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'Vive la France' or is it 'Vive l'Angleterre'?
Over the last few months, the media have suddenly realised that the Brits were not the only ones leaving their country to live abroad. No, the French were doing it to. There had been a lot of articles, TV programmes and even books about families leaving everything and going to settle in 'sunny' France. But this year, for some reasons, the media have been made aware that the French were leaving France to come and live here in 'not so sunny' England. The big question, however, was WHY? Why would anyone want to come and live here if you had the chance of being born in such a beautiful country as France? Was it purely for financial reasons? Was it for love? Was it because they were being hunted by the French police? Or was it simply because England was the land of hope and opportunities where life could be sweeter than in their own country. But if that was the case then what made life sweeter here than there. Was there something the British public did not know about their own country that foreigners had somehow discovered?
Why would an estimated 300,000 French people or more choose England over France?
I went looking for the information. Everybody knows by now why the Brits emigrate to France:
* Life is cheaper (cheaper houses, cheaper food, cheaper wine,...)
* The health service is better (for now)
* Elderly people are looked after (that is when they are not left on their own over the summer holidays)
* Education is still free and of a relatively high standard
* The weather is warmer (that's if you decide to live South of the Loire)
But who goes to live in France? Generally, people are over 50. Although more and more younger couples have started to move there to. Many small village schools have been saved from closure thanks to the Brits who have settled there with their kids. My son's music teacher at the Guildhall school of Music and Drama moved to La Rochelle a few years ago. She commutes every week to come and teach in London. With the cheap flights you can now get, why not? Her children go to the local schools. When they first got there they did not speak a word of French. It took them only a few months to adapt to their new way of life and they all love it.
But who are the French who come here? They are aged anything between 17 and 55. Some are students who want to improve their English (they know that it is now a prerequisite to getting better jobs). They come here as au-pairs, language students or simply to work in restaurants and shops. Then there are the expats who are sent here by their firms. What all these people have in common is that initially they are not here to stay. However, there are more and more people who are staying after their contracts have expired and a greater number are coming here to spend their whole working life in England. What is interesting is that none of them believe they will be in England forever. They all believe that they will return to France at some point and without exception they try to keep a base in France.
What I also find fascinating is that although many books have been written on the subject of moving to France or living in France none or hardly any have been written on the subject of moving from France to England.
Is it because France is so different or is it because when people move to France they suddenly find themselves with more time on their hands to write on the subject? Do they become inspired by what they see?
I realised when I met a lady journalist a few weeks ago that the Brits have a really stereotyped view of what the French do and don't do. I had never seen her before and only spoke to her once on the phone but when she first met me for lunch, she immediately kissed me on both cheeks to say hello to me. I was a bit taken a back given that this was business and we did not know each other. For some reason she thought that French people kissed and therefore she should do the same. No one had explained to her that French people do have a tendency to kiss much more than the Brits but they reserve their kissing in the same way that they do not say `tu' to everyone. They do not kiss people that they have never met for instance, unless in company of friends and even then not always. It would be the same as thinking that all Brits had a cooked breakfast in the morning.
In any case, when she asked me whether I knew French people who had moved here for reasons over than for financial reasons, I had to really think hard on whether I had met any? Who were these people and why had they come here in the first place? I also suspected that she would be once again searching for a stereotype to pin on them.
I could not think of anyone who had initially come here because they honestly preferred England over France. Some thought that they would be offered better opportunities, that people were less judgemental, that they could be more themselves but none thought that the way of life was the one they were looking for. However, with time, many had chosen to stay because they had grown into liking the English way of life better than the one they had left at home. It was especially true of the people who had lived in Paris first.
Yes, Paris was beautiful, the transport system was better and there were plenty of places to visit and see but Paris was also less tolerant vis à vis foreigners, it was harder to find a good job that paid well, life was as expensive and bringing up children was actually more difficult. There were fewer parks, getting children into good schools was as much of a challenge there as it was here.
Then there are the young people who come here and who decide they want to stay because they are afraid of what France has in store for them. They arrived here to find a job because it was so much harder to get one in France with no previous work experience. They made friends, have a great social life so they stay even if they find it difficult to make ends meet after they have paid their rent.
Out of all these French people, are there many retiring in the UK? The answer is probably no (but that's because it is still too soon to tell) but there has definitely been an increase in the influx of young French people ever since the Channel Tunnel opened. A coincidence? In fact, it has become so normal to come and live here that many French companies do not consider their French employees as expatriates anymore. It's true that it is quicker to go to London from Paris than from Paris to Marseilles.
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