Last night after KNOTs, I met Sylvain and a work colleague of his for drinks at a bar near Chatelet. His colleague is French and is married to an English girl, and is working for an English company near Birmingham. Our conversation was that funny mix of French and English that always happens with people who are comfortable in both languages (why pick one or the other when you can have both?), and it was really interesting to hear his perspective on the cultural differences and things as a Frenchman going into an anglo society. The experiences are different, but the fundamentals are the same - it can be really hard to integrate into another culture, even if you're fluent in the language.
Things have certainly been easier for me since I've met my group of anglo gals. It's hard to make friends with Parisians. I have got a few, but I wouldn't do the same "social" things with them that I do with my anglo girlfriends - knit in Starbucks, for example. ;) (Edit : with the exception of one or two lovely young French ladies who are enthusiastic about knitting in public. hehehe)
Some of the French people around me are confused and almost offended by the fact that most of my group of friends is made up of anglos, but it's so hard to explain why. It's not just about having a shared cultural background - because I only know a few precious people from the Southern Hemisphere here, most of my friends are American or English - it's the shared experience of being a foreigner that binds us too. The roar of laughter when we say translate French phrases into English, "she has reason". Then there is that whole thing about French couples who tend to do everything together (our French friends think it's strange that I don't get upset when Sylvain spends the weekend playing mechanic in a friends barn, and they also think it's strange that I dare to have an all-girl slumber party in our lounge room), but that's another subject altogether.
The bottom line is that this year, things have changed for me, for us. We were happy before, but I didn't realise how much I missed that cultural connection until my sister spent a month with us last New Year. When she left, I knew that I had to do something about that little part that was missing - real friends. I joined the library, I started chatting to other bloggers online and meeting them in person, and then there was the blogger meetup at the start of the year - and the rest is history ;)
This experience has been interesting for me, as a person. It was hard at the beginning, and there is nothing more humbling than being taken out of ones comfort zone, in a place where you know no one, you don't know the language - but unless you let it overcome you, there is no doubt that you'll come out of it at the end a better person, with a greater tolerance, more patience, and a better understanding of the world.