Whilst I have been sorely missing la belle vie, I’ve discovered that France is never too far away. For any Francophile yearning for all things truly French, London is the next best place to be. I am often disorientated and almost transported instantly back to Paris when overhearing French natters on the tube, fashion faux-pas discussions in Oxford Street Topshop, or un, deux, trois soleil being played in Hyde Park. Funnily enough I even found myself playing translator for the day at work for two Francophones. The French are taking quite a fancy to London -so much so that the capital is being dubbed as France’s sixth largest city in terms of population.
South Kensington, home to London’s burgeoning French community, has become my new Parisian retreat. Any Francophile will love eavesdropping on conversations travelling from cafés along Bute Street, rummaging through shelves of French literature in a librarie, indulging on the perfect crêpe or taking in an art-house flick at Ciné Lumière. What I really love about the area is its strong café culture which we tend to lack in England. There’s a real buzz on the streets and a tangible sense of community here – which is something you do not find everywhere.
I was astounded to be immediately greeted with a “bonjour” upon entering a librarie – this is the norm in France, however I had obviously acclimatised to English customs quicker than I had thought. I ended up chatting with one of the girls working in the shop, telling her about my year in France and entering a lengthy discussion about Paris and London – all in French. The young Frenchies love London – its audacious fashion, unique atmosphere, tolerance, creativity and innovation.
I was then put rather on the spot when she asked me which city I preferred. It was obviously not the first time that I had been asked, yet I always struggle to give a straightforward response. The truth is I have had two very different experiences of the two capitals. London is where I have grown up and lived more or less all my life. I am the typical Londoner who will complain about transport, tourists and prices, yet I am proud to say that I am from such a vibrant, bold and tolerant city. In Paris I was living the Parisian dream – something I have fantasised about doing since aged sixteen. I was determined to make the most of every minute and scour the city for things to do and see. I am rather ashamed to admit that I now know Paris better than my own city. As a habitant, you are rather uninterested in seeing things that will always be on your doorstep. One thing I have learnt more than ever this year is to not take where I live for granted. Bref, I concluded by stating that Paris is without doubt more charming and beautiful, however London has ‘un truc’ that I cannot quite put my finger on.
Finally, my day in little France ended deliciously with a visit to Crémerie Crêperie. It’s known as one of the best crêperies in the capital, so expect a queue during the weekend. However I can assure you that the crêpes are worth the wait. The menu offers an extensive range of savoury galattes and sweet crêpes which will leave any gourmand spoilt for choice.