National Geographic : 2000 Jun
More than 65,000 French citizens are reg istered in Great Britain, and unofficial esti mates put the number of French in London as high as 100,000, with more arriving every week. Richard Pak, a 26-year-old photographer from Paris, described his arrival with the sort of wide-eyed excitement that I felt for his city in the 1960s. "London is very exotic," he said. "When you take Eurostar from Paris and arrive here, you feel something in the air." We were sitting near Leicester Square at the Charles P6guy center, financed by a French charitable trust. For 50 pounds (about $80 U.S.), French citizens can refer to the center's job and accommodation lists and get advice on everything from writing a resume in English to negotiating Britain's tax and health-care systems. "You can come here on Monday morning," said Richard, pushing back his tousled chestnut hair, "and be working on Tuesday." Many jobs taken by the French are in the catering or hotel industries. Meanwhile some French companies, driven out by high taxes and labor costs, are moving to London. Even the national airline, Air France, has its European call center in London. Sacks full of francs are following. One French newspaper has compared this flight of money and manpower to the exodus of the Huguenots at the end of the 17th century. EOGRAPHICALLY and politically the United Kingdom may be on the fringes of Europe, but London has become, economically and culturally, the de facto capital of Europe. At the same time, it feels more European than ever. This can be seen in the way Londoners have dis covered the street. When I was young, Soho was a backwater stalked by sleazy men in rain coats, but as I walked around late on a warm summer evening, there was a boisterous, carni val atmosphere. People spilled out of pubs with their pints; a young couple stood locked in a just get left farther behind.