How to fight off expat isolation in France

Feeling lonely in your new life in France? See our writer's tips on finding friends and feeling better about all

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Whether this is your first international move or not, when the honeymoon phase is over, you might feel completely overwhelmed.

When you were fantasising about it, it was all terribly exciting. Now reality has hit, France might no longer feel quite so much like Shangri-La.

Although this new lifestyle can be rich in experience and variety, it can be difficult too.

Even readers who have lived in France for some time can feel lonely, especially when people come and go and the transience becomes unsettling.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, practise some self-compassion. There is no point beating yourself up. Lots of people feel this way. No matter what your head is telling you, know that you are not alone.

You do, however, need to take action. You will not feel part of your community or make new friends by simply staying at home, waiting for people to knock on your door.

It can also be tempting to try to fill the inner void you are experiencing with some outer ‘fix’. You might find yourself drinking too much, for example, or spending a lot of time online chatting to people back home.

While it is good to stay in touch, if you have made the decision to live in France, your focus should be on making the best of it in the present moment.

Taking action: steps to feel integrated with the community

Indulge your hobbies, join a local French class appropriate to your level, go along to a book club, or become active in the community by volunteering. Inquire at the local town hall or library, or search online for opportunities.

You could also think outside the box and try something new. What is the worst that can happen? Keep an open mind and don’t dismiss anything before you at least try it once.

Note, too, that there are expat groups all over France. Contact them and you might find a range of activities to participate in, plus new people who feel the same as you. Remember, you only need to meet one person you like and they will probably introduce you to a network of other people.

It is important to get out of the house – and get some exercise. I like the expression: ‘Your mind is like an unsafe neighbourhood; don’t go there alone.’ It will throw up all sorts of reasons for just sitting at home moping.

If you are a dog-lover and can afford the time and expense of owning one, walking it is a great way to meet new people. If you have children, you could get involved in school activities. The school gates are a fabulous place to meet new people.

Those who already know a few people in France might consider host-ing a get-together and asking guests to bring a friend, rather than a bottle. If you don’t know anyone, be bold and knock on your neighbours’ doors or put a note through their letterbox inviting them for coffee.

Be transparent with how you feel

All the while, be open with others and let them know you are struggling. People cannot possibly know how you are feeling unless you tell them. There is no reason to feel ashamed.

If, after a certain time, you feel you have made a mistake and want to pack up and go back home, congratulate yourself for having had the courage to attempt to live in France.

There is no such thing as failure. It is just another learning experience and no matter what the outcome, you will be a more rounded person for having dared to try.

Six isolation-busting tips

  • Take action – new friends won’t come knocking on your door
  • Seek professional help if necessary, especially if you develop an unhealthy dependency on alcohol
  • Build up your confidence gradually, by taking baby steps
  • Try to do one new thing a week to break your sense of isolation
  • Be kind to yourself – what would you say to your best friend?
  • If you want to return home, know you are not a failure. You are a success because you tried.
  • If you have any experiences to share about overcoming loneliness, or any questions about the emotional aspects associated with living in France, feel free to email Cynthia via

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