The Accidental Londoner… or How I Fall in Love with London

Given the nature of this website, I thought it would make sense to start a blog by explaining why I gave up my native city of Paris for London, and never looked back. Of course, the British tabloids might still occasionally describe the French as “cheese eating surrendering monkeys” and we like to joke about the “Roast beefs” from the “Perfidious Albion”… And yet, as a French person, there is so much to enjoy about calling London “home”, as the 300,000 or so of my compatriots who have settled in the British capital could testify.

As a Frenchie who has lived in London for almost eleven years, I am often asked -usually by my English friends- why I should have left beautiful Paris for their capital. The truth is that the decision was a practical compromise at the time -linked to factors including a boyfriend, a job and the desire to be closer to my family after a two-year stint in Sydney- rather than a choice based on a deep passion for this city.

Of course, I had always liked London, which I first discovered aged five on a one-day trip with my parents, who used to come here to shop (apparently good value at the time). I then spent a week in South Kensington as an 18-year old, where I stayed in a flat belonging to a famous English screenwriter. In true Frog mode, I insisted to go to Café de Paris to listen to my then favourite DJ, a quintessentially Parisian man called Alfred de Paname (“Paname” meaning “Paris” in French slang), who used to hop to Londonevery Wednesday to dispense his own brand of retro music magic -including 1950s radio jingles in French- to an unsuspecting and slightly perplex crowd of British party goers. I then stayed during my student days with friends in Notting Hill, before the film and the bankers invasion, when it was getting seriously trendy but still considered risky to walk alone in All Saints Road (unless you were a drug dealer or suicidal).

Yet despite the fact that I always seemed to have a good time in London, loved British music, Ruth Rendell and Monty Python, it never crossed my mind that I would one day live here. I remember replying to a university friend who had told me that she planned to move toLondon: “But why would you do that? It is just like Paris, only with worse weather!”

And yet, here I was, in October 1999, having just arrived in rainy London not as a tourist but as a new resident. And in a matter of days I realised that I had found the perfect metropolis for me: not as beautiful as Paris but more charming; just as energy-fuelled as New York but without the in your face aggressiveness; almost as exotic as Hong Kong but with the added bonus of a language I could speak. The parks, the houses, the village atmosphere, the people spreading out of pubs after work, all those things that I had been too young to appreciate earlier struck a chord when London became home.

And since then, not a day has passed that I haven’t thought how lucky I am to live here. Of course, nothing is really ever perfect and like most Londoners, I would appreciate a real summer, with sun and heat lasting for more than three consecutive days (although we are incredicly spoilt at the moment so it does happen). But there are things that make up for it. For example, I never stop being amazed that you can live in such an big city yet walk for hours in Hampstead Heath with squirrels and the occasional fox as your only companions: something taken for granted by London-born people but pretty amazing for someone raised in Paris, where the green patches -which are rare- are admittedly beautiful but meant to be admired from a distance rather than walked on.

Not even being carjacked at knifepoint by a crack addict who threatened to kill my daughter scared me off London. While many of my friends assumed I would go back to live in France after that, I just figured: why pack my bags when it could have happened in any big city? So I overcame my post traumatic stress disorder and following the local saying that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, I just “got over it”, in true British mode.

I also am a firm believer that more than the weather, architecture or infrastructures, it is the people that makes a place really appealing in the long term. And I never tire of this multicultural city, where hundreds of nationalities live side by side in such a tolerant and unselfconscious way which can’t be found -at least in my opinion- in any other place in the world. Even more to the point, I just love the Brits, which make for easygoing and warm friends: I just love the self-deprecating sense of humour which they use as their default mode and their usual courtesy, with the result that a journey in the Tube, however crowded, never turns into a minor form of wrestling, as in the Parisian metro. I also love the fact that London allows you to be yourself, dress how you like, lead your life as you wish, and that nobody will bat an eyelid, as long as you don’t hurt anyone and show somerespect.

Of course, I still love my country, its culture, great food, lifestyle, beautiful countryside and architecture and the fact that French people can opine for hours about absolutely nothing but with a wit that makes it a national pastime. Of course, when retirement age comes, I will do what many Brits do: pack my bags and head for the sun, probably in the south of France. But I wouldn’t call myself a Parisian anymore, and there are definite signs that I have become a true Londoner: for one, I am now fluent in weather-speak, can outtalk almost anyone on the subject of property prices and have developed an acute anxiety disorder over the subject of secondary schools. I admit that cricket still leaves me cold, but after France lost against Mexico in the World Cup, I cheered -until their own debacle- for the English : now, if that is not proof enough?