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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Friends will be French

Things you should know about me, Part II: I'm a hermit. My idea of a good friend is a book that has more than a thousand pages. However, living abroad, one does feel the occasional need for human contact; we're only human after all. I thought life in France would be same as living everywhere - 'If you build it, they will come'. Friends, that is. How wrong I was.

A lot has been written about making friends with the French. Because they're ... special friends. The kind you spent a long time getting. My crusade to France started out with living in Paris with no friends at all, and as a few more years rolled by, I still had none. Eventually, we talked this over with my then-boyfriend-now-spouse. Maybe something was wrong with us? Maybe we had turned into disreputable characters while living in Paris. Maybe our stocky Finnish built was a social turn-off.

In the mean time, we did have friends of other nationalities. Swedish, a few fellow Finns. Brazilian. Those guys from Mali and Senegal, the occasional American. As you spend some time in Paris, you do notice it's easier to get acquainted with other foreigners. You commiserate about Paris, and a friendship takes off easily enough. It's like those old guys who met at wartime and became best friends. There's something about digging trenches and avoiding bullets - or parisian landlords and dog turds - that sticks humans together like crazy-glue.

On our third year in Paris, we got acquainted with a few French, though. There was this guy who called himself Funk-Gary (the name has been subtly changed) that we saw playing in every funk jam session to be found in Paris. He played the same song over and over again and was very fond of fancy drinks. As we seemed to run into him in every music bar we went to, my boyfriend eventually gave this ubiquitous Funk-Gary character his number. And he did call the following night, asking my boyfriend out to see some band or another. 'Great', my sweetheart said, 'you know, we're really starting to befriend these French!'

He came back later that night, and I heard him standing there in the dark, sighing depressingly. 'So, how did your evening go?', I asked, sleepily. 'Fine', he said. 'We went to see a band, then Funk-Gary invited me over for some drinks and declared his undying love for me.'

Another fellow Frenchman, called Bert, was very energetic. He had just give up alcohol and drugs and said he needed some fresh friends that were not a part of his old bar gang. Glad to finally know an  actual Frenchman, we hang around with him a few months over summer, at the end of which he even invited himself over to Finland with us. This was a big mistake, since Finland can easily have a badly alcoholic influence over any given human. He started drinking and became... different. Once drunk, he started talking about his past in various prisons of France, and simultaneously offered to produce my next album. Swiftly back in Paris, we did a little background checking on our new French friend (thank goodness for Internet) and found out his full name, while a rare-sounding one, did come up when googled. It's just that, well, according to Google, he had been dead a long time. Murdered some fifteen years ago. We didn't keep in touch.

And then there was of course our smooth-talking upstairs neighbor with big loudspeakers and a cocaine habit who kindly enough invited us over to his family's estate in the Vendée on our surfing trip, and once there, he pointed at his back yard and drawled: 'You can put your tent over there.' Finally, after six years in Paris, we gave up on it and moved to the country side. By this time, we were already OK with the idea that as foreigners, we may never have one single French friend.

However, this story has a happy ending. After a measly two years in our village, we have lots of good friends. To define friends, we meet socially on a weekly basis, sometimes make supper together, borrow each-others' CD's, babysit each-others' kids, party once in a blue moon. And believe it or not, these people are all French. As unbelievable as it may sound, we now have a 100% French social life. 

If this story has a lesson to offer, that is once more the same old song: Paris is not France. If you've given up hope to befriend a single Frenchman/woman, here's my tip. In fact, if there's one tip in general I have to offer about France, it would be this. Move to the countryside. Life is better there, and your friends will be French.

1 comment:

  1. Nice story, glad it worked out. I found the same with my nice French nieghbours, although I got screwed by illegal building in the end. see hideousfrance . c o m for my story.