French and friends

I met up with Chris and Jamie for lunch, the Wednesday of my visit back in Paris. We had agreed to meet at Shakespeare & Co, just outside the garden my friends and I used to eat our boulangeire lunches before our phonetics course.

I had gotten to know Chris and Jamie in my French grammar course, a warm pair who moved to Torcy, a surburb just outside of Paris, about 14 months ago in effort to learn French while pursuing their Christian, missionary activities. They’re a lovely couple, exuding such positive energy, genuine care—a good outlook on the world, their lives and purpose within.

I asked after their process of developing friendships within the French community. The difficulty exists, Jamie had answered.

The French, in large part, are a closed off culture, heavily guarded. It takes prodding to break into their circle, for them to warm up, to accept you into their lives.

My grandmother likes to tell the story of the time she had planned a birthday party for my mother, having invited families from my mother’s class during the time they lived in Paris. The day of, however, and no one had showed—my grandmother to find out later that none had verified, in a way, that my grandparents were “acceptable” to mix with.

The French are weary of the stranger, hesitant to allow space within their social lives to welcome the unknown face. I haven’t come to understand the reason they do so and I realize that from an American viewpoint, it seems rude.

You won’t have a scatter of acquaintances in France, Jamie said. But the effort it takes to develop friendships with French individuals, eventually guarantees the few, quality friends.

Friends for life, she said-- a cultural difference that I have yet to understand.

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