How Does It Feel Being European In London?

By Marie Le Conte Last edited 93 months ago

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Last Updated 14 September 2016

How Does It Feel Being European In London?

Marie Le Conte is one of around 930,000 people living in London who were born in the EU. We asked how the EU referendum was making her feel.

Photo by Fabienne from the Londonist Flickr pool

Being a French person in London is odd at the best of times. I moved to England six and a half years ago, and was expecting my life to remain more or less the same. It took me a few years to learn — the hard way, mostly — that you and I are slightly different people.

Not quite similar enough that I could have thrown myself in and felt at home straight away, but still not alien enough that I would have had to make a conscious effort to fit in. I do think I've made a decent job out of it; I do, after all, write about politics for a living, and if I can understand the twists and turns of Westminster as well as the natives it must prove that deep down, I'm now one of you.

Taking it personally

Luckily, I suppose, my comfort zone has been somewhat pushed back over the past few months, thanks to the EU referendum. I know I shouldn't take it personally, that it's not a vote on my own person and the fact that I've decided to make my life here — but it's hard not to.

First, there is the Out camp, who have been making an awkward yet pernicious job of reminding everyone of the differences between Britain and the continent. This has been mostly OK — partly because Leave.EU, Vote Leave, Grassroots Out and the 17 or so other campaigns have been amusingly clumsy, but also because they've only been spelling out the obvious. I'm aware I don't quite belong here; it's what makes it fun.

I'm aware I don't quite belong here. It's what makes it fun.

The real blow, however, has come from the various In campaigns, perhaps unexpectedly. Their arguments in favour of the European Union have been drier than the small sand edifices you call biscuits, and rational to the point of being subtly heartbreaking. The UK should stay in the EU because it will be better for you economically; because the UK's place in the world is strategically more important if within the EU; because businesses like it, and businesses know best. I won't argue with facts, mostly because they play in my favour, but bloody hell, what about the heart?

Being both French and Moroccan — and therefore as Mediterranean as it gets — it would be hard for me to deny being excessively sentimental. I will gladly admit it, but still — there is beauty in Europe and you lot never really mention it.

Growing up in France meant growing up European; it has always been a part of my identity, and hopefully always will; I could never see myself being anything else. I may be aware that both Brussels and Merkel are almost certainly out of control, and it concerns me, but deep down I'll always be quite romantic about Europe.

Photo by Tomas Burian from the Londonist Flickr pool

It is, after all, what drove me to move to London. While my panicked parents hesitated when I told them at 17 that I wanted to move to London, my staunchly europhile grandmother told them not to worry, as London practically was Paris and Paris practically was our hometown.

She was right, of course: while always conscious that I am not and never will be truly British, living in London feels like an extended stay at some relatives' house. We may disagree on some basics regarding food or formal attire, but deep down blood will stop us from taking arguments too far.

And that's the bottom of it really: as a French person, the European Union feels like a family to me. I'm critical of it, at some times far more than others. There are things I'd love to change, but me being a part of it never has and never will be a question.

We may disagree on some basics regarding food or formal attire, but deep down blood will stop us from taking arguments too far.

The debate on the EU referendum has shown that you see the EU like a partner; as attached to it as some of you may be, if the relationship isn't satisfactory then you may as well break it off.

Funnily enough, it has been one of the few things in my years here which has made me realise just how different we really are.

England is to me what France, or any other European country, will never be to you. And that's why, at the end of it, I don't necessarily care about whether you stay or go — for it to work, the European Union does need some misplaced naivety and nearly childish camaraderie (teasing included), which, as we've all seen recently, isn't something you seem to possess.

It is in your nature, and probably because of your stupid islander mentality and post-colonial malaise, but I can't really hold it against you. We will, after all, always be close, even if you'd rather deny it. And I'll stay even if you leave; you're not getting rid of us dirty continentals quite yet.