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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 23:45 GMT 00:45 UK
Destination Londres
By Joe Boyle
BBC News

A French novelist's love for London is causing a stir in his home country. But could the UK really be turning into La Nouvelle France?

Oxford Street
The bustle of central London proves popular with French emigrants...

TV property shows have been spoon-feeding us a particular brand of Anglo-French relations over the past few years.

The image is familiar: A hard-working British couple invest their life savings in a ramshackle gite in the French countryside.

After much blood, sweat and tears, they find themselves installed in their dream home - or alternatively, mired deep in a money-pit.

Less familiar to us would be the story of Marc Levy.

Try this image: A multi-million selling French author settles in London where he gains inspiration for his romantic novels, praising the city's "sweetness".

Not so familiar perhaps, but Levy has done just that.

As an author of easy-to-read romances that regularly top French sales lists, some critics have dismissed him as a peddler of chick-lit, others praise him as the French Dan Brown.

Although it's not very far, it's still a foreign country
Valerie Brunet
French emigrant

And he has set his latest book - Mes Amis Mes Amours - in the UK capital.

He told the Times newspaper that London had "an energy, a creativity and a craziness, which was in Paris in the 1960s and New York in the 1980s".

He also posed the question - which would stick in the throat of many Parisians: "What city could be more romantic than London?"

'A great place'

But it seems that growing numbers of Levy's countrymen are following his lead.

In 2001 there were 94,178 French people resident in the UK - a jump of 76% from 1991. The French Embassy estimated that the true figure was currently about 300,000 and rising.

Vineyard in Bordeaux
...but Britons are still seduced by the French countryside idyll

Valerie Brunet, a 33-year-old marketing manager, is one emigrant who made the switch from France to England. She came to London seven years ago after her husband was transferred with his job.

"If you are in your twenties and want some work experience, it is a great place to come," she said.

"There is definitely a French community here. More and more it is possible to find places where French people meet up. And once you know a couple of French people, you're bound to meet more."

But after having a child, she no longer sees her long-term future in London.

"Although it's not very far, it's still a foreign country, and you cannot expect your relatives to make the trip regularly.

"And if you have a family, you are thinking about bigger places to live - but houses are just so expensive here. In France it is a lot cheaper."

It is a common complaint - and not only among London's French community.

'Cream of society'

Despite high prices, Marie-Cecile Boulle, who has been selling UK property to French clients for seven years, said she had seen a real growth in the numbers of French people buying UK property.

French people have always come to London to live and work
Marie-Cecile Boulle

"The French who buy property here, they are the cream of French society - they are from the top business schools, with the best education."

She said living in London gives French people the "best of all worlds" because it has the theatres, the Institut Francais, the best French school outside of France - and crucially, France is close enough to visit during holiday time.

"I lose all my consultants during the summer holidays. They all go home. For the French, it is a must."

So has the allure of the French countryside faded for Britons? Is London really becoming Aix-sur-Thames?

Not according to Penny Zoldan, who has been selling French properties to British people for 18 years.

"In the past four years, the numbers we have been selling have probably trebled," she said.

John Thaw
A Year in Provence popularised French countryside life in the UK

She said her agency, Latitudes, sold about 500 properties a year and estimated that more than 500,000 Britons owned property in France - many more than French people own in Britain.

But there are certainly increasing numbers of French people coming to live in the UK - most of them young, the majority living and working in London.

And there are signs that London is being seen as more of a cultural centre than it once was.

But, as Ms Boulle pointed out: "French people have always come to London to live and work."

And it is an often overlooked fact that there are almost three times as many Germans than French who are resident in the UK.

We asked for your views on the UK's French community. The following is a selection of your comments.

First arrived in England in 1991 and has never been back to France since. My wife is English and my son was born in England too. Work market is good, house market not so....
Fabrice Delaroche, Fenny Compton, Warwickshire

Oui, je suis francais et j'adore Londres...err that's it. It seems to me that the French people buying property here are the rich elite while the Brits buying in France are middle-class folk fed up with being ripped off. All of which confirms my suspicion that the UK, and London in particular, is rapidly turning into a playground for the wealthy. Yes it's a happening buzzy place - but only if you can afford it.
Aaron, London, UK

It's perhaps important to distinguish London from the rest of the UK, it's a vibrant international city, a centre of world finance and business. So it's attracting people from all over the world. With mass unemployment in France and Germany, it's no wonder people want to try their luck in the UK. Those Brits who move to France rarely go there to work, it's for holidays or retirement, as if France is a big theme park.
M Burton, Lyon and London

Being both French and English and having lived here most of my life, I have definitely noticed the growth of the French community in London. My mother came over to the UK in the 70s, having married an Englishman, and found it very different to her country of origin. Since then, London has become much more European, French food is widely available and the culture shock is at lot less obvious. But I think that the recent influx is mainly due to a favourable tax system for the wealthy, and a healthier job-market for the young.
SNG, London, UK

I've been living in London for 6 years, and as much as i love France, London allows me to still live a very French life. I can buy the French papers, eat the same food, watch French TV and I'm only 1 hour from home, should i need to get back. Having been here so long, going back would inevitably force me to miss English things, the Sunday papers in a pub with a roast and a pint, TV and the humour. It would be much harder to be English in Paris, than French in London.
Edouard S, London, UK

I am an Irish writer living in France for the past 6 years. I wouldn't change where I live for anything. The pace of life is calmer, the wine fantastic and the French themselves are a wonderful race. Plus my children are all bilingual speaking French as naturally as they speak English. My inspiration comes from living in a calm environment. 2CVs and baguettes - what more could anyone ask for!
Niamh O'Hanlon, Basque Region, France

I'm French and i have been living in England for 16 years. I came here for my job but the main reason I stayed was for the rock life . London is really best city in the world if you are in a band or enjoy nightlife .Whatever the prejudices , there is not much difference between the English and French way of life (fresh food excluded). I now have an franco/english granddaughter and do not see any reason to go back leaving in France.
Patrice Picard, Luton beds

I moved here in my early teens with my parents and blended in quite well into the community here. Although I must say that I do not know much about the French community in London, but in Leicester as I am sure in most other places, people like me do feel quite isolated. The only French or French speaking persons that I found around here were the teachers I had during my GCSE in French and A Levels. They were very welcoming at the thought of having an actual French student with them. I was glad of that. Even though I am still a French national holding French nationality, I feel like I am loosing my touch with the French way of living. In a way you could say that I have been Anglo-sized.
Amit Sagar, Leicester, England

I left France after refusing to do my military service. In 2000, I was pardoned thanks to changes in the law yet I decided to stay here. Hey, the food is so much better in France, it's sadly still so true. I miss the culture. But don't be surprised that some of us love you guys: London is a very rich city in terms of art and entertainment. I was raised with the music of the Police and Genesis, and Peter Gabriel whom I worship.
Thibault Jamme, Guildford, UK

Having the French over is all good, they teach us how to cook and we teach them a sense of humour.......
Mat, London

French youth seek jobs in Britain
31 Jul 06 |  Business

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