You couldn’t help enjoying the views over the last week. As Sarkozy and Hollande held their rallies against picturesque Parisian settings, it was hard to imagine how bad it would have to get before you’d feel compelled to leave.
But following Hollande’s election on Sunday, commentators were pondering on the threats of thousands of people to turn their backs on the French capital. Some of them may join the 300,000 fellow French citizens in France’s 6th city. South Kensington already feels a bit like Paris’s Latin Quarter, with the Lycée Francais and the many bistros, cafés and book shops, so they would blend in easily.
I grew up thinking that the French did quite a lot of things better than us: cuisine, style, egalitarianism, la belle vie. Then later, I couldn’t help hearing people talking about wanting to relocate to France, the superior work-life balance, and TV property programmes compounded the idea that a lot of Brits would much rather live in France than in the UK. And I have to admit, the case in favour is compelling. They have generally more space, better weather, proper mountains with snow, and an appreciation for the finer things in life. Though I have to say that their bread doesn’t last long and the idea of having to get up first thing to head to the bakery in your slippers is deeply flawed.
So why are so many Parisians living in London, and why aren’t there similar numbers going the other way? It doesn’t help that Paris is the 6th most expensive city in the world. But it is a question I often ask of the many French people I interview. The one thing they all agree on is that it improves their careers, because London offers significantly more opportunity and a less hierarchical, less formal employment environment. I hear it but it sometimes doesn’t go in. Have we flipped round the stereotypes of the British stiff upper lip and the French laissez-faire? Can London really be viewed as the great meritocratic metropolis by the French? If not, then why did Sarkozy comment to French expats on a trip to London in 2007, “France is still your country even if you are disappointed by it”?
Still, Sarkozy is yesterday’s man. I look forward to the Merkel-Hollande boxing match, and to seeing if Hollande has the stomach to implement his promised 75% tax rate. And who knows, we could all soon again be enjoying coq au vin and a Burgundy in Paris for 50 francs, or souvlaki and retsina for 2,000 drachmas in Athens. Fantastic food for a fiver!