The bar right outside of Étienne Marcel was crowded. It wasn’t crowded in the normal, busy brasserie of the deuxième-kind of way. No, there were people awkwardly standing next to a table full of friends trying to weigh in on the conversation. I was feeling adventurous so I ordered a Ricard (after months and months of practice, I have still to figure out why anyone drinks this). The waitress arrived and with her uniquely central Paris smile asked “le Ricard?”. “C’est pour moi” two voices answered. One was mine, the other, came from a short, nappy headed student studying at the École des Beaux Arts.
After excessive rounds of “no please, you take it” my mouth kind of spilled the words “seriously, I don’t even like Ricard”. There were two things about Clément that I later learned were constants in his life: The fact that he was named Clément; and his charming elevation of spirits into a quasi-vehicle to reach raw artistic material. He did not take my comment lightly. “You will have this Ricard, I will wait for mine, and I will explain why it’s good”.
In an Expat’s life, there are these fleeting moments when you think to yourself “finally, an authentic French friend!”. You’re careful not to think it too much because the past couple of instances the very fact that you got as excited as a fourteen-year-old when her crush remembers her name might have been one of the reasons why you never saw that person again. As a general rule, in Paris, eagerness, like cramps, is an internal emotion.
Getting out of the international circle and into deep Paris through friendships is very difficult. If you thought the initial stages of dating were awkward, you’ve never gone through the process of establishing an amitié with a Parisian.
The first step in the process is to admit it. Yes, you have to admit that the reason you want them to be your friends is because they are like-minded individuals who, by virtue of living within a 5 km radius of the Île Saint-Louis, are between fifteen and twenty percent cooler than you. Once you are honest with yourself you must play the ‘friend game’ (ugh!).
You met someone you like (mais pas comme ça!) and you’d like to see them again in a totally non-weird adult friendship kind of way. Read this sentence again. It sounds weird right? Well, it kind of is. Most people don’t make friends out of the blue and especially not past a certain age, but moving to Paris some say, is like a second childhood. Rule number two is: if you don’t feel weird, it won’t be weird. Confidence, or pretending you have some, is key.
Remember that Paris exists in a quantum electrodynamical anomaly known as “Île de France”. In this place, time as we know it does not exist. You have to think in Paris time, also known as ‘I’m too busy trying to get away from being busy time’. Don’t call this person after three days. Don’t call them after five. Let another weekend pass. Call them a full eight days later. One week, one day. Pretend like you have not been thinking about this all week and avoid open ended questions like “what are you doing today?” Say things like, “I’m going to this bar, want to come?” or “I’m going to Beaubourg…”. You are always going somewhere, and you would go anyway even if they said no (not always but just go with this).
Sure enough you go do a shared activity. Don’t feel like they are judging you just because they don’t talk. They don’t talk because for one, silences are contemplative, not awkward and also because as I’ve said numerous times before; they are probably a bit uncomfortable. Not because of you, but because of the fact that very much like you, they are also working outside of their normal social circle. The French are quite reciprocal so don’t be surprised if an invitation to drink with your friends results in one to drink with his or hers later on.
As a girl things can be particularly tricky. As my awesome friend Natalie told me: “French boys only want foreign girls and subsequently French girls get jealous and won’t be your friend. It’s true! It’s so hard to make french girlfriends! Well, besides my forty-two-year-old language partner”. If you want this friendship you’re gonna have to work for it so make sure that at least at the beginning you make it clear that, as attractive as you may be to her friends, that is not why you hang out with her. Some one on one interaction or an all-girl outing will probably smooth things out.
Another tricky situation can be that, for the most part, French men and French women, tend not to have deep friendships, they cannot do without the sexual tension. The only advice I can give for this is to constantly talk about your love interests with other people and ask them for their opinion and advice on them until they get the point.
After about a month and a half, you will not only have a friend, but also know his or her friends. Make sure to also befriend the friends you like – before you know it, you have your group of French friends and come summer, you all rent a house on Saint-Martin-en-Ré together (true story). Caveat Emptor!
Once this happens, you will get frequent texts and phone calls, even when you feel like having some me time or seeing your old expat friends who now complain that they’ve been replaced. Parisians, as subtle as they seem, are intense and two missed calls plus a text is not rare. Just take these lightly and friend on! Sure, Paname’s inhabitants can be interesting, fun, and let’s face it, add a little character to your “when I lived in Paris” stories. However, you are not just some white-socks-and-a-camera-who-wouldn’t-know-Belleville-if-he-was-standing-in-front-of-Aux-Follies-type of person. You are an interesting hybrid, a non-Parisian Parisian. If anything, to them, you are the cool one.