Goldman Bankers Sample Haute Cuisine As Boulud Visits Cafeteria

Tens of thousands of young French people in their 20's and early 30's have given up looking for jobs at home, where the unemployment rate for those under 25 is now about 25 percent. They have hopped on the Eurostar tunnel train or a plane to London, where jobs are available for the asking and no work permits are required for European Union citizens.

Many also say -- quelle horreur! -- that they want to improve English-language skills that are appreciated in much of Europe but considered a threat to the primacy of the French language at home.

Sandra Gosmat, a poised 19-year-old native of Toulouse, found a job here within 72 hours.

''The economy in France isn't going too well,'' she said at L'Oranger, one of the innumerable stylish new French restaurants in London, as she presented the bill one recent evening. ''I flew over from Toulouse on Jan. 26 and by the 28th I had started here. I planned to stay six months, but now I think I'll stay longer.''

A recent poll of 1,000 people in France by the Louis Harris organization found that 60 percent of respondents under 25 felt that French society was stymied and that 64 percent said they would gladly go abroad to work compared with only 30 percent of the French population as a whole.

The most popular foreign destination for young French people considering work abroad, a separate poll for Le Figaro showed, was the United States, where 52 percent wanted to go. But Britain was close behind, with 44 percent.

Not only French waitresses and busboys but also bankers and financiers are heading here in droves, for London remains Europe's financial capital even though Britain will not be part of the common European currency that France and other continental countries plan to start next year.

French consular officials here say that as of Jan. 1 there were 60,000 French citizens living in the greater London area who had registered with the consulate, up from 41,500 five years ago, and they believe that is only the tip of the iceberg.

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''We estimate that there are 160,000 to 180,000 all over the United Kingdom,'' said Laurent Lemarchand, a consular spokesman. ''Of the 18- 30-year-olds, we figure probably 65 percent never register their presence with us, so we're really only guessing at how many of them there are here.''

The babble of young voices in the nightclubs around Covent Garden on weekends sounds more like the Marais district of Paris than nearby Soho, and parts of South Kensington, near the French Embassy, have almost become French overseas territories.

''I stayed in a hotel on Gloucester Road the first couple of weeks that I was here,'' said Jean-Christophe Grenier, 30, an investment banker who came here to work for Goldman Sachs International four months ago. ''On the street, I heard more French than English. The hotel staff was French. The 24-hour-a-day grocery shop down the street was French-owned.''

The executive dining rooms and cafeterias of international investment firms that have made the City of London their European base ring with the sound of French these days, and not just from the waiters.

''We mostly go downstairs and eat in the cafeteria, but my French friends and I draw the line at eating lunch at our desks,'' Mr. Grenier said.

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Mr. Grenier said the five-figure base salary he was making was considerably higher than what he would make in Paris, but so was the cost of living in London. His half of the rent in the house he lives in on the Isle of Dogs, part of the original Cockney neighborhood across the Thames from Greenwich, is about $900 a month, and just having a pair of shoes resoled the other day cost him $27.

''In France, that would have cost about 80 francs,'' he said, about $13.

''I came here to make money and improve my English,'' he said. ''And I think my mother is happy I got a job in London rather than in Australia or the United States.'' He goes back to visit his family near Versailles on the Channel Tunnel train, which gets to Paris in only three hours and costs as little as $100 round trip.

''Most French people come to London to work temporarily mainly to perfect their English-language skills,'' said Gaetan Le Jariel, 25, a former business student from Angers, who said that was the reason he came here himself in September 1996.

Now he works in a French Government-subsidized job and study placement office, the Charles Peguy Center in Leicester Square, dispensing advice to the dozens of young French people who arrive every day looking for work.

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''European Union citizens can work in any member country they want, and at the moment it's easier to find a job in Great Britain than it is almost anywhere on the Continent,'' he said. The official unemployment rate in France is 12.1 percent, double what it is in Britain.

''Whatever you decide to do with your life, it's a good thing to have some English,'' he said. ''But we tell people who call in advance that life is quite expensive in London and they shouldn't show up here with a suitcase and $:50.'' The sum, the equivalent of $85, would barely cover a night in a boarding house and a couple of square meals in today's London.

Young French emigres give all kinds of reasons for coming, but for many of them it is just that London is where things are on the move.

They are moving thanks to the more competitive British economy that has been forged since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister and British business leaders were complaining that the economy was hamstrung by powerful labor unions, bureaucratic regulations, punitive business and income taxes and complacency in the face of decline. Nowadays, the same litany is often heard in France.

''I was on the dole five years ago, and when I opened my first restaurant in July of 1996 I had $:500 to my name,'' the equivalent of $850, said Jean-Christophe Novelli, 37, a native of Arras on the other side of the English Channel who came here to work as a chef in the early 1980's and is now an entrepreneur in the booming London restaurant scene.

''Today I own six restaurants with a net worth of $:4.3 million,'' or $7.3 million, Mr. Novelli said. ''I couldn't have done that in France. In France, cuisine is hierarchical and perfectionist, and because France is still in a big recession, there's not much turnover in the restaurants. Here people go out to eat to entertain themselves; in France, they entertain themselves at home, and go to restaurants only to eat.''

Some things are still better in France than they are in England -- public education, public transport, and rents, for example, as a recent letter to the French business magazine Capital signed D. Jones-Picherit reminded readers. ''Taxes for a family with four children are triple the French rate,'' the letter said. ''Choosing to live in London requires an income that might seem indecent to a 'normal' French white-collar worker, and we know French families who have left London because making ends meet was too difficult.''

But on the whole, said a financier with a big French bank that has just established a large operation in London, ''it's a lot easier to attract investors and bankers to London than it is to France.''

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''There's a sense of optimism in this country that is lacking in France,'' he said. ''People take their problems in hand and take care of themselves. In France, people expect smart Government bureaucrats to solve their problems for them.''

Another investment banker, Jamie Weir, who recently moved from Paris to London to work with HEV Ltd., a private equity company, said: ''In England, it is extraordinarily easy to start a company and extraordinarily difficult to open a bank account. In France, it's easy to open a bank account and a nightmare to start a company.''

Not all is gloomy, though. ''Things have begun looking up in France,'' Mr. Weir said, referring to greater-than-expected economic growth in 1997, the booming French stock market, and the prospect of continued growth this year. But with little improvement in French unemployment rates so far, the cross-Channel exodus seems likely to continue.

Source : http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/29/world/who-said-london-is-backward-the-french-now-they-flock-there.html

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