Emilie provides an interesting insight on her own particular happiness by moving from France to England.

Text read by Mary Peters
Emilie and her husband, Fédéric, visiting Copenhagen.

Fifteen years ago, Emilie moved from her native Normandy and joined her partner in England. Frédéric had already been living and working there for some time. It was a huge step for her, not speaking the language, a different culture, leaving her family…would it work out, or would it end up in failure? She had a simple plan B – if it doesn’t work, pack-up, go back home and “book the trip to experience”.

Emilie was in for a surprise! She eventually settled in the town of Horley, just north of Gatwick Airport, about 30 minutes south of London and about 40 minutes north of Brighton on the south coast. It has to be said that this is a very dynamic, multi-cultural and diverse part of England, combining many different worlds. 

Very early, she encountered the British attitude of, “getting on with it”. Moaning about something will not solve the problem. Life is not perfect, but it is what you make of it. It was different from her experiences in France where people seemed to complain more and do less to rectify it. So, accepting that “getting on with it” was the path forward, she and Frédéric developed a quality of life that uniquely suited them.

But what were the major differences in attitude and culture that they discovered and adapted to along their way? As they stepped forward, they discovered a people who seemed more adventurous. There was a wide choice of things to do, people to meet, all within a short radius of home. It was this choice, made by the people offering it and appreciated by those accepting it, that made life easier. And the acceptance that mistakes are allowed – you learn from them. What you do may not (yet) be perfect, but it’s what you make of it.

Aside from learning to drive on the left (and now, when they visit France, trying to remember to drive on the right), people seemed more tolerant, less aggressive, more respectful of another person’s space, in fact, even more laissez-faire than the French.

It wasn’t long before Emilie and Frédéric found themselves in that unique British institution, “the Pub”. Known for their great atmosphere, the high quality but still down to earth food and a decent selection of drinks, the pub is THE place to meet people. You strike up a conversation and engage in pleasant small talk. You make acquaintances and begin interacting with other people and become part of the local community. You are invited to afternoon tea, BBQs, to social events. But always with that particular “British reserve”, keeping a respectful distance, “not wanting to cause a fuss.”  

Settling down, having, and raising two children and building a business took up the couple’s time. Emilie soon learnt that juggling responsibilities required a support network. The working day was and is comparably shorter than in France. In Normandy, she was still working in the early evening. In Horley, and working from home, the working day is done by about 5.30pm. Perhaps the biggest cultural difference is lunch. “We stop for a quick lunch here, not like in France, where everything closes for two hours. And the children are home from school much earlier too.”

All in all, they found that, with flexibility, they had more time to spend as a family unit and to go out and do things, socialise, and enjoy what the area has to offer. Further flexibility came with the huge support network provided by small businesses. Setting up a company in England is done in a matter of hours. As a result, there are many small businesses which offer a wide range of services at reasonable prices. Once a month, somebody comes by to wash the windows. Their four-bedroom house? The price is 30 €. Their two cars are washed for the same price once a month. It is more expensive than going to a car wash, but you get a cleaner car. For 60 € once a every three months, their dog is pampered from head to toe. You have the choices and the options. It’s what you make of it. Somebody in the pub, on local community notice boards or the other mums you meet on the school run, will recommend somebody.

Freeing up time is also made possible by one significant fact: a different shopping culture. The major supermarkets are open 24 hours. Most shops are open on a Sunday. Online shopping is more developed. Instead of going to a “drive”, all supermarkets deliver to your home. “Once I have finished the day, the kids are in bed, and it’s let’s say, 9pm, I can still go to the supermarket and buy my groceries, if I want to.” Emilie knows she can do it. It is one possibility in a range of options available to make life easier.

One major difference is the way families interact. Families in France are closer than in England. They live in close proximity, have more support from grandparents, the family gatherings on Sundays are important. “That is less here. The Sunday newspapers are so thick, people sit somewhere in their own space and “read the Sunday papers.”

Frédéric and Emilie together with one further employee own a small but highly efficient company. They are the connection between some of the UK’s biggest supermarket groups and family run cheese producers in France. Competing with the likes of Lactalis, this trio of people “make life easier” for everybody. Tesco Supermarket has over 2000 stores, and Waitrose has more than 400 stores. Frédéric and Emilie’s company “QST – Quality Sales Team” is the one face to the customer in the UK. On the other side of the channel, the company provides full support for French cheese producers who wish to export their cheese to the UK.
Brexit? “Nobody knows what will happen. It will mean more paperwork. You just have to get on with it.”

For Emilie, this “British way of life” has one source, and she is an absolute fan of it. It is the Royal Family. The Royal Family is responsible for the cohesion of the country”, she said. It sets the example on how to live. Especially when their roles have not been earned through hard work but given to them by birth. “The Queen is such a strong woman”.  There is the notion of “charity”. The Royal Family’s dedication to charities, the giving, if you can and what you can, is one of the backbones of the United Kingdom. Charity shops now dominate the High Street. But they have no negative stigma about them. However, when Meghan forced Prince Harry to break “with the family” the outcry was enormous. Both had broken with family values and tradition. But William and Kate had done wonders to bridge the gap.  “I am really angry at Meghan” Emilie said.

Life in England is a jigsaw puzzle. You pick the pieces you require to build the lifestyle you need or want. For Emilie, it is less stressful and more enriching. Would she and Frédéric return to France?  “Only if absolutely necessary and if there were no alternative.” England is home. But, if France, then to the Alsace.

What does she miss? “The Boulangerie” she said. Whenever I visit my mother, I simply have to go to the Boulangerie across the road from her house. The smell, the taste… we have fresh bread in the Coop, but it’s not the same.”

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