In France, people are much more upfront and unfiltered when it comes to communication. There isn’t a lot of beating around the bush, white lies, or unwanted small talk—typically, people tell it like it is. And we respect that.
For example, there isn’t a whole lot of empty “how are you’s” from strangers or people in the service industry. It doesn’t mean for a lack of politeness, oh no. Moreso, a dose of realness. This transparency isn’t without an air of mystery, making this form of directness all the more sexy. Transparency is hot. But, it’s not just about romantic relationships. In France, it is said that there are two types of relationships: les copains and les amis.
Copains can mean a few different things. Used casually, it can mean an acquaintance, a new friend, or a pal we grab coffee with from time to time. It can also mean “boyfriend,” or copine for the feminine, meaning “girlfriend.” It’s informal, and it alludes to companionship, though it’s open to interpretation of the depth.
Amis, however, is a more formal indication of implied permanence, or impenetrable closeness. Those indicated as amis are typically friends who have a history together and are bound by an experience or by genuine, proven trust. And let’s take note from the French and be real here, not everyone is going to be our BEST friend. Don’t we all know someone who introduces every single friend, no matter the history or significance, their “best” friend? If you ask us, that can be a little suspicious.
People are very affable; France is not a difficult place to make friends. In fact, we might find copains everywhere we go. But becoming someone’s ami, that takes time. It’s not a sorority or fraternity—there is no hazing involved with becoming someone’s ami—however, the ami status only arrives after the relationship is put to a test of sorts.
This might mean a colorful history together or a long-term friendship or relationship. It could mean one showed up for the other in a significant way that proved their devotion and dependability. It usually takes a longer period of time to be determined as someone’s ami, while only a cheerful conversation or a night of laughs might deem us someone’s copain. That neighbor down the block? Copain. Your favorite barista? Copain. Your friend of a friend who does incredible floral arrangements? Copain. New boyfriend or girlfriend?… copain. Now, our spouse? Sister? Childhood bestie? Maid of honor? That’s the recipe for ami.
Some people say that it’s difficult to make close friends in France. While that’s not necessarily our experience, we haven’t lived there for an extended time to testify—but that may be the case for those seeking ami status. While the French are direct, this means they don’t feel the need to front to please someone. Some foreigners may take this as feeling cold, but truthfully, it’s just being real. We aren’t being lied to, and that’s what gives it that aloof, textbook French-cool.
This means that the typical, customer-service-oriented greeting of asking how someone is or inquiring about their well-being is simply not done between strangers in France. It doesn’t mean coldness. Perhaps in America, it has become the norm so much that we forget that strangers don’t actually (typically) care how we are doing! It’s just a custom. Expect a simple “bonjour” from strangers and service industry workers. You’re not copains yet, and certainly not amis. Give that the space it deserves. Then, we’ll be copains until we are amis, and not a day sooner. Nonetheless, expect bisous. Just because trust isn’t a given, doesn’t mean kisses aren’t!