Monday, January 13, 2014

Vive la difference....les rosbifs fight back

I read an interesting feature in The Times at the weekend. It was written by Muriel Demarcus, a Parisian who has spent the last 10 years living in London and it highlighted the differences - and in the writer’s view - many of the downsides to living in the UK and being English as opposed to being French and living in France.

It got me thinking about what I would write as an Englishwoman living in France. Like the writer, I too have had a 10 year relationship with my adopted home country, having spent years coming to our apartment during every school holiday until we made the move to the Côte d’Azur.

I arrived with my rose tinted glasses on, naively believing that life would be the proverbial armful of crusty baguettes accompanied by a constant supply of sunshine, year-round sports and languorous days by the pool sipping rosé. It has been all those things to be fair. But there is an awful lot of other stuff that I didn’t factor in.

School. The French education system cares about one thing and one thing only. Results. My girls have always known their position in the class hierarchy at the international section of their French secondary school and their moyen - average grade per subject - is published online to keep them on their toes. Most tests are marked out of 20 and while a grade of 12 or 13 would have me piling effusive praise on the girls given that most of their subjects are being taught in French, from the teacher, more often than not it would merely elicit: ‘Could do better,’ or ‘Must try harder.’ I find the general negativity and lack of praise hard to handle.

Shortly after starting school here, Livvy came home astonished at the fact that one of her classmates had been belted across the back of the head with a heavy text book by a teacher for daring to pick up a ruler he had dropped on the floor. On another occasion, a classroom assistant dragged a boy suspected of bullying across the primary school playground by his ear. In the UK, you would be suspended for that. In France, c’est normale. On the plus side, both girls are completely bi-lingual and studying for A levels at her British curriculum international school is a breeze for Livvy following the rigours, discipline and relentless testing from four years in the French system.

Business. Getting a business off the ground here requires nothing short of a miracle and nerves of steel. I left my busy, dynamic and successful career as a showbiz writer in London to find that it was nigh on impossible to generate anything like the workload I enjoyed before. This is despite high profile events like Cannes Film Festival and Monte-Carlo TV Festival taking place a stone’s throw from my front door. They are great fun, but not enough to sustain an annual wage. And with the auto entrepreneur, or freelance, status recently having the upper earnings level reduced to something approaching €20,000 a year, unless you start a SARL or limited company at vast set up costs, you’re scuppered unless you work for a French company or work for the government, as a significant percentage of the population do here. Don’t even get me started on social charges.

Health. Having become intimately acquainted with the medical establishment in France, I can only say good things about the standard of care, speed and efficiency of treatment. My local hospital is scrupulously clean, spacious and friendly (the receptionist always remembers my name at each appointment.) Having a nursing office in the village means you don’t tie the doctor’s surgery up with blood tests, dressing changes and other basic medical requirements. If I need a GP appointment, my doctor picks up his own phone and slots me in within a day or two.

Lifestyle. Honestly, there’s not much to dislike about being a 40 minute drive from the nearest ski resort and 30 minutes from the beach. Our surroundings are like a ready-made adventure playground of cycle and running routes whose beauty takes your breath away. The river valley, gorge, waterfalls and dramatic cliff faces provide the best possible backdrop for any kind of exercise.

So like Muriel, who is happy to stay in London, I have no desire to up sticks and return to the UK just yet, despite the promises of economic recovery and the fact that certain aspects of my life would be very much simpler if I did. Besides, there aren’t too many places where you can sit outside for Sunday brunch in glorious warm sunshine in a T shirt in early January.