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Integration into French society


Francelover

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Hi, I got a thoroughly justified telling-office for taking another thread off-topic so decided to share a thought or two under this perhaps more appropriate heading.

My observations here are personal, I don't claim they apply en-masse to expats, the French or France!  It's just a sharing of perceptions.

In our area (ther North West) there are numbers of British incomers.  I know many and most at least claim to have moved here primarily to change their lifestyle and experience something of French life and culture. I don't know a single one that has moved here just to get a bigger house and garden.

Many, like ourselves, threw themselves headlong into trying to integrate. They joined the local societies, attended the local social events, got the nighbours round, started businesses, got into the French social, health and taxation systems, got their kids through school and college etc etc.  We have lived here more than 7 years and are happy as are many of the other expats we know (almost all in fact).

Yet many feel they haven't fully integrated and I know some people cite a lack of integration as a reason they want to go back home (I only know of two faimies here that've moved back to the UK).

My own personal experience is that one has to 're-define' integration in terms of French life. In the UK this often means bar-b-q with the neighbours, coffee mornings, shared trips with mates to the pub, girls' night out etc!

In France, in my opinion, this definition can't apply - at least in rural France.

  • In our area, virtually all socialising between French people is amongst the extended family. There are very few neighbours (French with French) that socialise to the same extent as neighbours in many areas of the UK. It's often restricted to a few words over a hedge in the morning. Some of the men may share a small beer or two in the local tabac but even that's rare.
  • There are some annual social events in the local halls organised by the commune - they're well attended by locals and newcomers. They're also few in number.
  • Local people around here are very friendly but they're also very reserved - that applies equally to everyone including French newcomers (with whom they're often even more reserved than they are with foreigners)
  • Many local people tell me they find the incomer attitude to socialising and 'integration' to be a little bit intimidating. They just don't operate to the same cultural expectations.  

 I think the point is, that integration here just isn't the same thing as integration in the UK. If you have just moved to France or are considering doing so and have the expectation of being able to re-create that cosy small village atmosphere that can exist in some English or Scottish villages/Towns (can't speak for Wales or NI!) - then you'll probably fail and be disappointed.

It's just 'different' here and you have to go with the flow. May not apply everywhere of course but around here I think it's generally true.

Cheers. 

 

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Well, you cant be friends until you have kept pigs together, so they say. Or perhaps been born in the place. Or just do as the locals do and mind your own business and see people at public do's. Forget the whole concept of integration and accept you will be an outsider for the rest of your days.

But we do have some quite well integrated mudbloods (in fact their tainting doesnt even show, I am told) on here who will probably say that it is just the same for French incomers as it is for Rosbifs.

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I think the point is you come to realise that you will never be fully accepted/integrated in rural france and as Wooly says it's not a great deal different if you're french and move into an area, you are still considered an outsider, not as much as Brit would be but still an outsider. 

So for many it's not a case of redifining integration it's deciding if you want to live with only shallow acquaintancies and whether this style and level of 'integration' is for you or not.  I  guess it depends on your personality and how you lived before. 

The closest I came to a like minded french woman was one who had travelled extensively and went to Uni in the US, the other french woman I met were stay at home mums with very little interest outside of the home, I lived in a  very rural area though so this would account for itt.  Had I lived in Paris I'm sure I would have found some women with whom I could click with but then I would never have moved to France to live in a city so not much I could do on that front.

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Lke Panda, my closest French friends where we are in France have travelled widely, one having worked in several other countries. With one, we spotted one another from our balconies the day we both moved in, and have been firm friends ever since.

However, another couple of friends aren't widely travelled and speak very little English. We aren't as close, and I guess there might always be a slight barrier to our frienships.
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Interesting point about women. Don't want to walk into a minefield here but one of the biggest differences I've noticed between rural France and rural UK is the attitude (or apparent attitude) of women - I'm a man I need to admit.

Many local girls of my daughter's age appear to have absolutely no interest in much other than getting married as soon as they can and starting a family. There's nothing wrong with that but it is so different to the UK. Might be good for society though, in one way, because to my eyes at least, France is so much more a young-family country than is much of the UK now. You also see young families out apparently enjoying themselves much more than in the UK.

Not sure that I see the neighbours thing as being deep or shallow. I think it's a question that most French households (I think in the small towns as well as the villages - can't speak for the big cities) are simply culturally more self-contained than they are in the UK. They don't seem to feel the need to get 'next door' in for a coffee and gossip as much as is the case in the UK. I know at least some that find the British habit of trying to get them to come round periodically for a coffee or apperatives to be a bit strange and maybe 'pushy' if basically friendly.

This can also affect kids though. Example - our children virtually never see their French pals on Sundays because so many are either going to see family or are having family around and they are expected to spend their time with their family not their friends.

Very very different to the UK and I know can make some incomers feel isolated and 'failures' in terms of integration. Like I said, I don't think that you can ever integrate in UK terms because there jusr aren't the same social structures to integrate with.

  

  

 

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I'm going to be leaving myself wide open to criticism or worse here but anyway, here goes.

I don't understand this great desire to "integrate" whatever that means.  As Panda has pointed out, it must be about personality.

I would HATE to integrate whether it be with other Brits, the native French, or whoever else is out there.

Just don't know where people find time to have coffee mornings, or dinners, or lunches or bbqs or whatever together.

Me, I've got my job cut out, doing all the household stuff besides spending time learning French, practising the piano, catching up on the books I mean to read, relaxing by walking with my dog, arguing with my OH for a bit of variety, making the occasional phone call to friends exchanging the odd email with them, planning my walk to Compostelle with Gemonimo and so on...............just a great long list of as yet unfulfilled projects and ambitious undertakings.

Seriously, I don't have time to "integrate", doesn't bother me being unintegrated, don't care a fig what sort of brains the neighbours have or what sort of cultural differences might exist between us.

Can't integrate, Won't integrate!  Will stay unreconstituted and unintegrated but perfectly content (or even contente ) about all of that.

Good gracious, I didn't come here to integrate; I came to have more time to do the things I like to do and knowing very few people gives me a better chance to achieve that  here than I would have back in the UK. 

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Now I know why 800kilometres with Sweet 17 won't be a problem.  We think alike!

Integration is something which may happen  but only after time.

I've had my feet in my little 'bled' (which I adore) for nearly thirty years, raised my children here, kept a low profile, helped out when asked but certainly didn't try to integrate.  So you can imagine my surprise when I was invited to become a conseillere municipal and my absolute astonishment when I got more votes than anyone else on the list including the maire. Now this wasn't because I was an 'integrated' member of the community, quite the opposite. It was because I had no axe to grind with anyone, no issues with anyone but could be relied on.

Moral of the story? Be a decent citizen (human being) and the french will integrate you. Well, perhaps not all of them.  My immediate neighbours won't have anything to do with me![:D]

 

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[quote user="Francelover"]

Interesting point about women. Don't want to walk into a minefield here but one of the biggest differences I've noticed between rural France and rural UK is the attitude (or apparent attitude) of women - I'm a man I need to admit.

[/quote]

Yes, tt used to make my blood boil, I would walk into a builders merchants and start talking about requirements, I would invaribly have a random man with me, either OH or other of our Brit friends who needed me to put across what exactly they wanted as their french was not good enough, the pillock behind the counter would address them with the answers depsite it being me doing the talking!!  I found chavinism to be alive and doing well in France and was expected to be the little woman.  It's not something I have ever experienced in the UK and found it shocking. 

Lack of aspiration is not a girl only thing, in rural france they are tuaght not to expect too much of life as jobs are scarce etc. it was one of my other issues, I want my son to achieve everything he can not to listen to his prof talking about the army or a manual job to his peers.

Hmm, good for society, not sure about that, its an interesting point of view, I guess it could be and in a country where work is very scarce i guess halving those looking for work maybe the right thing epspecially since then you have someone to care for the kids etc.. 

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Interesting and some good tips I think.

I guess there's a slight danger of running into the "no man's an island" syndrome. Being fairly ring-fenced and self-sufficient is fine until maybe one needs held and support (sort of thing many local people would get from their family) and you suddenly find that nobody locally's ever heard of you! It also runs contrary to the theroey, at least, of the French communcal system.

Generally though, I agree. I sometimes see relatively new arrivals flogging themselves because they're struggling to "integrate" and re-create the bread and cake village hall baking sessions of their old UK village life. I just get the sense that it doesn't exist here so there's nowt to integrate with in that context.

Moral? Take the flow as it comes and don't try and force the pace.  

 

 

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[quote user="Panda"][quote user="Francelover"]

Interesting point about women. Don't want to walk into a minefield here but one of the biggest differences I've noticed between rural France and rural UK is the attitude (or apparent attitude) of women - I'm a man I need to admit.

[/quote]

Yes, tt used to make my blood boil, I would walk into a builders merchants and start talking about requirements, I would invaribly have a random man with me, either OH or other of our Brit friends who needed me to put across what exactly they wanted as their french was not good enough, the pillock behind the counter would address them with the answers depsite it being me doing the talking!!  I found chavinism to be alive and doing well in France and was expected to be the little woman.  It's not something I have ever experienced in the UK and found it shocking. 

Lack of aspiration is not a girl only thing, in rural france they are tuaght not to expect too much of life as jobs are scarce etc. it was one of my other issues, I want my son to achieve everything he can not to listen to his prof talking about the army or a manual job to his peers.

Hmm, good for society, not sure about that, its an interesting point of view, I guess it could be and in a country where work is very scarce i guess halving those looking for work maybe the right thing epspecially since then you have someone to care for the kids etc.. 

[/quote]

Yes, it's just different here and sometimes expectations are set low for both males and females I agree.

It is a very chauvanistic society. Example? A month or so back the kids in college were given the chance to take some moped riding lesson under tuition in the college. The two instructors had four bikes. Two were described as "too powerful for girls" and were restricted to the boys. My daughter was furious (I'm going to complain after the rentrée) but she also said that only she and one other girl were upset. All the others thought this was quite normal and that she was silly for getting upset about it.  

It's interesting though about women here. What's funny is that sometimes in the UK you can be speaking to a young stay-at-home Mum and you get the feeling that there's a slight conflict. However much they say they're content, you get the feeling that many feel that they've somehow 'failed' to manage to juggle kids and career. It's slight but it's often there.

Yet in France, I just don't sense that at all when listening to many women. Many aspire to stay at home with the children and many resent sometimes needing to work even part time to supplement the family income. I think that motherhood is still seen as a valued ideally full-time profession here whereas in the UK we've managed to make it into something that women must somehow squeeze into an already full professional life.

Does that affect society? Don't know - I think it does. I'm not saying it's good or bad but many family events here are notable for what appears (though appearances can be deceptive) to be the very harmonious families. Not sure when I last remember seeing, for example, the bulk of husbands and wives of all ages walking along holding hands with each other and the kids at the same time. Very common around here to see that.

We too worry about the effect of the culture though on the aspirations of our kids. Not obvious signs of a problem yet but...........something to keep an eye on I think.

   

       

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[quote user="Francelover"]

Generally though, I agree. I sometimes see relatively new arrivals flogging themselves because they're struggling to "integrate" and re-create the bread and cake village hall baking sessions of their old UK village life. I just get the sense that it doesn't exist here so there's nowt to integrate with in that context.

 

[/quote]

I'll tell you about a couple I know who came here soon after we did.  They attended every function for miles around and, for all I know, they still do.

They were adamant that they only wanted to mix with "the French" and to, yes, you've guessed it, "integrate".

Now, they only have Brit friends, can only speak the French language at a very basic level and, to all intents and purposes, live the sort of retired life that they could have in the UK.

Even here on the Forum, you get the odd new person come on saying they don't want to live where there are lots of Brits because they want to "integrate".

What makes me laugh is that these are the self-same people who cannot speak any French! 

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My neice, who has been here 6 years - 2 less than us- and has two children one who was born here and a job as a basic level  teacher of French said that she looked at her life one day and thought "is that all there is?" Result, her husband is already back in the UK in employment, their house is sold and she starts a new job as a teaching assistant UK in September. I know left on my own I will not be able to exist here. A foreign female pensioner has no place in society. Still house to sell though.

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Sorry, I left out "single". There will be nothing for me to do to exercise my mind. My French is pretty good but not up to intelectual discussion. The only thing around here for seniors is an exercise class. I once saw a reference to the French U3A but only once. If my neice (37) thinks that there is nothing much here for her what hope?

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We too thought we didn't want to be in a"Brit enclave", but 2-5 years on I find that we socialise most with the Brits (after all we have much more in common with them and it is good to be able to talk rather than just listen) in the sense that we eat dinners, lunches etc with them, but we are forcefully rejecting drinking in the bar in our new location most favoured by the Brits.  However, in the same (new) location, I actually know more French than English - why, because they belong to my Rotary club, and so, am I integrated or not?

I would say no, and that will continue to be the case until I can hold my own in French conversations as I can in English.  I understand (on the whole!), but joining in is another matter altogether.  But I also hope to join the local AVF in September and then it might begin to change, who knows?

But surely integration is much  more than language and culture - there is something to do with "want to" also.  I am sure we all know people who are not integrated in to society in England - they are not "joiners" or doers" or whatever it is that makes you "integrated".

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Oh, Judith, how I agree!

I definitely wasn't integrated into any society in which I have ever lived.

But then, I love my own company, I always have things on the go, I do not yearn to "belong" and, perish the thought, have any wish to be like anyone else!

Sadie, I don't think it matters whether you are 37 or 87, single or hitched up......some people always feel happy with and by themselves and some people never do.

Nothing to do with integration, as far as I'm concerned:  you're either a needy person or you are a self-sufficient person or perhaps something in between.

And, before anybody starts giving me a hard time, notice I have not said which type of person is "better"![:D]

 

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Thank God I read this post. We are moving to France soon and I frquently read items on this forum. I was begining to panic as a lot of the post seem to be from people who have 'integrated' and seem to look down on people who haven't. I was seriously begining to think that we had made a big mistake. But from reading these posts I am much happier. I realise that we don't have to 'integrate' to fit in and live a great life in France. We are not great 'joiners in' here in the UK so I guess we will just carry on as we are and still enjoy ourselves. Thank you all for the positive posts here.
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Right Mac, just do what you are comfy doing.

Be polite to the locals, make contact as you wanna. Be seen to buy stuff locally if you can, don' t get into the bringing of presents for your neighbours bit unless you really would have done it in  UK. Make your number with the commune though they will know you are there, no need to see the maire unless you wanna.

And work on the French as much as you can. It greases the parts that other gels do not reach!!

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Welcome!

I don't think you'll find yourself pressurised to join in. In general, French people seem inclined to leave other people alone to do what they want in peace and quiet. The local mayor told me once that in France the most important rights residents have is to tranquillity and privacy.

It's more often those incomers that want to suddenly become the life and soul of the local community that find it difficult - not because the locals resist but rather more because the things they're trying to integrate with just don't exist here! Note though - this is more of a comment on rural and small town France than the larger cities where things may be different.

We like the local French culture and society. It suits us and I'm sure it will you too!

 

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[quote user="woolybanana"]

Right Mac, just do what you are comfy doing.

Be polite to the locals, make contact as you wanna. Be seen to buy stuff locally if you can, don' t get into the bringing of presents for your neighbours bit unless you really would have done it in  UK. Make your number with the commune though they will know you are there, no need to see the maire unless you wanna.

And work on the French as much as you can. It greases the parts that other gels do not reach!!

[/quote]

Excellent advice Wooly.

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Francelover, what kind of English village are you referring to where people are constantly organising coffee mornings and fetes and popping into each other's houses all the time?  It's not the English village life I knew because none of the people who actually did the work could afford to live in them and all the people who could pay the house prices travelled miles to work every day so were rarely involved in village life (whatever that is) - ourselves included, I admit.

Thus I honestly don't think French rural life is all that different from what I expected.  The biggest differences I notice are that the locals can afford to live here and thus don't tend to move away; their relatives often live locally so they have a ready-made social circle which doesn;t have to involve their neighbours, they often take all their holidays - if they can afford a holiday at all - in Francophone countries and they struggle financially so don't have a great cultural life. 

I've never really understood the anxiety about "integration" and am firmly in the woolly fruit/SW17 camp on this one.  You don't move to a place to "integrate", you want a roof over your head in a place you can be happy in and make friends if you want to.  Why get hung up on where they were born?  Make friends with the people you have something in common with. 

I didn't go into my neighbour's house in Britain except maybe once a year if they had a party - why should I think I need to do that here?  We invite our neighbours round once or twice year for a bbq or a few drinks and they do likwise.  It winds me a up a treat that some time over the Christmas/New Year period they turn up on the doorstep unannounced - usually with a bottle, happily -always as we're about to sit down and eat, and expect to come in and sit for hours chatting - what's wrong with phoning in advance to ask if it's a good time to turn up?!

I have Brit friends, sure - it's good to chat in your mother tongue for a change to somebody other than your partner.  On the other hand I don't want to do what some of them do and get together several times a month - it's just too often to see anybody other than my o/h thanks. He's about the only person I know who doesn't bore the backside off me after a few hours!

 If you're in each other's houses all the time then you don't do anything new so don't have anything new to talk about. I don't want to spend all my time with them not because they are Brits but just because I have better things to do, thanks very much.  I feel just the same way about my French friends.   Does that make me cold/unfriendly/shallow? - Perhaps but who cares.  We came to France for us, not for anybody else.

Besides, if I want to chat I can always come here and I can pontificate in print and nobody can interupt.  They can ignore me if they wish and I can ignore them.  And when I'm fed up with you lot I can log off and find something better to do.[:P]

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