Margaret and Dick   


June '04: The British are coming

One if by land, two if by sea, twenty if by air.  The British are coming!

Ever since budget carrier Ryan Air set up direct service from
Londonto nearby Carcassonne, the British have been coming to the Aude valley in droves.  Not just as short-term tourists, which we could easily accept.  They are (gasp) buying houses and staying.  There goes the neighborhood.

Walk down to Place de la République and you see them having a coffee or a beer.  You can spot them a mile away:  pink skin, pale hair, very sensible attire.  They sit in even numbers, two or four, always with others like themselves.  You rarely encounter a Brit trying to communicate with the French, and it's hard on the ears when you do.

They have even started invading our little enclave.  The other night I noticed a group of six or eight people up on the new public garden overlooking the river.  They were playing boules, a Mediterranean game also known as petanque.  Nice to see people using that pretty space, I thought to myself, until I approached and realized they were all speaking English.  Drinking their little aperitif in precious little glasses, they were. 

Now wait just a moment, you say.  You're foreigners too.  You speak English. 

I hasten to explain the difference.  Most importantly, we were here first.  Or at least we were the first in our enclave, having discovered Limoux through Hotel le Monastere, where our Canadian friends run the best cycling vacations in France.  Two other North American couples then joined us on our street, soon dubbed Rue des Anglophones by Margaret. 

We two try to spend more time with the French than with our North American friends, since after all that's why we're here.  But it takes a concerted effort:  the French tend to be a cohesive group with well established circles of friends, therefore hard to break into.  The North Americans are adventurous, intelligent, fun, and gregarious, so it is tempting just to hang out with them. 

The British seldom integrate, though there are notable exceptions.  They tend to live in self-sufficient colonies, occasionally sending someone out to the supermarket for supplies.  In spite of centuries of trying to possess France, the Brits don’t demonstrate much interest in adopting French language or culture.  They are here for the warmth, the scenery, the good food, the cheap wine.  At parties attended by British and French, people often self-segregate into two rooms, anglophone and francophone.  Everyone seems well satisfied with this arrangement.  Until recently, the Anglophone colonies were in the little villages, so we never saw them, so that was okay. 

But now we are under siege.  The local home-improvement store has translated signs into English to accommodate the hordes of renovating Anglos.  Our fully-integrated-British friend Sudhira is doing a brisk business as an intermediary between the French real estate system and its hopeful British clientele.

France is remarkably accommodating to the right sort of immigrants.  You must learn to speak French and admire French culture.  It helps if you are white and your roots are Christian, er, if you “share a common cultural heritage.”  We’ll always be foreign, but people accept that we are trying to integrate. 

But reaction to the Anglo invasion is mixed.  For years few French people wanted to live in the old houses of downtown Limoux.  They were too dilapidated, too cold and drafty, no yard, few garages.  They were left for widows on a pension, people on welfare, or just left vacant.  But now the locals are realizing that houses in the town and village centers are being snapped up and remodeled by the immigrants.  Prices have doubled, tripled.  They complain that the French can no longer afford these suddenly attractive, centrally-located houses that nobody wanted when they were virtually free.  "But we were thinking of buying one of those houses when we retire!" they object.  And expecting they would still be empty -- and cheap -- in ten years? 

Our dear neighbors Roger and Josiane are appalled at the invasion.  "There are too many of you!  You must go away!" Josiane protests with a mischievous twinkle. 

We agree.  Somebody please close the gates!

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