The way we live now: French exchange

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The Independent Online

Sarkozy came on a mission before the French elections. He wanted the votes of the most entrepreneurial, youngish French people: the ones who don't live in France. They prefer it in Big London, South Ken especially. We are tremendously modern and multicultural, less regulated, less unionised and fantastically full-on, all-round vibrant or so they think. France, according to this view, is thoroughly stuck in the mud. The mud of subsidised small farming, the mud of left-leaning intellectualism, feather-bedding jobs for life, generous pensions at 29, the lot.

But as fast as that dynamic vibrating French contingent has been coming here in the past decade (there are millions in South Kensington alone), so Brits have been rushing to set up home in France (210,000 of them have places there at last count). The Brits adore the mud. They like the idea that great tranches of rural France look and smell like Jean de Florette. Or at least like Peter Mayle.

The British idea of savoir vivre involves a colourful fresh-produce-y proper-food dream that has a distinctly alfresco sub-text (we're all pan-European now). The dream involves eating outside at a long table colourfully set with, say, those nice Provenal fabrics and lovely bubbly Biot glass, with a cheery representation of a cockerel somewhere.

The reason the Brit dream rural, antique, foodie, sun-dappled and the rest is so very different from what the metropolitanist French see is that the Brits are, most of them, going there to live rather than to work. That's because a fair few of them have made it already they're Eighties City boys and retail entrepreneurs and their attractive blonde wives, from their late forties on, who think they deserve a bit of the good stuff (a mini-chateau at half the price of its British equivalent).

These people are dead-set on learning all the French ropes there'll be none of our ethnic foods on those tables (no corned-beef fritters with frozen peas, no mini-prawns in Hellmann's) and they want to sink themselves in the design vernacular too. The old one, that is not least because the new French design vernacular often looks only one notch up from DFS; the cool new stuff still comes from Italy. So it means toile de jouy, provincial fruitwood armoires, painted furniture with distressed edges, those earthy colours and small prints.

Here's the sort of room those happy prosperous Brits want to make there. It's got unmistakably French architectural features the chimneypiece, the way the walls are divided and finished. But above all, it's full of French fabrics and detailing. Just the kind those enterprising English ladies like to import to the Fulham Road.

Crucial curly chimney-piece. The French have swirls where we’d have straight lines.

White-painted beams. This is the country look, French decorator style.

A wall-colour so traditionally French, Brits call it ‘French Grey’.

The 19th-century sofa with those lovely old cushions all the English ladies love.

Light muslin curtains – forget heavy-handed swags and tails if you’re going for French