Does France really ‘continue to make foreign residents feel unwelcome’?

"France continues to make foreign residents feel unwelcome", was the headline of a new global survey of expats published on Wednesday that ranked France 55 out 65 countries for friendliness towards foreigners. But many of our France-based readers didn't agree.

Does France really 'continue to make foreign residents feel unwelcome'?
Photo: ADT 04/Flickr
The press release from InterNations, a website for people who live and work abroad, said that its 'Expat Insider survey' showed that France came a lowly 55th out of 65 countries in terms of friendliness towards foreigners. 
Although it's worth mentioning that France placed ahead of the UK (56th), Denmark (60th), Switzerland (63rd) and Austria (64th). 
But why is this the case for France?
InterNations sums it up as follows: “Expats find it hard to integrate and seem to struggle with the unfriendly attitude among the local population.”
According to their survey, exactly three in ten respondents, or 30 percent, among those living in France rate the local population’s attitude towards foreign residents negatively.
That's almost twice the global average of 16 percent. 
'France continues to perform poorly in terms of the local population’s friendliness towards foreign residents, demonstrating little change over the last few years,” read the survey. “Expats do not only struggle with making local friends, but they also do not feel at home in the French culture.”
In order to back up its ranking, the website cites a few unnamed foreigners living in France who took part in their survey. 
“Most French are not really interested in making friends with people outside their family and existing social milieu,” said an American expat. 
And the survey went on to say that 43 percent of expats describe the French as distant, with another 45 percent believing them to be reserved. 
The French “can be dismissive and unwelcoming,” a British respondent told the website. 
The language seemed to play a major role, with one expat from New Zealand saying that “the language barrier is difficult” and another respondent from Kazakhstan adding that “without knowing the local language, foreigners are isolated and feel lonely”. 
In fact, 15 percent state that they frequently or constantly felt unwelcome in France due to their language or accent. This was more than twice the global average (7 percent) and a higher share of respondents than in any other country.
'Absolute rubbish'
But neither the results nor the comments seemed to tally with the experiences of many of our France-based readers, or indeed our own. 
We asked our readers to tell us what they thought about the friendliness of the French and received an overwhelming number of positive responses, with many of them pointing out that at least trying to learn the language was crucial. 
“In six and a half years of living in Limousin, I have had nothing but kindness from everyone I've met and interacted with – including at the prefecture,” said Judy Manville, adding that it was vital to “learn French!”
And reader Alan Howie put it a bit more strongly, saying he thought the survey was, “Absolute rubbish” and that everyone he's met since moving to Nolay in eastern France are not only welcoming but “really curious about why we moved.” 
Rebecca Jackson who lives in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department in the south of France said: “The people are friendly and encouraging, particularly of efforts to speak in French. I am sure some people are less so, but couldn't that be said of anywhere?”
And Roos van Bleyvoet said: “The French are very welcoming and helpful. It does make a difference if you speak French and engage in local social life.”
How to make friends with your French neighbours in rural France
These are a few of many, many posts sharing similar feelings about friendliness they've encountered in their adopted country. 
While others pointed out that they had been made to feel very welcome by the French although perhaps less surprisingly they had found officials harder to deal with. 
“Apart from a horrible woman at our Mairie (Town Hall) we have felt very welcome,” said Bev Lambert.
Similarly Autumn Springer said: “The people are welcoming. The government makes it difficult and unwelcoming.”
However many were quick to point out (reasonably) that this is just as true for the French as it is for foreign residents. 
Making a good impression
Clearly language is crucial, not just to getting by in France but also as a way of creating a rapport with the locals. After all, it pays to show you want to belong and are willing to make the effort.  
And the start to every happy friendship or even shopping experience in France lies in the power of one little word…bonjour.
And even if you've settled into that perfect antique stone and timber home overlooking vineyards or rolling fields a short walk from the boulangerie the dream can quickly turn sour if you don't try to make friends with the locals.
Whether it's volunteering for the village fete or regularly having a drink in a loical bar or visiting the local market frequently, there are many things you can do to make France feel a more friendier place.
The French are not rude, it's just one big misunderstanding


Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend

Many foreigners living in Denmark struggle to make friends with born-and-bred Danes. We spoke to five who have successfully made the connection.

Expat stories: How I made my closest Danish friend
Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private

Fernanda Secca from Brazil and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt 

When 32-year-old Fernanda moved to Copenhagen at the start of 2017, one of the first things she did was find a place to do pole-dancing, which had been her hobby back in São Paulo. Marie Peschardt, 29, was her teacher, and before long they soon realised they got on well.

“Coming to class a few times a week made us create a bond that was eventually taken to a personal relationship,” she remembers. “We now do everything together. We hang out several times a week. We go travelling together, we have dinner, we go to bars, we go dancing.” 

When The Local interviewed them in 2020, the two still trained together at the dance studio. 

Fernando Secca (right) and her Danish friend Marie Peschardt (left). Photo: Private 

“I think the friendship was possible because we were both open to meeting new people and building connections,” Fernanda says, adding that she doesn’t think Danes are particularly difficult to become friends with.

“There is no secret. Danes are not aliens. I think finding something in common that you can bond around or relate to helps in the beginning, because people are more likely to respond to that than a random request or small talk.” 

“Also taking a chance, inviting a person you feel could be interesting for a coffee or a drink, can be something spontaneous or quick. Some Danes might even appreciate being spontaneous because no one here really is.” 
On the other hand, it is important for those from more free-wheeling countries to understand that Danes like to plan ahead, she adds. 
“Appreciate that they have their schedules and bookings weeks in advance and you might need to fit into that type of style as well if you want to build a connection.” 
Marcele Rask and her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina
Marcele Rask, 36, a manager at Danske Bank specialising in financial crime and sanctions, met her Danish friends Jasmine and Carina at her previous job because they all worked in the same department. She said the three of them shared a similar appetite for adventure. 
“One thing that connected us three a lot is the fact that we are all very curious and like to try new things. So we programme ‘adventure days’  where we go somewhere new, or that we like or something and spend some hours there or even the day,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, or crazy or anything, but something nice to know.” 
She said they tend to do this about once or twice a month, either two of them, or all three together.
“Just after Denmark started to open from the lockdown, we went to a Gavnø slot for their tulip festival, and afterwards we went to eat MacDonald’s by the harbour.” 
She says that both Jasmine and Carina are quite internationally-minded, which she feels made them more open to making friends with a foreigner. 
“Jasmin lived some years abroad and was an expat herself. Carina has worked on international companies and is used to the expats’ life, having herself another great expat friend,” she says. 
She said they now spoke a mixture of English and Danish together, but were speaking Danish more and more as her command of the language improved. She said she felt her own openness had helped her make Danish friends. 
“I think one thing that it is very important to be as an expat is open — open for anything and everything — and not just to sit around bitching about the country, the language, the food, and everything else.” 
Ashley Norval and her Danish friend Mia Garner 
Ashley, 31, met Mia, 28 almost as soon as she arrived in Copenhagen in 2019 from Australia and the two were paired together for a group session during her university course. They have hung out together ever since. 
“I hear from her two or three times a week usually, and we do all kinds of stuff together,” she says. “We’ve travelled together, we catch up for dinner, we go to the movies, or just go to each other’s place. Sometimes we go walking or running, sometimes we just go and get an ice cream and sit in the park.” 
Ashley Norval (right) and Mia Garner at the Gisselfeld Klosters Forest Tower south of Copenhagen. Photo: Private
Ashley believes that many foreigners think, often mistakenly, that the Danish reluctance to impose themselves on others means they are not open to making new friends. 
“I think Danish people genuinely don’t want to encroach on your personal space and territory and I’m convinced that once you kind of invite them to something and show them that it’s fine, and that you do want to see them outside of your professional space or whatever, then it’s fine.”
She said that foreigners in Denmark needed to realise that they might have to make the move, and suggest going to see a film or get a meal. 
“If you make the effort to get to know any part of Danish culture, that is always well received with Danish people,” she adds, although she concedes that Danes might view Australians more favourably than people from many other countries. 

Camila Witt and her Danish friend Emilie Møllenbach
Camila, 36, met Emilie over the coffee machine when they were both working for a Danish payments company, but bonded over their academic interests. “Emilie and I had a I have a very strong academic background, so we just started to talk about different theories: physics, science and this kind of thing. And we connected over that and I think that the relationship grew from that.” 
They go for walks together, make chocolate together, go for dinner, or a cup of tea at a café. 
“Nothing really fancy, to be fair, just being each in each other’s companies and I think that both her and I share this perspective that we like we were there for each other and not to be on our phones.” 
Camila believes a lot of foreigners wrongly think that when Danes say they’re busy or booked up, that that means they aren’t open to a friendship. 
“Danes require more planning. I think that something we need to understand if we come from countries where you’re used to spontaneously say ‘let’ go out tonight, let’s go out after work and just have a beer’. 
“It’s really important to you know, proactively invite them and not take them saying, ‘I don’t have time this week’ as them shutting you off because in all honesty, many times they are booked. So it’s about finding that slot of time. It can happen in three weeks, but it will happen you know.”