Teenage Social Life
The two kisses rule also applies to teenagers when they get together outside of school. When they meet up with a group of friends or are just introduced to new friends of friends, they are still expected to go to each person and greet them with les bises (two kisses) or a handshake. This greeting is then repeated at the end of the evening when a person leaves.
Although I consider living in a foreign culture an amazing experience, integrating into a new school and forming friendships can be challenging. During three homestays, I made some very close friends and have maintained these long distance friendships. In fact, some of my French friends visited me when I lived in Madrid! I can’t imagine my life with out them. Human relationships are the pinnacle of living abroad and I truly hope that you find at least one special person with whom you connect. Here are some tips I have learned from my own practice and from other Americans who struggled to make friends.
- Your classmates may make a big fuss over you for the first few days because you are American. This charm will wear off and you will not make friends because you happen to be American, but because of who you are inside, and this takes time, especially if a language barrier prevents you from laughing and joking in French.
- Do not expect students to feel any obligation to want to make you feel welcome in their school or country. Most likely, they aren’t going home asking their parents if they can have you over for dinner to share their French traditions with you. This may sound harsh, but they just don’t care. Parisians in particular can be pretty harsh.
- Breaking into a friend group is not easy and I encourage you to be patient and persistent. The longer you are there, the more friends you will make.
- Do not isolate yourself and sit alone in class or in the cafeteria. If ever you select a poor seating location, take the initiative and change seats!
- Try to be invited to join a WhatsApp group chat as soon as possible.
- Be nice to everyone and take an interest in their lives.
- Be positive about France if you want them to hang out with you. Nobody enjoys being with someone who is constantly criticizing their country or comparing it to the U.S.
- On the other hand, don’t let disparaging remarks about the U.S. get you down. Unless a person has lived in the U.S., they are generalities and don’t apply to you personally.
- Even when you think you have found your perfect friend group, continue to foster new relationships in your school or outside of school.
Social activities gradually become more co-ed and ramp up in 8th and 9th grades. By 10th grade, teenagers become very independent and the social scene in Paris is pretty fast paced. However, from personal experience I can attest that not all Parisian social life is as decadent as indicated below. They may represent the minority, but there are the sportive, the members of les scouts and other organizations with more wholesome social lives.
- Driving age
The minimum driving age is 18 in France, which means parents may still act as chauffeurs for their children, but most youth prefer their independence and use public transportation or taxis or Uber.
- Hanging Out
Younger students in collège hang out at someone’s home or at cafés, or fast food restaurants, which are popular in France and do not have a negative connotation as in some American cities.
As students transition from collège (junior high school) to lycée (high school), activities change and the social scene is all about being seen, which is driven by their posts on Instagram. Teenagers spend a lot of their free time shopping and hanging out at cafés.
- Smoking is extremely popular because it looks cool and although not all teenagers are regular smokers, many smoke socially. Vaping has arrived on the scene and coordinating Juul e-cigarettes to match cell phone cases is considered very cool. Marijuana has become a common drug, but at more moneyed social levels, cocaine has become the drug of choice.
- Although, the official drinking age is 18, parents are quite lax with drinking starting at age 16. In fact, many parents serve children drinks at family functions starting well before age 18. Outside of the home, teenagers know the bars and cafés that will serve them alcohol. They drink beer, panachés (beer & citrusy soda), wine and mixed drinks. Teenagers drink either for the image or to get drunk.
- Parties are a sought after social activity from 10th grade on. These parties may take place at homes when parents are away or even more preferable, at the apartments of older siblings and their friends. Dancing may or may not occur at parties.
- Nightclubs that allow entrance to minors as well as hookah bars are popular destinations.
- Concerts are attended by high school students, but require advanced planning to buy tickets.
- Rallye’s are organized dance parties (with strict dress codes) created so young ladies and gentlemen from affluent families can meet and socialize. There are several Rallye groups in Paris and an invitation is required to join. In 8th and 9th grades, members learn to dance le rock, a French version of the American swing, which can be danced to all popular music. In 10th grade, big dance parties are held at different venues throughout the city.
- Scouts, either boys or girls, are part of scoutisme and participate in many outdoor, athletic and humanitarian activities that build character and develop responsibility. They tend to socialize together and go out in groups.
In addition to American rap, pop and R&B, teenagers in France listen to rap français, Zouk (from the Caribbean) and Raï (from Algeria). The infusion of different cultures into France brings a lot of variety to their musical selection. Currently, old rap français from the 80’s and 90’s is making a comeback. French teenagers grove to the beat of the music at parties, but aren’t big dancers.