New research reveals what the French really think about London | Middlesex University London
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    New research reveals what the French really think about London

    27/02/2012
    Cameron and Sarkozy may be hailing new stronger ties between France and the UK, but a love affair between the French and the City of London has been flourishing for years, according to research by Middlesex University.

    Cameron and Sarkozy may be hailing new stronger ties between France and the UK, but a love affair between the French and the City of London has been flourishing for years, according to research by Middlesex University.

    Over 18 months, social scientists from the north London university carried out in depth interviews with French business and finance workers living in London, discovering that our European neighbour's best and brightest see London - rather than Paris - as the place they want to call home.

    The findings included:

    Business

    Business networking opportunities are greater in London, with relationships more open compared to the closed and hierarchical networks in Paris.

    The capital is the place to be for career advancement, with London society seen as more meritocratic than French society, and employment opportunities open to all.

    Business culture is pragmatic and outcome-driven in London (flexible, efficient and effective), in contrast to the more theoretical and analytical approach in France.

    Though the London working week can be long, many pointed to the absence of French-style artificially-extended working days, driven by the need to impress their bosses.

    Most participants initially came to London intending on a short stay for career advancement, but many now intend to stay until retirement age.

    The English

    Though business relationships are very open, many participants felt it was hard to make friends with English people, some citing the reserved nature of the English (one even joking that English people were too intimidated by perceived French culinary skills to invite them for dinner.)

    The politeness of working life in London was seen as a positive, contrasted to the direct and sometimes aggressive working relationships in France (though some reported that the less direct British business approach could be seen as less frank and even two-faced).

    London life

    Though London was universally considered congested, expensive and stressful, with inefficient public transport, it was highly prized for its libertarianism and personal freedoms.

    French people value the cosmopolitan nature of the city, many contrasting this with a more segregated feel in Paris.

    London offers a higher quality of life than Paris, due to having more amenities and cultural attractions. 

    The Economic and Social Research Council funded project aimed to find out more about the motivations behind highly skilled migration.

    Dr Jon Mulholland, who conducted the research with Dr Louise Ryan explained: "The study leaves us in no doubt that, for French highly-skilled people with an ambition to succeed, London has become the destination of choice. This attraction appears to be mutual as for the French, London offers unparalleled opportunities for career escalation in an economic environment prized for its meritocracy, openness and flexibility. For the City, the French bring with them commitment, productivity and specialised financial expertise rarely acquired through the British higher education system."

    Dr Ryan added: "Our participants tell us that being libertarian and Anglo-Saxon is a big selling point for London and many highlighted the personal freedoms that this brought, particularly for women. When you hear French people use phrases like 'astonishing cosmopolitanism' to describe our capital, it shows the high value they place on living and working in a truly diverse society."

    It's estimated up to 400,000 French people live in London contributing to the popular notion that London is the fourth largest French city after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. The study also asked the French highly skilled workers about issues such as national identity and long term future plans.

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