5 tips to be accepted into French village life

Foreign newcomers drawn to the country idyl should not remain passive observers

The Périgord village of Eymet in the south-west has a particularly high population of Britons
Published Last updated

The tranquil bonhomie of French village life with its character properties, climate, good wine and food can appear alluring but without some effort will remain a superficial experience for newcomers. We look at what you can do to integrate into village life.

Since 2011, the medieval village of Eymet in Périgord in south-west France has been known for its high population of Britons, so much so that one shop reportedly displayed a sign saying: ‘on parle français ici’ (French spoken here). That year, Little England an ITV documentary followed the lives of the many Britons who live there.

There are no exact figures for exactly how many of the village’s 2,535 population are Britons. An RFI podcast placed the figure as high as a quarter in 2023, however for Claire Riley, president of the Association Culturelle Franco-Anglaise d'Aquitaine, the permanent proportion is closer to 15%.

While the ITV documentary showcased - even caricatured - how Britons there cling to their old habits, Ms Riley told The Connexion that the community’s integration into village life is a success story.

“It’s not a ‘little England’, there are no real problems with integration here,” said Ms Riley. “Our association does not need to get involved with that side of things. But we are very much involved in organising events and language classes - we have 200 people signed up for classes.”

The number of people signed up for language classes in such a small village is perhaps an indication of the primordial importance of language learning for integration.

“It’s not just British expats either,” said Ms Riley. “We have English speakers from all over - and French people too - joining in the association’s activities.”

Drawing on the example of the village of Eymet, here are five more ways that foreign newcomers can ease their way into French village life

1. Join in: Local associations, which are registered at the mairie, receive public funding and are open for anyone to join. The form of French clubs is quite dissimilar to those found abroad and form a key part of local culture.

Many French associations recruit new members at an annual forum des associations organised by the mairie, usually held around the start of autumn at la rentrée.

Read more: French associations explained

Do not worry if you missed this – most clubs let new members join all year round, and unless you are in a very isolated area, there is likely to be something that interests you nearby.

If there is nothing, you can look into creating an association of your own to share your interests.

2. Learn la politesse: This can be as simple as learning to say ‘bonjour’, or as complex as understanding why people do not smile so much or at what point a friendship begins in France.

You do not necessarily need to change, but to integrate in French village life you do need to understand these differences…

Read more: La politesse: what habits can make you seem rude to French people?

Read more: We get on with French neighbours so why do they use ‘vous’ with us?

3. Accept local rules: Noisy animals, having hunters walking onto your land, or being ordered by the mairie to cut a tree can all cause friction in rural France. Learn the rules and do not fight losing battles that can alienate the local community.

Read more: How you must try to resolve neighbour disputes amicably in France

4. Be patient: There are no shortcuts, integration takes time and consistent effort. It can take several years of ‘bonjours’ and ‘bonsoirs’ to see a smile on the face of your neighbours.

5. Follow the local news: In order to share the concerns of local people you must understand what is happening in locally. Find out what is happening in your area: what are the local scandals, the local events, etc.

This can also help to build vocabulary and prevent your eyes from glazing over when talk turns to local politics.

Do you feel you are integrated into French life? If so, what tips would you pass on and how long would you say it took? Share your feedback at news@connexionfrance.com

Read more:

Aperos, choirs, cars, cards: Readers’ French integration successes

Make sense of… your local French Mairie