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Why London attracts French expats

The Economist has a feature this week about the growing French expatriate population in the Greater London area: 400,000 and counting, according to some estimates, with cultural, economic and social implications that go along with such a presence. In fact, the French Parliament will soon have a new constituency to represent French citizens in Britain and Northern Europe.

It turns out that in interviews with expats, some of the reasons for the flock include: high-paying job opportunities, lower income and corporate taxes, a chance to raise one’s children bilingual and, perhaps most importantly, a different “international feel” about London that many French do not find in London. Excerpts below.

What do you think of this article? Do you think France is less business-friendly than the UK, and what do you think should be done to encourage entrepreneurship, innovation, lower taxes and more business-friendly policies conducive to private enterprise and investment? Is President Sarkozy on the right track?

The French community in London
The French influx to London suggests what governments can and can’t do to boost their cities’ allure

“…French Londoners are often in their prime. The archetype is a banker with children at the Lycée Français in South Kensington, the established hub of the community (“the 17th arrondissement”), who misses the food and weather of home. The City, a bigger financial centre than Paris, is keen on French workers, especially traders—products of an educational system that turns out mathematics whizzes in droves. It is rational interests, rather than cultural affinity, that draw this type of Frenchman to London: high-paid work, lower taxes (especially on wealth), and the chance to raise bilingual children…

…The superior beauty and efficiency of Paris often come at the price of dynamism. Many young French arrivals in London say they are fleeing rigid social codes, hierarchical corporate culture and a sense of distance from the global swirl of people and ideas. “It is hard to go back once you have tasted the internationalism here,” says Jessica Moyal, who works in private equity.

French twenty-somethings see London as a “gateway to globalisation”, agrees Édouard Braine, the French consul-general, who compares the ritual sojourns in the city taken by his younger compatriots to the globe-trotting gap years favoured by their British peers. Not all secure high-flying jobs: many come to study, or to work as au pairs or waiters while perfecting their English, or to find a niche in London’s huge creative industries. Many young French of African or Arab origin also say that there is less discrimination in Britain….

….Far more likely to pull talented French people back home than Britain’s economic doldrums is the prospect of France becoming more business-friendly. Nicolas Sarkozy is chipping away at taxes and regulations, and wants Paris to expand through private-sector development. That sort of thing is within the gift of politicians. But replicating the loose, globalised way of life in London—the anything-goes culture that draws a certain kind of young French person—will be much harder.”

  1. February 25th, 2011 at 04:16 | #1

    Having visited London and lived in France for 3+ years, mostly Paris, can NOT understand why anyone would choose gray London over exciting, colorful Paris, _City-o-Light_ 🙁 !?!

    London does have fish-n-chips, Sunday Roasts & the Big I, but Paris has EVERYTHING!

    Olga Kovshanova, MBA, MA
    Sales and Guest Relations Manager for CIS
    The Grand Mauritian Resort & Spa
    Hotel Professional Extraordinaire
    Email: olinka@olinka.info
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    • February 25th, 2011 at 08:13 | #2

      Hi Olga,

      Thanks for writing. I know London and Paris well too, and I prefer Paris. But Paris can be just as gray and rainy. Many French go to London because it’s more of a global, culturally-open city than Paris. It’s the most international city in the world. And you can generally make a higher salary there in pounds and have less income tax. It’s more business-friendly as well. I certainly hope France continues on the path of reform to facilitate business. They have been doing this but need to make progress. Overall, I think that France needs to capitalize on its young talents and scientific minds to encourage more entrepreneurship and innovation. Venture capital should expand.

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