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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 March 2008, 13:00 GMT
Making the Anglo-French connection
By Amy Blackburn

French flag flying in South Kensington
How do London's French population feel about Sarkozy?
As French President Nicolas Sarkozy jets into the UK on a state visit, he will be watched with special interest by the French community in London.

Britain is home to an estimated 300,000 French expatriates, and a corner of London's South Kensington has been virtually transformed into a Parisian arrondissement.

Mr Sarkozy was the first French presidential candidate to campaign in the UK in the run-up to his election.

And this latest visit will surely be closely followed by those whose votes he once courted.

Isabelle moved to London from Paris two weeks ago. "So far, I am very happy here", she says, through a French-speaking Australian friend who is acting as her interpreter.

When asked about how her experience of London up to now compares to life she has left behind in Paris, the 25-year-old hairdresser does not shy away from her reasons for moving to the UK.

"I came here to learn English, but also to work. There is more work here, and you can earn more."

'Politics forgotten'

Despite her determination to leave France and seek work in London, Isabelle appears almost protective of the president's integrity.

"Everyone has spoken too much about his private life. The politics have been forgotten about, whether it's related to his policies in France or elsewhere," she said.

"I will definitely stay interested in French politics, even though I am in England now."

The much-publicised state visit to London has prompted fevered speculation of a renewed Anglo-French entente, and the president certainly needs the good publicity as his approval ratings in France plummet.

With Sarkozy, at first, it was hope. It was just his private life that was a bit too noisy
French expatriate Veronique Thabault

It would surely not be difficult for any French expatriate to feel at home in London.

The café in which Isabelle is buying her lunch shares this small street with at least three others, as well as a French restaurant and delicatessen.

There are also two French bookshops, one of which, Au Fils des Mots, is owned by Veronique Thabault. She has lived in London for eight years.

She says: "I followed my husband here, as he works in London. Life in London is pleasant. I like it here.

"I do still feel connected to France, and I still maintain an interest in French politics, but the problem is that we are expatriate - I haven't lived in France for many years now. I don't know how Sarkozy's visit will affect his popularity. I suppose we'll have to see what he does here.

"With Sarkozy, at first, it was hope. It was just his private life which was a bit too noisy, and no-one was expecting that. My opinion of him is quite positive. With regards to issues like the economy, we are all expecting a lot from him."

Joie de vivre

Many of the Francophones enjoying life in London are relatively young, yet they still seemed switched on to what is happening in politics on the other side of the Channel.

Students from the Lycee in London
Pupils at the Lycee study French culture and current affairs
Their youthful joie de vivre is most in evidence at the Lycée Francais Charles de Gaulle, the notoriously oversubscribed French school in the heart of South Kensington.

"Our school teaches us a lot about French politics", says 17-year-old Lycée student Laeticia.

She is spending her lunch break at the Mona Lisa Cafe with two friends, Emma and Beatrix, both 18.

"We have extra lessons each week to learn about French culture. We've just had our mock exams, for our Baccalaureate, so we had to know a lot about French politics for that."

Like many of the Lycée's students, several of the girls have not spent significant portions of their lives in France.

"My parents are from France," says Emma, "but we moved to England when I was two."

Nevertheless, their curriculum keeps them firmly in touch with French current affairs.

"We talk a lot about Sarkozy in our French culture lessons", Emma says.

"I think his marriage has degraded the way people see him in France. Saying that you're going to marry a supermodel isn't really what people expect!"

Now that the president and his glamorous new wife have arrived, the clientele of South Kensington's French cafes will undoubtedly have a lot to talk about over their coffee.



SEE ALSO
Sarkozy seeks better ties with UK
26 Mar 08 |  UK Politics
Sarkozy romance sparks furore
07 Jan 08 |  Europe

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