is located on the Avenue de la Bourdonnais, just to the side of the Eiffel Tower. All of these little galleries change collections relatively frequently, and host various promotional nights and additional extras, such as the Galerie du Jour’s library. Another great place to socialise for more literary types is at Shakespeare & Co, on a Sunday afternoon. Here you will find poetry and book readings going on, and afternoon tea, but get there early because it’s likely to be crammed!
3. Join a MeetUp group…
Ahh MeetUp. Hear me out, cos if, like me, you heard or experienced horror stories of drunken groping males (or females) trying to get into your knickers on expat nights and pub crawls, there are other options to be found on the site! I mean depending on what your looking for – and I’m going to guess that if you landed on this page you are probably looking for more than a drunken groping activity with a stranger in the night – there are loads of really great MeetUps in the Paris area. I am a member of Paris For Her, a women’s professional development and entrepreneur support group, The Paris Arthouse Film Club, where film buffs go to different movie theatres around the city to see random new and old arthouse films (one of the guys I met in the group, Michael, is a new sculptor just hosting his own amateur exhibition, and I bagged me an invite), and Explore Paris With Victor, a group helmed by a lovely guy who arranges nights out to see musicians and comedians, and for dinner and stuff. One of my other friends Sara goes to an amateur photography group and another to learn French, speed-dating style (just without the actual dating!). So there are tons of possibilities!
4. …or make your own!
But if you can’t find what you are looking for, or like me, you want to get some good practice in whilst your businesses take root, you can make your own MeetUp group! Mine is an off-shoot of my guided walking tour business – donation based – and I use it to meet new people, and to practice my new and existing walks on. I find some people attend frequently, whereas others attend as one-offs, but either way, I get to have some really interesting conversations, meet some super unusual and varied people, and improve my own chances at succeeding in my business endeavours. I get constructive feedback, and I am starting to develop some awesome friendships among the group! In layman’s terms, that’s a win-win.
5. Go for dinner at Jim’s house.
Pretty much every newcomer to Paris says this one, and I am still on the waiting list for my Sunday night at Jim’s place, but it comes highly recommended, and apparently Jim is one of those rare people that opens their doors and their hearts to all lonely souls in the city of light. Widely referred to as the Godfather of Social Networking, everyone who is anyone probably started their social life at Jim’s. Located in the 14eme, and hosting around 70 people for dinner every single Sunday eve, locals, students, travellers and expats alike frequent his table, many of which are return visitors. With a varied and interesting life of his own, Jim writes books about his soirees, and hosts the evenings after 30+ years of doing so, for the very reasonable price of 35€ per person. You can book a place by visiting his website here. My review of dinner at Jim’s is forthcoming!
6. Pick your local places.
Literally! Pick a coffee shop, and go there daily for your coffee, or at least a few times a week. Go to the same boulangerie for your daily baguette or croissant, and go to the same grocery store, if you can. This way, the servers and other local frequenters get to recognise you and become more familiar, over time. The waiter that brings your coffee will soon know that you always like to order the same espresso followed by a café crème every time, so will end up asking “L’habituel?” and you’ll just be like, “Ouais, merci!” all chic and stuff. One of the nicest things about using smaller establishments regularly is that people generally say bonjour to you as you enter, and it’s the done thing to say it back, or even first, if you feel confident enough! So whilst they might not necessarily become your bessies, you’ll soon feel at home and very welcome.
7. Do attempt online dating.
Whilst this might not always lead to a happy-ever-after, and is more likely to lead to a case of oh-dear-god-this-was-a-bad-idea-itis, there are a few handy things I have learned about online dating in a new city. One is that you sure learn to navigate to new places quickly using public transport, which makes you more confident and adventurous from the get go in reaching different places around the city. Second, you see places you would not otherwise perhaps come across for a while, especially if the guy chooses the venue and they want to impress you with somewhere bohemian, chic, and/or cool, frequented by locals, away from tourists and sight-seers. Three, you get a baptism of fire in which kind of Parisian guys/gals to avoid. I won’t go into detail, because each to their own, nah meeean? But you quickly learn dating etiquette, which does undoubtedly differ from that I experienced in the UK, and fast become familiar with the range of Parisian batchelors/esses on offer. The topic of an upcoming post, methinks?!
One of the best things you can do in the city to feel more at home, friends or no, is to just explore it. Whilst it would obviously be nice to sometimes have some company, I find that the best way to really get a feel for this city is to just walk it’s streets and see where they take you. This is the very Parisian/enne art of the flaneur/flaneuse (m/f), which in literary terms means that one simply wanders the streets with no purpose but to take in the sights, sounds, and sensations. Should you encounter like-minded souls on the way, then great! But if not, you’ve taken a many steps to becoming a chic and independent Frenchie. Good for you! Some of the best places to flan about are to be found in the lower Marais, where the streets are narrow, winding and unexpected, and in Montmartre, where an exceptionally relaxed pace can be found amongst the winding, cobbled slopes around the Basilica. The 13eme also has the best street art, to my mind, so allocate a lazy Sunday or an afternoon for a good, aimless stroll, either here or along the Canal Saint Martin and it’s little picturesque side-streets. Both of these places have many-a-bar for indulging in that other great Paris tradition of partaking in a beverage as you watch the world go by. Friends? Who needs friends?!! Especially when you might fancy chatting to that hottie reading Baudelaire with his feet dangling into the water.
9. Check out the local TimeOut magazine, and website.
TimeOut do a great online selection of the best or most unusual thing to do every day of the week, in their ‘What to do in Paris this week?’ articles. You can access the link here and it’s great for giving you up-to-date and awesome ideas for things to do each week. I for one will be checking out a pop-up garden show in the Jardin des Tuileries this Saturday; not only will there be 13 gardens and 15 staged terraces and balconies, giving the gardens a nostalgic flourish of their once royal and exuberant tending, but it will be a great opportunity to meet other people that enjoy a spot of nature in the middle of the bustling city! They also produce a weekly, pocket-sized publication, which is available to buy from any of the street-seller stands. This handy print includes activities and concerts, shows etc every day throughout the week, and also lists little get-to0know-the-city walks and activities you can take part in too. Needless to say, these are a fantastic way to meet people and discover great secrets and local spots around the city! What more could any newcomer ask for?!
10. Be spontaneous, but not reckless.
A potential friend from the MeetUp groups invites you to brunch at Les Deux Magots in the 6eme, where Hemingway and Picasso loitered? Go! A roguish attractive Parisian male approaches you in the Jardin des Tuileries when you’re admiring the many statues, and proceeds to chat you up before inviting you for a coffee? Perhaps exercise caution. A mutual friend who you met at a fantastic but small dinner party invites you to the amazing art deco indie cinema Studio 28 on Rue Tholoze? GO! A general good rule of thumb to follow, when attempting to make friends in Paris, and indeed anywhere, is to take one’s time. Good, genuine friendships cannot be rushed, so those that try to romance you upon first sight, or want to become bessies after one social encounter, are generally not going to have staying power for lasting and meaningful friendships, but your tribe are out there, promise. This is, after all, the city of light and love, full of beautiful souls just like yours, seeking companionship and solace. Don’t give up! Friends can be found if you look in the right places. Give some of them a go and let me know how you get on, or leave tips of your own in the comments below!
If you want to join my MeetUp group, you can find my group of lovely Walkers at ‘ParisLens Social Walking Tours’, or on this link. Most weekends we go and explore new places with various topics, so come and join! All are welcome.
*Featured image is of my new best friends, AKA the legends of French cinema garden patio wall mural at Studio 28, on Rue Tholoze. All images and words cannot be used without permission!*