Sunday, February 27, 2011

To Young French, London Means a "Gateway to Globalization"

This week's Economist describes the cross-section of French who pull up stakes and move to London, seeking work, adventure and the chance to master English. 

The archetype of this exodus, explains the piece, is the French "banker with children at the Lycée Francais in [the upscale neighborhood] South Kensington... who misses the food and weather of home." Indeed, The City's status as a global financial and business hub, not to mention its lower tax rates on income and personal wealth, make it an enticing destination for ambitious French who have money or want to make it. Many London-based French complain of the strictures of their often upper-class social codes and expectations, which they are free to customize or discard completely through a new life in the British capital. 

The international smorgasbord of London offers an intoxicating feast to those seeking cultural and culinary adventure. "It's hard to go back once you have tasted the internationalism here," explains one Gallic expat. A senior official from the French consulate likewise dubbed the city a "gateway to globalization"  for mobile and willing French professionals. Some of these are fleeing the economic doldrums of Ireland, where they had gone to launch business and careers; reluctant to head home, they're giving themselves a second chance in the UK. And language is a key draw for French of all social strata, and many lower-middle- and middle-class strivers elect to work summers or longer stints as waiters, au pairs and odd-jobbers in exchange for increased fluency in the language of Shakespeare.

One detail of the article's Franco-centric globalization deserves underscoring: In the 2012 elections there will be for the first time a representative in France's Assemblée Nationale -- equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives -- for all French citizens living in the UK and Northern Europe. The capital for the French diaspora in this part of the world is London by overwhelming numbers: the same French consulate approximates the Hexagon's population in London as some 400,000, perhaps the capital's largest minority nationality.

Watch this space for more on the French député for London and European points north, as well as Franco-British developments on either side of the Channel.

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