In my mid 40s I find myself living in a new city, in a new country, having to start making friends from scratch.
Had I been in my twenties, or thirties, no worries, easy – just hangout with work colleagues, join a club, a gym; friends pretty much fall in your lap when you’re young.
But the other side of 45, with two school-age kids, and a less than working knowledge of the host language, the prospect of making new friends in a new city felt pretty daunting. Scrap that terrifying.
Seriously how do you make friends when you’re middle-aged (yikes) and living in a foreign country?
#Attempt 1: Join a running club
My first attempt to make friends in Paris was a total flop.
As someone who enjoys running, I have a handful of 10ks and a couple of half marathons under my belt. I thought I’d join a running club, a French one. I’ve done it before in London, twice, and made some amazing friends – naming checking you Paula!
On my first week – I know brave, I set out to meet a bunch of French women who enjoy running. Seriously what could go wrong?
- Wrong age (too old)
- Wrong shape (way too curvatious)
- Not glamorous enough (not wearing my Lulu Lemon that night)
And I wasn’t fast enough. I was abandoned, ditched, dumped in the middle of the Tuileries, and had to make my own way home, alone. That was my welcome to Paris.
#Attempt 2: Kids school
Using your kids is a tried and tested strategy to make friends.
At my kids’ first school in Paris there was a sort of parents’ association. Brilliant I thought, I’ll get to know some other mums. I went to the first meeting hoping to see a few friendly faces.
This wasn’t a meeting, this was a husting followed by an election to the school’s parents’ committee, and it was brutal.
One parent wanted to talk about safety issues at the school as it was just after the Paris attacks. The head teacher shut her down, no we were here to choose the school committee and nothing else.
Using my very rudimentary French, I just about worked out that the previous school committee president should not be re-elected because she had spent far too much funds on a parents’ cocktail evening (what’s wrong with that? That’s my kinda mum).
Party mum was duly stood down, and a whole bunch of other mum’s stood up and, in perfect French, extolled why they should be elected.
We had to pick our top three candidates, in secret, and the results were notched up on the blackboard.
I sat quietly, counting the minutes to make a quick and quiet get away. I never went back.
#Attempt 3: Language school
Right, surely this must work. Join a language school – this has to work. How else can you make friends in a foreign country?
The class will be filled with people just like me, new to France, keen to learn the language. I joined an extensive programme, at a well renowned school, three hours, three times a week.
My class was full of international students: an Indian lawyer, learning the language to land a job, an Argentinian business student biding time before returning to South America, two Filipino nuns, a Chilean actress-to-be having her time in Paris, and a German / American au pair, Sabrina.
I got on really well with Sabrina, a masters grad, she was in Paris to rekindle a romance with a previous petit ami (that’s the word boyfriend – cute).
We’d meet for coffee, the odd lunch; have a mutual moan about how hard it is to make friends in Paris. But after a few short months, and really not enjoying Paris, following tiff with her host family, finding her petit ami had hooked up with his previous petite amie, she was back on a plane to sunny California. But Sabrina has shown me where I can get great coffee in Paris.
#4 Social Media – success!
This is where the party is.
Hey, I’m in my mid forties, middle-aged, late to the party, give me a break!
How has social media helped me make friends?
When I left for Paris, my Facebook account was pretty dull, just a news feed of pages I had liked, with the odd comment, quip or wisecrack from a friend to two. I belonged to a couple of mummy groups, which were great for finding a reliable plumber.
But the expat mums Facebook groups are a godsend, a lifeline to many, funny, entertaining, and a place to ask for help, or seek support. Need a dentist, doctor or a vet who speaks English there’s a mum who knows one. Need an English speaking babysitter, there’s a mum who knows one. Need to get your head round French bureaucracy, there’s a mum who can help.
A whole host of events have been arranged through Facebook from Karaoke, Dance Like Beyoncé (seriously it had to be done), champagne night out, paint parties for kids and for mums, picnics for kids – my social life has never looked so good.
I never gave MeetUp a second thought back in London, but here in Paris it’s been a great way to meet mums and make friends.
One of my first Meet Ups was an expat mums’ book swap. A book group where we meet in a restaurant bring books with us that we have enjoyed and want to find new homes for. We scoff a fantastic meal, quaff great French wine, make friends and take home new books.
Yes, it’s a book club where you don’t actually have to read the book for the meeting, but you should have read the book.
I try to make a monthly mums’ lunch Meet Up at Marks and Spencer here in Paris, and while I’m there stock up on baked beans, tomato soup, Percy Pigs and extra strong tea bags.
After a few false starts things are looking up and as well as amassing a new collection of books I am starting to collect friends.
Have you found yourself in a situation where you’ve had to make friends from scratch? What have you done, did it work? Did you have any disasters? You can tell Tooting Mama!