I am a French citizen, but I didn’t vote in the presidential election today (to me it’s still today, but I expect you will read this tomorrow so to you it will be yesterday, if you know what I mean).
I’ve been here nigh on 28 years and I doubt I will ever go back to France to live (I occasionally toy with the idea of retiring in Nice, but considering how bad I am at standing in the right queue in the supermarket and picking the right euro coin to pay for purchases whenever I visit France I should probably stay in the UK) so I have no stake in what happens in the country of my birth any longer. All I have left in France are a few friends and since I didn’t know whom any of them wanted for president I couldn’t have helped them achieve their goal by adding my vote to theirs. The only reason I might have had to vote would have been to back one of the candidates’ foreign policy. He won without my support so I don’t feel as if I’ve let the side down.
Voting would have meant traipsing to South Kensington, where the Lycée Français was used as a polling station. South Kensington is where all the French expats congregate and I try to avoid going there as much as I can. The last time I was there was a couple of years ago, when I needed to renew my passport. After collecting that French document from the French Consulate I stopped at the French Institute, where I had a French herbal tea (verbena – my favourite) and a French croissant, while reading a French newspaper, surrounded by French people speaking French and smoking French cigarettes. The atmosphere was nice, but it was fake and I was glad to return to grotty Shepherds Bush and my ‘English’ life.
I wasn’t sent to London by my firm to work in their UK branch or by the French government to look good at official functions; I didn’t come here because I couldn’t cut it in France or because I got married to an Englishman or because I wanted to renovate a dilapidated barn the locals wouldn’t dream of living in. I didn’t settle here so my friends could envy me for living in London or so I could write a book after a few months in the country and pretend to know what makes the Brits tick. I don’t travel to France to have my clothes dry-cleaned there or to consult a French GP when I’m ill (I’m not kidding: I know someone who’s been here over 20 years and who still does that). I don’t pick and choose between what France and the UK have to offer (apart from perfume, maybe). In short, I am not an expat.
I was proofreading a book about living and working in France recently: the author – an American – has lived there for several years and most of what he says in the book is true (I even learned a few things), but some of it was slightly ‘off’ – things to do with what one learns as a child or from listening to the radio and watching television in a country for 20 years; things to do with not having a thorough command of the language (see previous post, although it’s about a different person). He thought he could tell other English-speaking people hankering for the French way of life how the country ‘functioned’, but he doesn't ‘get’ France in very subtle ways and probably never will. Being an expat is a state of mind and I don’t think you can shake it off.
Have you seen how many blogs written by tin-eared and ignorant expats there are out there?