Expats in Paris: How to Fit In


Joining the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay is a great way to meet expats.

Most of our readers are travelers, but many are now expats in Paris. Some are new transfers, while others have attained seniority. Thanks to my radio show every Monday, I’ve been able to speak with many expats to find out how they’ve assimilated. Their answers are not universal, and there is some disagreement over how best to assimilate, but the first recommendation that everyone gives is to learn the language. We all know that learning the language is very hard to do, and that one becomes much more focused once in the country. But of course, it’s also true that the more French you know before you settle down, the easier it will be to find a job, make friends and acclimate.
One woman, who owns llamas and pigs on a farm in the Charente, told me that if you want it to work out, it will. I do believe that one must muster up courage and dedication in order to be a successful transplant. But in fact, many people I’ve talked to planned to stay only a year or two, and then just couldn’t tear themselves away to go back, because they’d fallen in love with France. I suppose it’s true that I don’t talk to many unsuccessful transplants because they’ve up and left. Certainly, one way to make friends and network a bit is to join one or more of the many clubs in Paris and beyond.  

Members of the Bordeaux Women’s Club.

There’s the Bordeaux Women’s Club, which I’m going to join, having met four really wonderful women who belong to it. Oddly, it was a lady in New Orleans who told me about it. The club seems to be quite organized, and newcomers are shown around the town by those who have been here longer. And there are subsets of groups, such as a craft group and so on. It all sounds very 1950s, but these women are impressive. All have had jobs or run companies and have lived all over the world. Thankfully, there aren’t just Americans in the group; there are French, Swedish, Japanese and English women, among others. If you’d prefer something without American in the title, try the Women’s International Club of Paris.
I met the head of the American Club of Paris, Joseph Smallhoover, when he was on the radio show. He has been the head of many clubs, including Democrats Abroad, and highly recommends clubs for networking purposes. It costs 160 euros to join the American Club, and annual fees are 185 euros, unless you live outside the United States for more than nine months a year, in which case the fees are 92.50 euros. There’s always a grand Fourth of July event as well as events for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, some of which are hosted at the residence of the US ambassador. This club, too, is made up of a diverse group of nationalities, from French to English, American and others.  

The American Club of Paris hosts events for expats.

I recently came into contact with Aurelien, who puts together a newsletter of various American club events. With so many events you could attend, the newsletter makes it easier to keep track of them all. It also covers locations beyond Paris.
The university alumni groups do a good job. And then there’s the American Friends of the Louvre and the American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay for those interested in supporting of culture. It might cost a fortune to join all of them, but by doing a little research, you can find out which are the right organizations for your interests and personality.  

Shakespeare and Company hosts a literary night on Mondays.

Of course the American Library in Paris has many events that are free, and there are always meet-up groups, which cover nearly ever area of interest one can think of. Monday literary nights at Shakespeare and Company are free and a great place to meet an interesting group of literature-minded folks. The Cercle Suédois has jazz on Wednesday nights and is open to the public then. For only 15 euros, you can get a glass of wine and listen to some jazz in a lovely environment on the rue de Rivoli.  

Jazz on Wednesday nights at the Cercle Suédois. Photo: Sheila Campbell.

The good news is that making friends as an expat in France is actually even easier that it is back home. Anglophones tend to flock together, and while one doesn’t really want to move to France to meet a load of other Americans, it can’t help to have one or two in your corner to tell you which hair colorist to use, which tax lawyer is trustworthy and which school might be good for your kids (international or French?). Now that’s a subject that can fill yet another page.
Related Links
Radio show
Bordeaux Women’s Club
Women’s International Club of Paris (WIC)
American Club of Paris
Aurelien’s newsletter
Alumni clubs (most major universities have them)
American Friends of the Musée d’Orsay
American Friends of the Louvre
American Library in Paris
Meet-up groups
Shakespeare and Company
Cercle Suédois Wednesday night jazz
List of more groups
Editor’s note: Our Travel Club program is a great value for full-time Paris residents. Getting regular discounts and special deals—like 10 percent off at Galeries Lafayette as well as a personal shopper and access to the VIP salons there—is something anyone would love!