How times have changed: Britons want to be French

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A famous wit once observed there were two reasons for the British to dislike the French. Firstly, they are too logical and secondly they own France - "a country which we have always judged to be much too good for them".

How times have changed. Now it seems that Britain's middle-class love affair with all things Gallic has reached the point where a fifth of Britons now actually want to be French.

A study of attitudes towards our closest neighbour has found that Britons would prefer to work in France or retire to France above any other country, including their own.

The ICM survey found that if given a choice of nationality, just over half of Britons under 50 would retain their British passport. But 22 per cent would rather ditch their British status altogether and opt to become French.

The findings come amid an upsurge of Francophilia in Britain. Britons now own £4.6bn of property in France and have bought some 51,000 homes across the Channel since 2000.

The last French census in 2004 recorded a 50 per cent increase over five years in the number of Britons who live permanently in France to 100,000. About 500,000 Britons spend more than six weeks in France every year.

Experts say that the allure of France as a wine-quaffing haven with improved climate, cheaper housing and a higher standard of living has not been dented by the country's stubbornly high unemployment or evidence of social schism following last year's rioting in major cities.

Nick Wall, editor of France magazine, said: "Issues such as the riots are seen as totally separate. I think the British now have a deeper understanding of France and the French.

"People like the footballer Thierry Henry or film stars such as Audrey Tatou who have become household names. There is a drift towards France - you go on holiday there, perhaps buy a second home there and ultimately take the decision to move there permanently.

"At a time when more Britons are looking to buy abroad, for example in the emerging east European markets, France is an established and attractive option."

The ICM survey, conducted to coincide with a marketing campaign for French wine, found that 32 per cent of Britons would choose France if they were given the choice of moving family and friends to a new location. Some 23 per cent would choose Britain - just four per cent more than would choose Spain or Italy.

France is the favoured place for retirement with 37 per cent wishing to eke out their days in "l'Hexagone" as opposed to 30 per cent opting to stay in Britain. One per cent said they would retire to Germany.

The icons of France also seem to be more recognisable to Britons than some homegrown sights with more people able to identify the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre than the Blackpool Tower, Marble Arch or the National Gallery.

French cuisine has also increased its stranglehold on British ideas of sophisticated dining. Almost two thirds of people consider a good breakfast to consist of coffee and a croissant, twice the number who choose toast and a cup of tea.

Some 40 per cent also believe wine is the perfect drink to accompany a meal. But even British Francophilia has its limits.

Separate market research figures suggest that when it comes to wine at least, "les rosbifs" are no longer so enamoured with "la vie française". Britons now drink more American wine than French, glugging down 3.5 million cases last year compared to 3.4 million cases of French.

Comments