This post is a bit emotional for me because it takes me back to exactly 8 years ago. I remember very well that day, 26th October 2012, when I moved from Paris to London. My boyfriend at the time was transferred to London with work while I was dreaming of going back to Australia, where I’ve always wanted to live (weather, people, kangaroos, proximity to really cool places etc). Emigrating there is very difficult though, I had already used a working holiday visa for that country so I thought of New Zealand as an alternative. But I would have been on my own and it was too far away from family and friends… So I agreed to go to London instead, thinking it would be for only a year or two. Destiny is a funny thing, I unexpectedly fell in love with the city.
I guess my transition from being a French Expat to a naturalised British citizen happened when I gradually untangled myself from the (rather big) French community in London. Let’s go through different aspects of the past 8 years I spent in the UK – so close geographically to my native country but so far away in terms of culture.
I moved in Hammersmith first, a pretty and very well-connected area. It was a great place to get to know London better. I still love this area, especially near the stunning Hammersmith bridge (below). It closed a few months ago for safety reasons though, you can’t cross the river like before.
After Hammersmith, I moved in Waterloo (you can’t really do more central than this) and then Colindale (some people argue it’s not London anymore), South Ealing, Wembley, Park Royal and now Woolwich.
That’s right, I lived in 7 completely different areas of London in only 8 years… What can I say, I like discovering new places. You might think: “Ok but what’s the link with feeling less of an expat?” Well, I’ve been through moving in with a French boyfriend, to flat-sharing with British roommates (post break-up), to living on my own, to finally moving in with a British boyfriend (now fiancé).
I was freshly graduated from a Master’s degree, already had a good English (I lived in Australia back in 2006) and thought I would be able to compete with locals easily. In France, they look at your degree first, but in England, they look at your experience first, which I had none of (or very little).
It took me a few months to realise I should compete with French rather than Brits to find my very first job in London! One day, I finally found a job as a Business Development Manager for France. I was using my native language as a way to stand out from the crowd.
My next job was also targeting the French market but this time in the Marketing department. It’s only my third job that made me work in English but I was surrounded by a big European team and many French colleagues.
My ultimate goal was still to find a job where no one else was French and where I didn’t have to speak French at all. That was finally the case with my fourth job. I eventually reached my goal of accumulating good enough experience to compete with locals.
When I moved in London, I had a French boyfriend and many French friends. I was also blogging in French and built a network of French expats in London. It was so easy to connect with people who were sailing the same boat.
But 8 years later, they’re all gone, they all fell out of love with London and left the UK. Some moved in another country (keen travellers like me) and some decided to go back to France (that they never planned to leave permanently in the first place). If you move in a new country after school, the best place to find new friends is via your job. So here I am, my friends are now either ex-colleagues or my fiancé’s friends. I literally have no other reasons to speak French than when I speak to my family over the phone.
5 years is how long it took me to find the one (I always knew my soulmate wouldn’t be French but I can’t explain why). If you wonder how we met, it was at work, in the company we both quit when we decided to go travelling for 6 months.
I think it’s fair to say I was already not a French expat anymore by then, but my full immersion was now complete – I had no choice but to accept that I was becoming more and more British, less and less French. Although we still use our native countries when we play tennis, just for fun.
France vs England (I can’t remember who won that day)
We then needed to plan our future together, I was not planning to go back to France and I needed a guarantee I would be able to come back to the country I called home (if I was going abroad for a long time for example). So I applied for the permanent residency and then passed a few tests to get the British Citizenship. Last step was a formal ceremony with the Mayor and the Queen (I mean, her picture in a frame), singing “God Save the Queen” anthem and voila, I was officially welcomed to stay forever if I wanted to. Having the dual citizenship is kind of cool too.
8 years later…
It’s been a long road and I’m glad I did it before Brexit as I’m not sure it would be so easy nowadays… I still think fondly about all the steps I’ve been through, I’ve learnt so much along the way. I’ll always stay French in my heart because I was born and raised there, but the country I call home is England. When we got stranded abroad (covid-related), I was desperate to come back to London, not to Paris. To me, that’s when you know you’re not an “expat” anymore…
If you live in a country you weren’t born in, I’d love to hear about your own experience! Do you still feel like a foreigner?
Big Girl x