London calling: France, get your head out of sand

Fri Apr 20, 2012 12:23pm EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - Pampered by a profligate state and blind to hard economic truths: that is how many French expatriates who have crossed the Channel to seek job opportunities in London view their compatriots back home as they prepare to elect their president.

Dubbed "Paris-on-Thames" by some British media, London has an estimated 350,000 French residents scattered across the city and working in every sector from finance to fast food. It is the equivalent of France's fifth city after Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, if you discount those cities' suburbs.

Reasons for moving to London range from learning English to getting a lucrative job in financial services, or simply to enjoy a diverse, dynamic environment less stifling than Paris.

"People in Paris are not very open-minded. London is a lot more multi-cultural. And let's face it, the job opportunities are much better," said Turpin Senou, a French worker in the City financial district with family roots in Benin, West Africa.

Many French Londoners say France is bent on preserving a cushy but unaffordable lifestyle, and they are deeply unimpressed with what the presidential candidates are proposing.

"They argue about things like halal meat. It's populist nonsense. The real problem is the economic crisis and they're not saying anything convincing about how to sort it out," said Silene Sashugba, an acupuncturist.

A row over warning labels on meat prepared under Muslim halal rules dominated early stages of the campaign.

Sashugba plans to vote for Socialist frontrunner Francois Hollande, but she is not enthused.   Continued...