Why the French have sought refuge in London

By Alex Spillius


One Frenchman, who has moved to London, has said that the British are much more positive and dynamic than the French

There is perhaps one phrase that best sums up the positive feelings French expatriates hold for London, and that is joie de vivre.

The capital offers a buzz and optimism missing from Paris, let alone smaller French cities, that is found in the music scene, the contemporary art galleries, the street markets, the fluid social mix. And of course in lower taxes and, for some, staggeringly higher salaries.

"I am a big London fan," said Alex Poitier, a trader at a foreign bank in the City. "In terms of salary and the amount of responsibility I am given there is no comparison with France, but I love the whole philosophy of the place. There is dynamism — the English are much more positive than the French, who just can't stop complaining."

He even finds the Tube bearable. "Yes it's crowded, but so is the Metro, which also smells of pee. The Tube doesn't."

Mr Poitier arrived six years ago as an intern and is now not sure he will ever leave.

Aged 28, he is a member of the Eurostar generation escaping youth unemployment of 23 per cent, caused in part by a notoriously rigid labour market.

The number of French living in Britain has risen sharply over the past decade. The French embassy estimates that there are 200,000 to 300,000, with the majority in the South-East, making London one of the top 10 biggest French-populated cities.

Many of the new arrivals work in the Square Mile, where bonuses mean they can earn five times what they would for the same job at home.

Even for those not earning stellar salaries, Britain's more flexible labour and educational environment is attractive. Sandra von Lucius moved here with her husband 18 months ago because Britain is the only country to offer two-year law conversion courses for non-law graduates.

The mother of a 17-month-old baby, she finds London "great for kids". "It is better than Paris for that. There are parks everywhere whereas Paris has small squares that are very crowded. The restaurants here are also more friendly to children," she said over lunch at the French Institute in South Kensington.

Charlotte Lefevre, 23, a librarian at the institute, loves the free galleries and museums, and watching pub bands. "The music in Paris doesn't compare," she said.

Her friend, Marie Pourcelot, had one objection: "I came here to improve my English, but there are too many French people here, I am not speaking English enough."