Making friends in Paris

“Never tell anyone you are only staying for a year,” my cousin Jessica told me before we left Vancouver. “They won’t make the effort.”  An experienced Canadian expat now living in Africa, I take Jessica’s advice. But it’s been nine weeks since we moved here, and we still don’t have much of a social circle.

One of the reasons we chose international schools is that I figured all the families would be in our situation – uprooted, and looking to make new friends. Our younger daughter Charlotte has had a Parisian playdate (in an apartment with a view of the Eiffel tower even) but we definitely don’t have “our people” in Paris yet. Maybe it’s because everyone is so busy attempting to open a French bank account (at this point, we’ve given up) or trying to unlock their iPhones so they work here, that they don’t have time for socializing. The playdate mother, Pilar, had to build an entire kitchen, cabinets and all, so they could move into their apartment. Kind of hard to host a dinner party without a kitchen, right?

I do know a few people in Paris – mostly Canadian transplants like the fashion writer Clara, the Printemps womenswear buyer Yeny, and Corbin accessories designer Bridgitte. I hound them all for lunch dates like a desperate teenager. I’ve also been on a few girlie blind dates, set ups with friends of friends. These go remarkably well, and are an invaluable source of essential information such as cleanest yoga studios and fastest bikini waxers. But I’m still yearning for an authentic, Parisian-style dinner party.

And then Murray gets the text: Saturday night, 8 p.m., apartment in the Marais! We start training the girls immediately to stay up late like French children.

When Saturday arrives, we Uber over and buzz up to the apartment at 8:05 p.m. Mistake number one. The rest of the guests don’t start trickling in until at least 9. Oh well, it gives us time to catch up with our hosts, he a music industry exec, and she the founder of a Parisian childrenswear line, now studying interior designer. We met this couple in an unusual way – three years ago, we stayed in their apartment near the Pierre Lachaise cemetery and drove their Audi on a side trip to the countryside. The following spring, they stayed at our home in Palm Springs for the Coachella Music Festival. This all happened through a home swap website in Barcelona called BeHomm, aimed at creative professionals. We’ve become friends, and have seen them a few times since, for tennis and meals.

Their dinner party is so Parisian it’s like being in a movie. As each person arrives, they must go around and kiss everyone else on both cheeks, male or female. Guests include a furniture designer, a movie director, and a recently escaped H&M fashion executive. Conversation runs from Elon Musk’s new solar roof tiles to existentialism. Refreshingly, nobody mentions real estate or looks at their phone.

To start, there is a plate of fresh oysters, and Champagne. Then we sit down to dinner in the dining room, with its fur-draped chairs and round balcony looking over the Marché des Enfants Rouge. Dinner is pork ratatouille, followed by a sumptuous cheese board, and then green salad.  I don’t see the children once but later learn they had the same meal as us somewhere else in the apartment, including a dessert of flambéed bananas.

After dinner, there is smoking. And more red wine. I suddenly realize it is past midnight, and in a Parisian Cinderella-type fluster I round up the children and prepare to leave. The other guests, meanwhile, go back to the salon with full wine glasses. I am starting to feel very Canadian but there is no turning back, and we bid our farewells with double “bisous” for all our new friends and cab off into the Parisian morning.