The Louvre is the heart of the 1st Arrondissement of Paris; the fourth is the Marais, the fifth the Latin Quarter and the sixth covers Saint Germain-des-Près; the seventh is dominated by the Eiffel Tower, the eighth revolves around the Champs Elysées, the ninth has the Opéra, and the eighteenth the ups and downs of Montmartre… The XXIer and XIIème are a little further away, and for To get to them you have to cross the English Channel by ferry, boat or Eurostar.
Three hundred thousand French people are registered as residents in London at their consulate, but it is estimated that there are at least another hundred thousand who have not bothered to complete the procedure, a figure confirmed by the applications for permanent residence to the Ministry of the Interior after the Brexit. Some left with the pandemic and have not returned, others were bankers who have gone with music to Dublin, Frankfurt or Milan, there are fewer students who serve beers and coffees due to the obstacles to obtaining a visa after the British exit from the European Union , and in the restaurants the impression is that the waiters are Poles or Romanians who, with their facility for languages, imitate Molière’s accent reasonably well for a living.
The English admire the warrior spirit of the French, while they limit themselves to standing in queues
After Brexit nothing is the same. France and Great Britain are like those couples who get divorced, throw things at each other’s heads, one accuses the other of having cheated on him, they divide up the children, the furniture and even the old vinyl records, they negotiate the payment of the pension, and after the trauma of all this they try to get along reasonably well, as friends… But politically it is not easy. Maybe it will change with Starmer.
For the French in London – many of them with magnificent salaries, City speculators, fund managers, diplomats, university and Lycée professors – it is not a drama either. While Britons with a second residence in France, according to EU laws, can only stay in the country for a maximum of ninety days every six months, for European citizens who were already here before Brexit, life remains the same and their rights are the same as before the breakup. When they renew their passport they have to inform the Home Office electronically (a one-minute procedure), and enjoy, which is two days.
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The 21st Arrondissement, the neighborhood of South Kesington, has as its epicenter the Lycée Charles de Gaulle, the French Institute and the Lumière cinema (which combines French films with the latest blockbusters). And around it, like satellites, there is a bookstore that displays the works of Racine, Rousseau, Camus and Voltaire through the window, bakeries and bistros that are not exactly like Aux Deux Magots but make an effort to come close. Even the flower stand in front of the metro station is reminiscent of those on Grand Boulevards. It is one of the most luxurious neighborhoods in the English capital, accessible only to the most privileged.
That is why in the last couple of years the XXIIème Arrondissement has emerged in Kentish Town, a more discreet and middle-class neighborhood in northwest London, with more affordable rents, where the Lycée Français has established a branch in an old Victorian building typical of Harry Potter, given the increase in demand for school places by the expatriate community. Little by little, among Indian restaurants, boulangeries have appeared from which the wonderful smell of croissants fresh from the oven emanates. And Uber drivers are much friendlier (although there are exceptions) than taxi drivers in Paris!
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Since ancient times, the French and English have had a relationship of love and hate, admiration and suspicion, healthy and unhealthy envy, rivalry and cooperation, a consequence of the innumerable religious and succession wars in which both countries have faced each other, of the ambitions and colonial conquests of each other. De Gaulle once prevented the United Kingdom from entering the EEC, and London has left the EU by slamming the door, but this does not prevent this side of the Channel from admiring (from the left) the French revolutionary spirit, the union strength (which Thatcher killed here) and the ability to mobilize, go out into the streets and burn containers (however uncivil it may be), while the British limit themselves to standing in line, so formal, swallowing whatever it takes. Not to mention the cheeses, the cuisine in general and life in Provence, which cannot be compared. Mon Dieu!
Not everything has been wars, however, and not everything is the disagreement over Brexit, the differences between Blair and Chirac, or between the bad-ass Johnson and Macron. With economies and armies of similar size, they are natural rivals but they have also been together in the fight against Hitler and the Suez disaster, and Churchill even proposed uniting the two countries. The idea did not catch on, but in London there are two neighborhoods of Paris, and Kentish Town is the 22ème Arrondissement.
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