I’ve kind of been umming and ahhing over whether to write this post because I didn’t actually really make any friends during my time working as an Au Pair in France. I mean, there were lots of other mums and dads I’d have conversations with every day about what they were up to, upcoming school trips, how their kids were doing etc. But the convos never extended past the school gate and there wasn’t anybody I’d feel comfortable sending a ‘hey want to meet for coffee?’ kind of message. It all sounds quite sad when I write it out but I really didn’t mind much at all. I learnt to love my own company and enjoyed the independence of being able to go out alone and see exactly what I wanted to see. There were times when I wished I could have shared experiences with other people and so I looked at ways to meet likeminded people in the area. For many different reasons, they didn’t work out for me but I wanted to write a post sharing these ways in the hope that they will help other Au Pairs (my lack of friends also made it tricky choosing pics for this post so I’ve just found a selection of snaps from my time as an Au Pair!)
One of the best ways to meet fellow Au Pairs is at language courses which are available in most towns and cities in schools, universities or with private language companies. They are great because the chances of meeting someone who speaks your own language (especially English which is so widely spoken) are high and you’ll find that lots of the people going to the courses are Au Pairs too! You’re also learning to speak the native language of the country you’re working in so that will help you to start conversations with locals to make even more friendships – it’s like a double whammy! I was intending on living in France for 3 months but the only language courses in the area would just take payments for an entire year – language courses aren’t cheap anyway so forking out for an extra 9 months which I wouldn’t even use seemed ridiculous and so I ruled that option out straight away. I already had quite a good understanding of French so I was only really intending on going as a social thing; language courses got a thumbs down in my case.
Another good website to get onto is ‘www.conversationexchange.com‘. Not only is it a good way to meet people in your local area, but it’s also great for your language skills too! The purpose of the website is to link up with people who speak the language you want to learn and you literally ‘exchange’ messages with one another to help build your language skills and find out more about the other person. You can literally talk about anything, from your family to your hobbies to more in-depth topics if you fancy. I wanted to learn French and the people I was linked with wanted to learn English so I’d message in French and they’d reply in English. Alternatively, you could message in your native language and use it as a reading practice instead. You can decide to just communicate online or can later arrange to meet up in person to continue to improve your speaking and meet the person on the other side of the keyboard (just make sure you use your common sense before arranging to meet someone in person!) Language exchanges are a really good way to improve so it’s worth keeping a look out on notice boards or in newsletters anyway to see if anyone is looking for a language partner in your area.
If you’ve never heard of www.meetup.com‘ then you need to get on the bandwagon. Basically, it’s a website where you can advertise loads of different events in the area where everyone is welcome to go along and ‘meetup’ with new people. Coffee mornings, bike rides, cinema dates – there really is something to appeal to everyone and it’s so so easy to use. My only problem was that a lot of the events I was interested in were at night and my lack of car situ meant that I had to rely on buses to get me around. With the last bus back to my house at 19.45pm and my Au Pair duties requiring me to finish looking after the kids at 7ish, getting to these events just wasn’t going to happen. If you’re living in a busy city or have access to a car, then this way of meeting people is so much easier but even if not, I’m sure you can find something if you look hard enough.
You often hear about how ‘social media is ruining our generation’ but there are so so many benefits which it brings too. Facebook is a great way to meet other Au Pairs in your local area through group pages designed to organise events and bring people together. Just search ‘Au Pairs in (insert area)’ and voilà! The problem with me however was that, although ‘Au Pairs in Nice’ already exists, the admin person behind it appears to not be (either that or my follow request was just being ignored!!) It’s worth a shot though and hopefully your area is all up and running.
JUST TALK TO PEOPLE!
Now I’m going to tell you something which is going to go completely against what is normally taught to us – don’t listen to the phrase ‘you must never talk to strangers’. Okay, so take this advice with a pinch of salt as there is good reason behind that saying but step out of your comfort zone by trying to spark up conversation with anyone you come across. That girl who always stands beside you at the bus stop, the mum of the family living next door who you always bump into on your walk down to school, the cleaner who comes into the house every Friday; you never know where a friendly ‘how are you’ could take you. I asked a lady at the bus stop which bus was the right one to take back home and it turned out she lived just down the road from me. We chatted for about 40 minutes and then had a quick convo most days as I walked back from the school run. She may have been 20 years older than me but it was amazing how much we had in common and the amount that we had to talk about.
Joining a sports club is another good way of meeting other people in the area as you already know that you have something in common so you’ve got a head start in the friend making process! It also gives you something to do with your free time and the benefits of exercise don’t even need to be listed!!
I can’t say I’ve tried this method before but I have heard quite a few people saying that Tinder is a great way to meet new people in the area. I can understand why but the whole dating background of the app didn’t appeal to me as I had a boyfriend at the time – even considering downloading the app onto my phone felt weird. But if this doesn’t bother you, then why not take a look at who else is living around you in the local area. It’s a good way to meet new people, visit new places and who knows, you could even end up with your Prince Charming!
VOLUNTEER IN A SCHOOL
Now this is one thing that I wishhh I had done but only really thought about doing in my final month of living in France. My busy schedule of visiting towns and villages left me with little time in the end but I think that helping out in a local school (or college so that the pupils are older) would be a good way to meet others and make you feel as though you are spending your time well. I have no idea about the rules of student-volunteer relationships and whether you’d be able to meet up with students outside of school hours but it would still be good to form some friendships within the classroom.
Although I didn’t have much luck on the friends front, I hope this post shows that there are plenty of ways to meet others if you try hard enough. It also depends a lot on where you are staying – big cities like Paris and Lille have a large youth population whilst I’ve heard that where I was staying (near Nice) has the best Au Pair scene during the summer months. It’s great to have people to share experiences with but exploring what I personally wanted to see during the day whilst spending time with my host family in the evenings (and a few visits from friends and family from the UK) was the perfect thing for me.