How do reserved Brits integrate with French locals?

We’ve talked to a number of folk that express enthusiasm for exploring the local lifestyle and bemoan those that remain insular and isolated … and yet my observation is that there is often quite a gap between people’s aims and their execution. So how do we achieve it?

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  1. Nicola Harrington September 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm #

    A tricky one.
    Intergration ?… What does it mean ? I’ve never been clear. Someone shaking your hand as you have a coffee in the bar, maybe a kiss on the cheek or perhaps three or four, someone talking to you as you buy a baguette, being invited for aperatifs or does intergration mean being truely valued in your community and having REAL friends who will not slip away when you stop going to the local keep fit class or when your child goes to a different school.

    I have lived in Southern Brittany for over 8 years and I’m not sure if any British person can become truely intergrated into a rural French community.

    Our children go to the local school which is a great way of meeting people. I belong to the several village committees and go to a weekly step class, so I am trying !!!!

    BUT, the French family units are SO strong. They have brothers, sisters, aunts, cousins all within a ten mile radius !.. To be honest they have all the friends and support they need within their family and there isn’t much time left for friends, English or French !!..

    I think the best that we can hope for (and expect) is to be just accepted within their community and appreciate the odd kiss, handshake and nod of the head.

  2. Len Clark October 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

    I’m really grateful for the comment, Nicola. (If nothing else, it’s encouraging to know that someone actually read my blog!) I deliberately left it for a while to see if anyone else would jump in.

    I’ve never really thought about the implications of “integration”. I guess, for me, it conjures up images (and prejudices) about population groups migrating into the UK and, in that context, it is obviously desirable. I think the implications of your comments are correct: it isn’t something I can realistically achieve (whatever the measure of achieving integration is) but a target to aim at.

    It clearly relates very directly to the family for you. I think my measure of integration is much more diffuse. One important part is finding a natural outlet for my academic and inquisitive explorations – which means language acquisition is an important part of the process in my judgment.

    Having said that, I’m not so sure about the impenetrable family units that you have obviously encountered. We were overwhelmed by the enthusiasm to welcome us into the various social activities despite our poor French. For some, the singing group, photography club or church activity is just as important a social unit as similar groups are in the UK – and, I think, an opportunity to engage naturally with some of our neighbours.

  3. Martin Jarvis October 4, 2010 at 8:18 pm #

    I don’t live in France, but visit my holiday home near La Roche Bernard as often as I can – typically for a week or two every couple of months. My own experience. I hadn’t really thought about this question until I read your post, but looking back over my own time in the area during the past 20 years a few small things that I think have helped my own integration, and acceptance, are :

    1. Shop at the local boulangerie, poissonnerie, traiteur etc rather than at the local (or not) hypermarket and enjoy a regular coffee at the local café. This has helped me gain a little more local recognition and acceptance;

    2. Get your hair cut at the local salon. Catch up on the local gossip and improve your French;

    3. Buy from the French not the English. That is to say, if you need building work, plumbing, electrical etc. ask around for a good local artisan rather than falling on the expat community. Of course, here you need to balance your need to integrate with the need to get a cost-effective, professional job done by someone with whom you can liaise at a fairly detailed technical level. We have our garden maintained by a (very) local French horticulturist and our house is looked-after by a French neighbour while we are not there;

    Integration is not a quick thing, and progress won’t occur at a constant rate, but in my opinion it’s worth working at to avoid the kind of British-ghetto that you find in some areas of France.

    Oh, I almost forgot my most important suggestion….

    4. Marry somebody French – I did, but only after 16 years of integration! 🙂

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