Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
It's a bit of a minefield for me, since I'm one of the British invaders in question -- though I'm not one of the wave of the last few years. When I first applied for a carte de séjour here, they told me at the prefecture I was the only Brit on their file...

However, the review in Le Monde leaves me with the impression the author is basing his account fairly largely on the Dordogne, where there has long been a genteel British community. Let me quote from the "Useful Addresses" sheet the Consulate in Bordeaux hands out (and has for many years) to UK citizens:

DORDOGNE LADIES CLUB - English-speaking social gatherings

DORDOGNE ORGANISATION OF GENTLEMEN - English-speaking luncheon club

THE BRITISH CONSERVATIVE ASSOCIATION IN FRANCE, Dordogne Branch (No, no Labour or Lib-Dem Club, sorry...)

This may account for the outpost-of-empire types the author says he met... (Though, frankly, the overall tone of the Bordeaux Consulate's communications is redolent of a time when Britannia ruled the waves and there was none of this vulgar EU citizenship business...)

The latest wave of house-buyers isn't, for the most part, of this category. There are all kinds of people among them. As the article notes, some are arrogant, some (more than one might expect) don't attempt to learn French. Some make an effort to get on minimally with the locals. Others make more effort, and there are doubtless a good many who are genuinely happy to live in a different environment from that of Britain. (As the author suggests, space and time to breathe, etc...)

Where I disagree is with the usual sweeping assertion that, in buying houses, the British are somehow doing good:

La flambée immobilière qui leur est reprochée a rempli les poches de "froggies" qui ne savaient que faire de leurs ruines familiales.

The property boom they are blamed for has filled the pockets of "Froggies" who didn't know what to do with their family ruins.

Beyond the condescending slight that sees France as some half-dead place where old families possess ruins no one wants, it's true that there are owners who are pleased to have sold at a good price, and, of course, in some far-flung corners, this has led to declining villages getting new inhabitants and refurbished housing.

But it's not that simple. As Britons have done elsewhere (Spain, in particular), buying up properties is synonymous with taking them out of the local market and up into a parallel higher-priced market in which British estate agents buy and sell and make more money than the locals.

Next, the British house-buying wave goes far beyond just useless ruins to "do up", and actually bites into the market for homes French families can no longer buy, because the price has gone through their mortgage-raising ceiling. I don't think it's anecdotal that I know several young couples with children who can't find a house to buy in this zone 40-60 km out of Toulouse -- not at a price they can afford and would normally have been able to find six or seven years ago.

There are other things I grouse about, like the non-stop short-hop low-cost flights to small local airports that in fact fuel this wave. And, overall, I just don't find it healthy, that a fairly massive movement of this kind is based on a crazy, speculative market in a neighbouring country. So many people in England (and again, it's anecdotal, but I know several) have based their capacity to earn money on the speculative nature of the housing market, and they are studying markets in other countries in order to speculate and make yet more money out of them.

In conclusion, I'm glad some Britons come to France to live the life, but I think there are far too many who have near-colonial attitudes, and the "perverse" market consequences are real.

Or, alternatively, I just want it all for myself ;). Brits go 'ome.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Apr 18th, 2006 at 09:21:47 AM EST

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