Page last updated at 22:59 GMT, Monday, 31 July 2006 23:59 UK

French youth seek jobs in Britain

By Clare Davidson
Business reporter, BBC News, Chelsea

Fanny Lehideux
Fanny is bringing good food to the British

Packing up her organic yoghurt stall at a farmer's market in Chelsea, Fanny Lehideux, 26, is excited by the opportunities on offer in this country.

"In London you feel you can do anything - whether learning how to salsa, or starting a company," she says.

Fanny is one of many French graduates who have crossed the channel to live in the UK.

Like others, she had only planned to come for a while, but ended up staying.

It may be hard to fathom why someone would leave a country with better food, more reliable transport, longer lunch breaks, and more generous social security.

But the answer is simple: most have come to find work.

Bureaucratic burdens

Fanny runs the British arm of Natoora, an organic food delivery service focusing on French food, from goat's cheese and saucisson, to seasonal fruit and vegetables.

Despite having no business experience, starting a firm in the UK was easy, says Fanny, whose firm is branching out to offer British food as well.

Doing the same in France would be impossible, or at best a bureaucratic headache, she adds.

Entrepreneurial spirits

It is this sense of opportunity that attracts French 20 and 30-somethings to Britain.

Vieux Bologne cheese
The one thing I really miss is good cheese
Guillaume Rigal, London Business School alumnus

Many of them are dispirited with the way things are done in France.

US President George W Bush reportedly said that "the problem with the French is that they have no word for entrepreneur".

And although that remark caused much annoyance and sparked widespread derision, many agree with the underlying sentiment.

Earlier this year, French Finance Minister Thierry Breton bemoaned the country's "significant lack of economic culture".

Which goes some way to explain why 15,000 move to the UK every year.

The French embassy says there are 270,000 French people living in the UK, though others say there are many more, perhaps as many as 350,000.

State enterprise

Boris Hure, who came to the UK 10 years ago and now works for an information consultancy, says business in France means "grey-haired men".

In London its about what you can do, not what you have done
Paskell Etesse, software analyst, Reuters

"I left because I could not stand [the view] that business means taking over daddy's firm."

One explanation for this is the education system, which is often criticised for being highly elitist and inflexible.

Top students go to the Grandes Ecoles - professional universities in a different league to the standard universities.

These high flying-students are academically well-educated, but they are not entrepreneurial, according to Guillaume Rigal, who left France to study for a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at London Business School.

"The best brains in France end up working for the state" he says.

Rigid market

Unlike in Anglo-Saxon countries, many in France remain sceptical of unfettered capitalism and French businesses sometimes remain closely intertwined with the state.

More than one in five of France's 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed, twice the national average.

"Even a bar job in France requires a CV and covering letter," says Boris, who blames France's rigid labour market, where few ever leave once they have landed a permanent job.

French graduates in Britain, meanwhile, say it is easy to find work in the UK.

Boulangerie in Paris
The problem [for young people] in France is not about the law but the mentality
Agnes-Prune, Betsson

"The only skills that count are those that have an associated qualification on paper - not experience," says French teacher Magali Kerbellec, 36, who followed a boyfriend to London, but stayed after they split.

Reuters software engineer Paskell Etesse agrees and points out that it is easier to switch jobs in the UK.

"In London, it is about what you can do, not what you have done," he says.

French myth?

Job security is often deemed a sacred part of French life, yet this perception might be based on myth.

French workers say short-term contracts, which offer no job security at all, are the norm for the young in France.

It was this unpredictability that finally prompted Agnes-Prune, 29, to quit Paris after having signed 39 short-term contracts in three years.

"The problem in France is not about the law but the mentality," she says.

The resulting uncertainty makes it hard to rent a flat or open a bank account.

Better pay

But not all is glorious in the UK either.

Agnes Prune Sene
London is more open to foreigners than Paris, says Agnes-Prune

Getting a job might be easier, but starting salaries are often low.

Fanny used to make £800 per month in her first job as a receptionist at London's Le Pont de la Tour restaurant. Agnes-Prune earns £14,000 at Swedish gambling company Betsson.

Nevertheless, to many French in Britain it is the ease of getting work and progressing fast that counts.

Paskell, who earns more than £30,000, and Boris, who gets paid more than £50,000, insist that London's high prices are compensated for by opportunities for higher salaries.

Going back

Having extolled London's virtues for an hour, Fanny insist that "France is still my home" and adds that she will probably go back there one day.

Reservations about staying in the UK are common.

In France, family provisions in particular, from nurseries to subsidised travel, far exceed what is on offer in the UK.

What the UK offers in job opportunities, France makes up for in public services, the French say.

Many of them also long for French food.

"The one thing I really miss is good cheese," says Guillaume.

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