It’s all over the French press, and to a lesser extent the anglo-saxon press. Our French President Emmanuel Macron wants French expats to come back to France. Yep, you read this right. Whether he actually means what he said remains to be seen.
He had already mentioned something similar back in February, so no surprise here. More recently, he made an appearance in front of hundreds of French citizens who have made a new home for themselves in the US, and proudly told them France was now the “land of conquest”. He wanted expats to go back to our home country to “innovate, seek, and teach”. Yeah right. Why am I not convinced?
I started to think long and hard about the opportunity to go back to France, and came to the conclusion that no, it’s not for me. First of all, to me Macron’s statement is simply an opportunistic move, capitalising on the Trump and Brexit effects, nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, his efforts to revamp France’s image are laudable, but I am afraid it’s far too late for me. Becoming an expat is a deeply personal choice, and I think that after four or five years you turn a corner. Coming back becomes more difficult, if not impossible, especially when you have kids. And it’s all nice and well to want expats to come back, but what’s in it for them? Unemployment and jealousy ? Thanks, but I’ll pass on this one. To cut a long story short, I would find it really challenging to come back. Here is why:
Well, for starters my children go to British schools. What can I say? I am a bad person. Mind you, it’s not for lack of trying to be good. I applied to the French lycée when we moved to London, only to be told that they had no place for them. I found out a couple of weeks later that the son of a friend of mine had been accepted. They knew someone at the consulate. I didn’t. I told you, I am a useless mum. My kids went to British schools, loved it, and we never came back to the French system.
Over here, in London, I feel like the sky is the limit. There are more job opportunities, and to cut a long story short I feel less judged about my choices. Do you seriously believe that I would have made the cover of the Times with a baguette if I had stayed in France? I don’t. It would never had happened. In fact, I find it more difficult to think ‘outside the box’ in France. Furthermore, the Grandes Ecoles glass ceiling is far too opaque, and as I haven’t been to ENA I stand little chance of making it to the top. Don’t get me wrong, I could have make a living in France, and probably be happy, but I wouldn’t have been able to change career and start writing. This much I know.
I am far from being the only one. It’s not something we talk about in France, and maybe it is a taboo. But here it is: the French diaspora is massive. Countries with significant numbers of members of the French diaspora include the United States, Canada, Australia and several countries of Latin America. It is estimated that the French diaspora includes over 300 million people, considerably more than the number of French nationals living abroad, which is around 2 millions. See, I wouldn’t be the first not to come back.
I hadn’t realised it until I looked into it, but there were several waves of emigrations from my home country. Nobody really talks about it…In fact, several events have led to emigration from France. For instance, the Huguenots started leaving in the 16th century and started to flee en masse after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Then French colonists settled, especially in the Americas, in the late 17th and 18th centuries. At the end of the 18th century, as a result of the violence caused by the French Revolution, there was a massive movement of French fleeing their home country mostly to neighboring European countries.
Between 1848 and 1939, 1 million people with French passports emigrated to other countries. In the Western Hemisphere, the main communities of French ancestry are found in the United States, Canada and Argentina. Sizeable groups are also found in Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Australia.
It hasn’t stopped ever since, and I hear people speak French all the time in London. So here I am: a pure product of the French school system, shaped by French culture, but staying in London. Of course I miss the freshness of the food, a certain art de vivre and family and friends. But I also feel freer here: less societal pressures, more opportunities. So no, unless things drastically change, I will not go back to France. Because at my age I need more than good words!