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London: France’s Sixth-Largest City

France’s most populous cities, in order, are Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Nice—and London? According to the BBC, London is now the sixth-largest city in France, as measured by the population of French citizens living within city limits. The British capital’s French population of around 400,000 is large enough to send a representative of the city to the National Assembly next month.

The reasons for the exodus would sound familiar to past waves of immigrants to England and America. Though many French expats are nostalgic for home, the economic and personal benefits of living in England are hard to ignore:

Being in London and speaking English gives her access to a wider client base — Malika sees the city as a gateway to globalisation and also relishes freedom from French bureaucracy.

“With a new venture in Paris you always think first of what is going to go wrong. I find the system much easier here — you don’t have so many rules and so much paperwork.” . . .

Marine Schepens, who works for a fashionable advertising agency, says UK companies are more prepared to give young people a chance because it is easier to terminate their contracts than in France.

This is particularly true for France’s sizable immigrant and minority population, who have found that racism and discrimination in France have made advancement all but impossible. England, by contrast, continues to provide opportunities. An interview with a Moroccan-French immigrant in London illustrates the point:

“Because of your name you will be discriminated against [in France], because of your skin colour, and even the address on your CV can stop you from getting a job,” he says.

“As for your skills and competencies — none of that counts in France if you don’t fit in the box — so I left,” he adds.

Hamid now advises many French companies on how to diversify their workforce and he lectures at Sciences Po, one of the country’s most prestigious universities.

But he says that in the early days it was much easier to get someone to pick up the phone, if he called from London than from Paris.

In recent years, it has become fashionable to doubt the continued significance of the Anglosphere. But Anglo-American culture, which values innovation, industry, and economic and social openness, continues to be a magnet for immigrants, and there is every reason to believe that it will retain that status well into the 21st century.

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  • James C Brown

    I defer to others who know the numbers but I believe the French who live in and around London are younger mostly in their 20s and early 30s, often but not always skilled with university degrees – basically the ideal mobile population. London is a very fun city. I dare say its viewed by oodles of French as being more fun and more “with it” than Paris.

    But, for those with kids and looking to settle down with some perspective of stability, be they qualified or not (especially not), the UK appears less appetizing as work destiny with its easily-hired, easily-fired employment scheme.
    Plus, cuisine and how one eats is prioritized to an extent which still leaves this Anglo-Celt baffled. Many French simply can’t live where they think they cannot eat well, and this excludes the UK for, ahem, obvious reasons.

    Note, too, that the London economy is heavily skewered towards the financial industry. The gravitational pull of this industry will cull off a number of talented French, but the sheer numbers of qualified young French workers projecting careers in finance is proportionally smaller than in the Anglosphere. (This is a personal impression drawn from years of close observation and of practice in formulating bold statements).

  • Anthony

    WRM, you’ve intimated (in other writings) that social and psychological factors have facilitated role of Anglo-American cultural attraction vis-a-vis immigrants and others. In your book you attribute some of the attraction to fields of religion and philosophy – Bergson and Popper. Has it at bottom really been difference between open and closed societies? (France/England).

  • Anthony

    As follow up to earlier comment: “Open societies base themselves on ideals and aspirations rather than on traditions and archaic rules. Custom yields to conscience.” – a cornerstone of Anglo-American attraction to world perhaps.

  • Paul McCaffree

    a little rosy eyed, but i agree and sure like to hear the sentiment.

  • Adrian

    Alas, too good to check…

    See this link

  • Kenny

    GB’s labor policies were described above in post @1 as “easily-hired, easily-fired employment scheme.”

    Let’s go easy there. ‘Easily hired’ and ‘easily-fired’ are realtive terms. That comparative description may hold true for GB vs. France, but not for GB vs. the US.

  • Luke Lea

    #5 – nice fact check Adrian:

    “Somehow, “London, 68th French city” doesn’t have quite that same je ne sais quoi to it.”

  • James C Brown

    Kenny – indeed, the comparison I was thinking of is FRA/UK not the US/UK. In France, it’d be “not easily-hired/not-easily fired”. Stringent labor laws make it difficult to lay off workers, so instead of hiring full-time open-end contracts (“CDI”), most employers have increased their usage of fixed-term contracts (“CDD”) which usually leave workers in precarious situations. This is the case for many young workers – the old folks, boomers, 40ers, 30ers have the CDI positions, but the young newcomers often have to settle for temporary CDD work. Thus the attraction for more dynamic labor markets like London which, despite it’s “easy go” exit policy, is also “easy come” in terms of hiring.
    Perhaps just as important is that that is the perception of the way things go in London. Be it true or not, most French think it functions that way (there I go again with my unsubstantiated bold statements, I know 😉

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