A Franco-British enmity? 'No,' say 'frogs' and 'rosbifs.'
Britons living in France and French in Britain don't let the diplomatic tiffs affect their lives.
PARIS — This has not been a good summer for Franco-British ties. London and Paris had scarcely finished celebrating their century old "Entente Cordiale" when they were at each others' throats in one spat after another.
First, they found themselves in fiercely opposing camps over the future of the European Union. Then French President Jacques Chirac made some less-than-complimentary comments about British cooking. But they were merely a waspsting compared to the giant slap that Paris suffered when London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games.
As cross-Channel relations grew more and more poisonous, however, two groups of citizens with a particularly personal stake in the affair found themselves curiously unaffected. At ground level, Britons living in France and French people living in Britain let all the diplomatic waves wash over them, living their lives as "rosbifs" and "frogs" undeterred by politics.
"A man in the market didn't like it after the Olympics announcement when he found I was English," says Stephanie Hughes, who has retired with her husband to a village in Burgundy. "He said, 'I'm not giving you a discount.' But he was joking."
For all the governmental enmity, hundreds of thousands of Britons prefer to live in France, and just as many French men and women choose to live in Britain. Nobody keeps count of exactly how many they are: European Union rules mean they can live and work in each others' countries with no special registration.
And indeed, many have come to feel at home. "I love Britain ... I feel I have been enriched by its culture. It makes me a better Frenchman," says celebrity chef Raymond Blanc, who has lived in England for 30 years and owns one of its best restaurants, "Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons."
Mr. Blanc has certainly enriched British culture: Where once three fourths of his chefs were French, today only three of his 55 kitchen workers are French, and 40 are British.
And they work all the hours that God sends, Blanc exults. "Young chefs here are very hardworking," he says. "They don't want to be limited by the [EU imposed] 48 hours a week. In France people strike for more time off, and in Britain people strike for more time at work."
Most of the French who have flooded into Britain in recent years have come in search of jobs, drawn by the "can do" sense of energy that infuses the British economy. They like the lack of regulations, and are unworried by the lack of the sort of social care they would enjoy in France.
"It's easier to find work here," says Adrienne Doyard, a recent graduate who works in a DVD packaging company. "I have friends in France who graduated at the same time as me and who are still looking for a job...."
"Here, if you are fired, you will find another job," adds Clemence Cleave, an analyst with the Ernst and Young consulting firm.
On the other side of the Channel, Guy Wilkinson knows just what these two young Frenchwomen are talking about. A satellite expert, he moved to Paris, but found no career prospects in France. Now he has a job in London, but he lives with his family in Paris.
"The lifestyle side of France is a slam-dunk," he says. "Who wouldn't want to live in France if you can eat the food, drink the wine, and enjoy good health-care?" Mr. Wilkinson's weekly commute to London is relatively painless, "and if we moved back to the UK, he would have a long commute and he still wouldn't see the boys," adds his wife, Liz.
And for those for whom work is no longer a worry, it's easy to see how retirement in France can beat life at home.
Sitting on their sun-splashed patio by a quiet canal, Stephanie and Michael Hughes say the idea of leaving their Burgundy village for Britain simply does not occur to them. "I don't like keeping up with the Joneses, wearing the right clothes, driving the right car," says Stephanie. "The pressure of daily life seems quite different," adds Michael. "The English live to work, the French work to live."
At the village fete last year Stephanie won second prize in the "boules" (French lawn bowling) competition. Michael helps tend a common vegetable plot with his neighbors.
Not for them the cosmopolitan buzz of London, where Ernst and Young's Ms. Cleave appreciates the way "you can have weird haircuts and piercings and no one will mind. Not for Ms. Cleave, on the other hand, the way "you have to be pretty formal in Paris, you are not allowed extravagance."
But then, as Charles Dickens said in his "Tale of Two Cities" about Paris and London, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." It just depends on your perspective.
• Mark Rice-Oxley in London contributed to this story.