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.
Published: 21 March 2018 15:22 CET
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.
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.”
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.
The importance of saying “bonjour” in France really can't be understated and learning when to use it is the key to avoid being pegged as a rude foreigner to misunderstanding the reaction of the French themselves.
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.
In a recent article foreigners in France told The Local that it was vital to make an effort to become friends with French neighbours, especially in rural France.
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.
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