That’s it, we now have the results of the referendum, and as everybody knows the British people have chosen to leave the European Union. I must admit that the result came to a surprise to me. As I have made my opinion on the subject pretty clear (click here in case you have missed it: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12173177/Im-French-but-Ive-lost-my-patience-with-the-EU.-Ill-be-voting-Leave.html), I have been at the receiving end of various not-so-nice comments (can you hear the British understatement here?), and I must admit that I wasn’t prepared for them. So let’s start by making something clear: I am not racist, I certainly don’t feel old (According to the media only old people have voted Leave) and I am well-educated (I have two master degrees, after all). So enough with all the condescending assumptions please.
I can’t help thinking that, had the Remain camp won, we would have been told to accept it and move on (which I would have done). That’s what democracy is about: people vote, and you respect their decision, even if you don’t like it. Because of the unexpected result, some Remainers have been behaving like toddlers who have just been refused a sweet. They are now threatening to throw up a tantrum. It’s time to wake up, smell the coffee, and behave in a more responsible way.
What particularly annoys me is when I hear European expats of all walks of life complaining about the referendum results. Some of them have been living here for decades, and I am struggling to understand why they didn’t become British after all this time. They could have had a saying in the matter, but somehow they chose not to. So why complain now? Maybe we’ve had it too good for too long, and we took things for granted. It seems to me that our society is suffering from a severe case of over-inflated sense of entitlement. After all, being able to live in a foreign country is a privilege, not a right.
We moved from Paris to London about 14 years ago, and made a decision that we would all take British citizenship after 6 or 7 years. Until recently, I was asked all the time why we made the decision to become British, after all, we had European passports –we are a French family. I had it explained to me many times that there was no need for us to be naturalised. In fact, most – if not all – of my expat friends didn’t want to become British at the time, but they are now trying to get a British passport as fast as they can. It is a long and expensive process: you need to get your Permanent Residence first, then pass a test, then pay a hefty fee (£1,236 for an adult), then attend a citizenship ceremony and finally get interviewed for your first passport. So why did we put ourselves through such a hassle before the Brexit was even on the radar? Well, quite frankly, it isn’t straightforward to explain. It happened gradually, I suppose. Looking back, I turned a corner after 4 or 5 years of living in the UK, and then there seemed to be no going back. I didn’t see it coming, but I ended up loving it here. I must have caught the British bug, and there was and still is no cure for it. I thought that being a British citizen was a good way to be more integrated into my community. Even if I am fully aware that I will always be ‘the French one’.
Don’t get me wrong: I feel for expats who have moved here, and whose future is now more incertain because of the referendum, but reassurances have been made that things won’t change for them. And I also believe that lots of opportunities will happen now that we are going to be free of the burden of the EU bureaucracy. In short, these are exciting times, and I hope that, with some hard work and pragmatism, things will work out for the best.
In short, it’s time to build bridges, be kinder to each other, and move on. Stiff upper lip and all that, right? We’re all in this together, and I think we can make it work. On this note, I’ll make myself a cup of tea.