GaWC Research Bulletin 150

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This Research Bulletin has been published in MP Smith and A Favell (eds) (2006) The Human Face of Global Mobility New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 247-274.

Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


London as Eurocity: French Free Movers in the Economic Capital of Europe

A. Favell*

London, of course, is the global city par excellence , seen by all observers as the most international city in Europe, possibly the world. One of the key claims sustained by the global city theories – particularly the GaWC project, and its tireless mining of data about service sector corporate city networks – has been to show how London outstrips any other city on the European continent in its connections, spreading out way beyond the immediate local shadow of European integration (Taylor and Hoyler 2000). There are also other well noted aspects of this routinely-cited global life of London. Its long history of immigration and asylum is second to none, something only deepened by the distinctively post-colonial multiculturalism that has developed in the post-war period (Favell 2001). Moreover, in the liberal 90s, it has developed an extraordinarily open labor market for foreigners, with a remarkable degree of mostly undocumented immigration. London is also often seen as the acme of the polarised city, characterised by dominantly service-based industries at both top and bottom ends, driven by global industrial shifts in production and capital (Sassen 2001).

London is certainly embedded in all kinds of global networks: whether transatlantic, far eastern, post-colonial, or whatever. But GaWC's emphasis on the city as a virtual ‘space of flows', and the almost exclusive focus on faceless data about corporate networks, masks other key sociological aspects of the city, related to place and geographical propinquity. For London is also a Eurocity, of central importance to the regional economic and social system of Europe. Though this is well apparent in macro-level economic figures about trade and mobility within Europe (Rodríguez-Pose 2002), it is much less well documented at the micro level: at the level of individuals, and their transactions in and through the city. While Britain has during the 1990s and after drifted further out to sea, London has seen its own quiet European invasion, anchoring it firmly in the continent.

During this period, Europeans have moved to London in immense numbers. Numbers have increased markedly during the 1990s (Dobson et al 2001). London has, in the last few years, become a prime destination of European free movement, of all nationalities, from across all of Europe. One obvious Europeanising story that will not be discussed here, has been the enormous growth in migration from Eastern Europe, especially from Poland and the Balkans. Among West Europeans, who have benefitted throughout from EU freedom of movement legislation, perhaps the most striking story has been the relocation there of a new generation of talented and entrepreneurial young French people. London has, in other words, become a mecca for the young of Europe everywhere, who have moved in droves to learn the global language, and be part of the swinging, libertarian de facto capital of Europe.

In part, this new migration only confirms London's global centrality: it is the gateway for all Europeans to the global English language business, media, and cultural worlds. But there is another side to being a regional hub of migration: it also embeds London profoundly in Europe and European social structures – despite the grating euroscepticism of the nation around it. Relatively stable social systems of temporary and permanent migration to and from the continent make London a Eurocity every bit as Europeanised on this dimension as Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels, Munich, Barcelona or Vienna. The rhetoric of British, or perhaps more precisely English politics, has become increasingly anachronistic and island bound, while the face of its service workforce and the look of its streets are increasingly European.

This paper offers a first look at this essentially unknown, hitherto invisible phenomena. It portrays, at the micro level, the essentially human roots of London's regional embeddedness, that both English politicians, and economic geographers overlook. I first give a brief overview of the phenomenon from the point of view of official and popular knowledge of the subject. I then present interviews-based material that tells the stories of five young women who have made London their home and pursued careers here. It goes through stages of their movement, settlement, and integration (or not) in the city, and what their personal experiences say about both the free movement of a new generation of young Europeans, and what they say about London as a European international city. The paper reports on research for a forthcoming book, Eurostars and Eurocities , which is a study of free moving urban professionals resident in three cities, London, Amsterdam and Brussels.1 I also draw indirectly on my participation in the Framework V funded research network, PIONEUR, which is currently completing a survey of 5000 European citizens resident in Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.2


What is remarkable is just how little London itself knows about the large numbers of Europeans in its midst. Everpresent, yet quantitatively invisible, they are a crucial part of the city's dynamo, yet unregistered by the media and city government officials alike.

Most cities know something about their populations. The EU sponsored Urban Audit – an immense database over 250 of the largest cities in Western Europe – has done wonders in compiling data on foreign populations in these cities.3 However, the Dutch project manager, Lewis Dijkstra, shrugs his shoulders and laughs when asked about data on the European population of London. The city didn't know. Trying to investigate the question myself, I found out little more. Very helpful and informative demographic officers in the Mayor's Office in London passed me around their colleagues for an hour or so, in search of somebody who might have a clue. Regional development officials, ethnic minority specialists all came up blank.

The Mayors office certainly talks the talk of Eurocities in all its official documentation (Mayor of London 2002). Ken Livingstone is very pro-Europe, and London is portrayed in dynamic European and regional terms, which they rightfully do not see as negating any of its other many global aces, but which rather only enhance its strategic economic importance. Fraternising with colleagues from Stockholm, Paris or Madrid, of course, is another important way of emphasising the shaky political autonomy of the city from national politics. Yet the most flesh and blood proof of this integration into European networks, beyond the more virtual flows of capital, and the massive, ever-more European cross-border trade of London and Britain, is the free movement of European citizens able to live, study and work in Britain. This is an opportunity they are taking up in vast numbers. While the British press fume about a handful of bedraggled asylum seekers who manage to creep in through the Channel Tunnel, it casts a complete blind eye to the thousands of as-yet-unemployed young Europeans pouring into Britain, on the Eurostar and cheap network airlines, with the all their belongings in backpacks. The vast majority head for London.

Getting a handle on numbers is not easy. Official census statistics are not going to be much use, given that much of the migration is short term and often not registered. The incoming Passenger Survey might give some indicators, but these are projections based on tiny samples, and only ask people about their intentions of staying long term or not. The British Labour Force Survey is the most accurate source of official data, also given that it counts by region (London and South East). But the numbers given by both this and the national consulates in question are likely to be massively below real figures. Anecdotal evidence I have accumulated suggest that the clear majority of European residents in Britain never even thought of registering with their consulate, something that only becomes necessary if you need to obtain a new (European) passport without going home. Try running a random telephone survey as we have done with PIONEUR, and you find that practically none of this target population had a landline telephone. British police registration is remarkably porous and ineffective – unlike in other European countries, where it is a mandatory step before obtaining a social security number and being able to work. And as readers of The Daily Mail know very well, it is indeed remarkably easy to get registered with a GP and get access to British national health service (for what that is worth – see below), without any other official documentation other than an address. On this level, its all guesswork.

Faced with this official lacunae, the best thing to do is to talk to service providers (i.e., associations, organisations, magazines or websites for French expats in London) and employers. These are people who generally have a much more practical, hands on commercial knowledge of these mobile populations in question: typically because they want to sell something to them, or get something from them. The consulate figures cite around 40,000 French in London, but the number discussed on service provider websites is more in the order of 200,000 French in London and the South East. This leads on to the somewhat hyperbolic idea that London is now the fourth largest French city after Paris, Lyon and Marseilles. Whatever the actual numbers, this migration amounts to a new Norman invasion, not yet spotted by the Dunkirk spirited readers of the tabloids. Not even the talking head of the UK independence movement, Robert Kilroy-Silk mentions it in his anti-immigrant round-up. Yet take a coffee on a train, or a sandwich in an Islington bar and you will see them. They are the young folks handing language school leaflets or wearing sandwich boards outside Tottenham Court Road tube station. Hang out in a City pub, or a café near the media offices off Oxford Street, and you will hear many French (as well as Spanish, Italian, Danish, and so on) accents. Working in pubs is no longer the exclusive province of Australians and New Zealanders on holiday visas. And young Americans have been squeezed out by visa and work permit restrictions which favour European free movers over the so-called special relationship with the USA.

One organisation dedicated to promoting French relocation to Britain is France Libre d'Entreprendre.4 Led by the vocal young French entrepreneurial exile, Olivier Cadic, it promotes the idea of Britain as a low tax business environment for ambitious French people fed up with social security payments and a 35 hour week. Many have offices clustered around the Eurostar train terminal in Ashford, Kent. With unemployment running at 12% in France in the early 1990s, versus 5% in Britain, the economic reasons for location became imperative for many. For a new generation of highly Europeanised, English speaking, globally ambitious French professionals, England became an obvious option. Although ignored in Britain, the phenomenon has received quite a bit of press in France. This is consummate rational European free movement entirely in concord with EU economic integration theory: mobility adjusts for economic differences between regions, and will lead to economic dynamism, growth and creative transactions, as well as soak up underutilised labour. The British economic ‘miracle' of the last few years is in part fueled by these European economic dynamics, building on Britain's strategic economic positioning and tax incentives (polite terms for ‘social dumping'), and able to bleed the brightest and the best from its European neighbours. This is one of the hidden secrets of the so-called ‘British model', trumpeted by chancellor Gordon Brown over the supposedly high tax ‘social' regimes of the continent.

I also talked with service sector employees, notably Pret ( Prêt-à-Manger ), a hugely successful London-based sandwich chain. This company actually has a recruitment policy tailored around these new EU free movement dynamics. They have capitalized on this talented and highly available workforce, by actually targeting young Europeans as they arrive, and relying on social networks to pass back the word of opportunity to friends still at home. Pret's recruitment office is in fact found on platform two at Victoria Station, the historical gateway to Europe. Their personnel manager, herself a young Spanish women who had been in London for 10 years or so, confirmed the scale of this commitment and the smartness with which the company has benefitted from it. In fact, the recruitment office received 44,000 enquiries in the first quarter of 2003, with 251 offers of jobs made. 90% of the employees in shops are foreign, of which over a half are West European, with French the third largest group behind Italians and Spanish. All of the young West Europeans arrive ready and able to work, with no visa restrictions. Many are university educated, but willing to take simple service sector work to be in London. Pret thus creams off some of the best educated middle class youth from continental Europe – who are high in economic, human, social capital – but willing to work for a pittance in return for congenial hours, a sympathetic corporate ambiance, and above all a great social life. Pret open encourages socialising and networking between employees, organises parties, publishes a magazine for them, and promises a structured career development plan without longer term ties. Again, this is rational European integration theory at work – which impacts the London economy in very direct ways.

Although impossible to get a complete overview view of the working French population in such a huge and diverse city, I thus centered my inquiries on both the younger service sector population, and on London's IT, media and finance sectors which draw on some of Europe's most talented individuals. The sample of five here are from a larger sample of 20 in-depth interviews I did with interviews and couples in London. This was supplemented with numerous secondary interviews with residents, employers, service providers, personnel consultants and city officials, ethnography of gentrifying neighbourhoods, and collection of all available secondary data. The interviews selected here comprise four young French women, and a fifth French carte de séjour (permanent residence) holder from Algeria, who was socialised exclusively in the French school system and spent her university years in Paris. Their themes and observations embody both the generalisable reality of European mobility as experienced by growing numbers of young, essentially middle class movers, living in London, as well as their own personalized cases and perspectives. The long and winding interviews focused on their life history, migration choices, professional life, reflections on the city, social networks, and where appropriate more practical details about housing, children, welfare, political participation and so on. The core of my work is thus dedicated to bringing alive the phenomenological worlds of these individuals and families. They are not technically representative, except in the loosest sense of being a personalised portrait of an unknown London. But also each micro life does represent an embodiment of the broader macro trends theorised about by economic geographers and sociologists of mobility. It is, in short, a way of putting a human face on generalisations that often miss the human story behind the theories, as well as grounding empirically some of the actual mechanisms that individually aggregate into broader social trends.



Those missing from the official stats are archetypally young, recent graduates eager to improve their English, but who also see London as a privileged gateway to the wider world and bigger, better careers. The bottom line for such mobile young French, shared equally by the Italians and Spanish I met in all three cities, was that they moved because of work frustration at home. These vocal, frustrated, mostly provincial French, did indeed ‘get on their bikes' as euro-economists would hope. Nicole5, a 28 year old web site builder from the north of France, on a modest income, summarizes this attitude:

"There was a big sense of frustration about the personal development thing. The Latin countries are absolutely not flexible on the work market, I can do anything I want there but it's not going to change my situation. You are just young, so your opinion doesn't count. They say you don't have any experience (even though you have!), and I was working crazy hours, and being paid peanuts, no rewards. And still you live in Paris and it is very expensive... At the end of the day I didn't study five or six years for that. I wanted to go abroad. Even if my experience in Paris had been nice, I think I already had it in mind going abroad."

This perspective is echoed by Valerie, a former broker in her early 30s, who at the time of the interview is unemployed and interviewing again for work in the City after a few months vacation travel (translated from French):

"The ‘anglo-saxon' mode of working is much more informal than in France, where its always ‘ Monsieur, voulez vous …?', whatever, you know, whilst here I can call my boss by his first name. It's more relaxed here, even if it always stays serious. I like this a lot, there is a hierarchy, but it doesn't make itself felt…"

I asked her if people expressed themselves here, because that is what others always say the English don't do openly.

"On the contrary, in France you don't give your opinion, you don't say what you think. When I came here, I found it difficult to say what I was thinking, and they told me in the second job that I didn't talk enough. It was a team job, we had to share the stress, I wasn't used to expressing myself. My boss comes to me one day, and says if you have any personal problems etc, you must come and talk to me about it. Its not like that in France, you don't talk personal stuff with your boss, and in fact they won't want to know. Its just work and that's it, basta . There I'm just an employee, not a human being. That's how I felt it. This is the reason I would have hard time returning to France, because I'm used to this way of working now. I don't want to go backwards."

Valerie here offers some clues, perhaps, to the success of British capitalism, the interpersonal foundations of the ‘soft capitalism' in London and British firms abroad, written about by authors such as Nigel Thrift (1994) and Jon Beaverstock (2002), and in terms of regional studies and urban economies in the US by Michael Storper (1997) and Richard Florida (2002).

"I like the idea here of appraisals. In France, they didn't have anything like that. I worked [in Monaco] in a third generation company, founded by the grandfather, a family firm with no management method, except hierarchy from the boss. There was no other stuff, no human resources and so on to make the link between the managers and the workers."

Education is the crucial vector for young migration of this kind. The impact of the EU's student mobility program Erasmus (now Socrates) has been enormous. Nicole first got a taste for going abroad (to Wales, Aberystwyth) through Erasmus (King and Ruiz-Gelices 2003). After this, the question was where? Nicole summarises it succinctly as: "the opportunities were in London". So, despite not knowing anyone, having no connections, and having thought first of other places like Amsterdam and Canada, she moved to London. Reasoning like the model rational migrant here, London ceteris paribus was the best destination.

As is well known, the British education system is also now servicing Europe with vocational and academic degrees, MAs, MBAs and so on. Europeans pay the same fees as British students, and find university admissions officers sympathetic to their sometimes difficult to compare home country qualifications. In London they often find themselves outnumbering their British counterparts. Valerie completed a degree a couple of years back in IT and Finance at Westminster University:

"Well, I thought I'm going to college in Britain, I'm going to meet English people… No!… It was strange. The first people I met were an Italian girl, a Russian, Czech, Spanish, another from Algeria… The English who were there were all Hindus, so among the vrai vrai vrai English there, was only two de souche anglaise [of English roots]…"

Some of these same young Europeans go on to people PhD programmes that might otherwise wither away due to the impossibility of recruiting British students. Ironically, now, many faculty departments find their best applicants from among Europeans applying to Britain's famously open university system: a rare model of free movement practice in Europe's often stiflingly immobile academic world.

Of course, London calling also offers many other quintessential urban attractions. Its cultural life is almost universally seen as youth oriented, avant guard, and liberating. It offers Europe's most appealing and challenging rite of passage ("beyond les 400 coups ", as Valerie puts it), notably as a refuge from dull provinces, or overly protective family environments. It also offers the ‘outsider' freedom of not belonging yet feeling at home, and as a place of comfortable anonymity. These classic contours of the modern city, à la Simmel, are evoked by both Nicole and Valerie:

Nicole: "What I like in England, London, is that it's definitely more open minded than France. Since I was a teenager, I had this feeling of frustration. It's not open minded in France, we are not encouraged to be so at home. On TV, in education, whatever, anybody who is trying to be open minded is looked at as someone eccentric. Stupid things like clothes. My French friends (when they visit) stare at people here, they have a more conservative style. They don't have a positive image of being eccentric. It could be fun, creative, but still it is something that means you are too different… The idea that it doesn't matter, who cares? It is more flexible… at work, and in general."

Valerie: "What I like [here], is the sentiment de liberté . But whether it would be the same if I was born here…? Would I have the same feeling of freedom? But I like that, to be very anonymous."

London work life also makes socializing easy. Nicole had no problem doing as provincial newcomers to London have always done, and used social contacts inside and out of work to structure their new life in the city.

"In an English company, it's easy to get a social life with English people. This is a big difference. Here you socialise in your work environment. In France, you work during work hours, but you keep the same friends you had at school. You don't expect to make friends with workmates."

Nicole's social life improved after she no longer had a French boyfriend, and joined in the usual work social life that is common in many companies. London, also, is apparently welcoming as an identity. When I ask her if she considers herself a Londoner now, Valerie tells me of an email that has been going round the office: ‘The 100 things that make you a Londoner'. Most of these refer to becoming used to the extortionate price of cinema tickets, sushi, or rent, the terrible weather, the lack of clothes clubbers in winter wear, or paying council taxes, etc. I asked her, was there anything on the list that prevented foreigners from being Londoners?

"No, I don't think so. No, well then, I must be Londoner. It's basically that you don't feel astonished anymore, that we could accept crazy things like that that we accept. That's what the email was all about."

Whether ‘true' Londoners born within the sound of Bow Bells would look at it in these terms is, of course, another question.

The prototypical migrant reasoning illustrated by Nicole and Valerie works both generally – in terms of the extraordinary openness of the London labor market – and specifically in terms of sectors for which London is the true European capital: particularly in finance, IT and media. Others who came later for professional reasons, can also trace their choices in equally rational terms. Laure, a high earning media manager in her early 40s, who had been in London since joining CNN during its halcyon days in the early 1990s (well before the big rush of French migrants later), stressed her mixed feelings about her own very rational choices. Commenting on her experiences as a student at Sciences Po, Paris:

"It was awful… I had a very bad time there because I'm a bit of a non-conformist [laughs]. Basically, you get out of your own country as a young professional when you think the opportunities are greater elsewhere, when you think the flexibility is going to be better. I'm sure everybody thinks the same. In my case, the opportunities were very specific at that time: the [cable TV] industry was young and new here [in London], because of the link with America. All the multichannel TV industry in Europe is born and bred from the States, or is very immature, so you just feel this pool of expertise is going to come first to England, and then later to the continent, which is in fact what happened. I hate to think of that – the American influence – [laughs] but that's why I came."

The irony of her chosen Americanised path is not lost on Laure, who married an English man, but yearns for France. Her engaging, corporate articulacy is peppered with socialistic, anti-materialist side remarks and self-questioning. Again, she has a provincial background, very typical of many of the new generation of free movers. These are not the global elites of social theory fame (i.e., Bauman 1998; Castells 2000; Sklair 2001), but rather a new middle class of mobile ‘spiralists', echoing the famous article by Watson (1964), on the socially and spatially mobile new middle classes from English northern towns in the 1950s and 60s (see also Fielding 1995). The bottom line is they would not have moved were it not for the new open EU free movement opportunities; and they would not have moved if the opportunities were global rather than regional. Freedom of movement in Europe has extended privileges once thought to be exclusively ‘elite', to a much larger, more provincial, European population. They thus combine ambitious social mobility, with international movement born of frustration with the ‘classic' French system of going to Paris to make it: where, as Bourdieu has shown repeatedly in his work, well entrenched upper class cultural capital always succeeds best (Bourdieu 1997). They are trying to use Europe as an alternative route and trajectory to the classic one through the national capital, a route that builds on the energy of feeling an ‘outsider'. Another key aspect of their ease of mobility within the European space, is that the distances involved have not really disrupted their extended family life in any significant way. Mobility of children is becoming more common, and more acceptable, for European middle class parents. With cheap airlines, and improving international rail networks, European regional integration is becoming a reality in this sense, with London a key hub.

All my respondents recognise certain aspects of Parisian life as better. They can cogently enumerate the comparative benefits of Paris, particularly in terms of ‘quality of life' (a key term for all my Eurostars). But, this has its downsides. As Laure puts it:

"Yeah, it's very good [life in Paris], but it's a bit like ‘ la pensée unique ' [one way thinking]. Everybody goes in the same direction, and thinks politically correct things, which I do find a bit oppressive, in terms of my own outlook in life."

This viewpoint is echoed by Nour, a successful cable television news journalist, particularly in professional terms. Above all, there is the American suspicion of French colleagues and friends:

"I bump into French journalists here and there, and I always get this: Why are you working for an American company!?"

Nour is 34, and was born in Algeria, but comes from a more international background: a family of diplomats. London for her did represent simply the next nodal point in a global career that went from a childhood in London, to Sciences Po in Paris, to journalist school in New York, to Washington DC, to cable news in London ("It was the best jumping board at the time", she says). Pointedly, she is the only one of these five respondents not benefitting from European free movement, and points out with frustration the consequences of Britain's non-participation in the Schengen agreement: she cannot work here without a work permit. Her ability to move and work rests on a different kind of ‘mobility capital' than the four other French respondents: a more recognisably ‘elite' globalised social background (of the kind wrongly assumed by most scholars to be typical of all international professional migrants). Being a high flyer, the company has taken care of her permit problems, but she is convinced she has to work that bit harder for it.

"I have to say I think there is always an unfairness in that respect because you do have to prove yourself more… Maybe if you were an English person you'd think it was normal. Why would they hire someone else, when I'm just as qualified? For me it's always seemed to me a little bit unfair. I always have the feeling I had to prove myself more to make it worth any employers hiring me, because they have to go through this whole work permit thing just to hire me, then they have to decide between me and someone else who has the same qualifications…"

This situation translates into a tougher work life, which she compares with the kind of conditions she might have enjoyed in France:

"I like that social system [in France], I like the fact that people don't have to work the same crazy hours that we do, because of the law. You'd never be able to get away with it, you know, the nightshift I've had to do here… I would never have done it in France, because it's a more humane system. But on the other hand, when we have to work all day with a French cameraman, and he's like ‘I'm sorry, I have to stop to have my lunchbreak, and ‘I've got to have this break and that break', and I'm like, ‘Come on, let's get on with it!'… So you get used to it whether you like it or not, it's difficult to adapt to another system."

The working hours and stress she complains about, are a reminder of the downsides of London compared to continental Europe: something you get in return for a more challenging career environment. It has also taken its toll on Laure, and is beginning to be felt by the others, such as Valerie.

"That [the appeal of London] is perhaps beginning to déchante r [lose its allure]. It's such an expensive place, when I arrived it was already a bordel [nightmare, lit. ‘whorehouse']… Now I'm looking for work, I don't want to arrive at the point where I ask is this game even worth playing? I might be able to earn a good wage, but there's appartment rent to pay, and the quality of life all the same is not fabulous either. For the moment, I stay because I'm still… [pause] I think I'm going to stay here, I'm very happy with London, for the moment, but we'll see. Je ne me vois pas ailleurs pour le moment [I can't see myself anywhere else at the moment]."

Valerie is apparently committed to the city. She says this, but she has also recently interviewed for jobs in Monaco and Switzerland, and is ready to go anywhere with the right boyfriend at the drop of a hat. Being a Londoner perhaps does not run as deep as these respondents at first claim.


The experiences of movers begins quite rapidly to diverge with the counterfactual life (and career) as it would have been back home, as they match their expectations with carving out a new life in a new city. The settlement process tends to reveal other aspects of the experience of migration, in particular, the nationally specific limitations of the apparently ‘global city' they have chosen.

Valerie and Nicole recount in detail the peculiar life of the new Londoners, huddling together in the cheapest hostels in Bayswater and Chelsea, a part of the town long established as a first port of call for expats in the city.

Nicole: "When I first came, I used to sleep in a hostel in Bayswater, which is a brilliant place to meet people. You have people from everywhere around the world. They are just like you, have been here for 2 weeks, they don't know how long they are going to stay, and they're very excited because they've just got a job… Everything you do is new, so it's full of energy. You meet people and spend all your time with them. You are never alone, you eat together and share everything… After six months I couldn't stand it anymore, but the first three months were wonderful."

Valerie: "Its really a family, everyone knows each other. Its also a network for information, jobs, visiting places. The Spanish always know where to go out in the evening… They are not exactly spoiled by the mode of life here [i.e., London's notorious limitations in terms of closing hours and going out late, compared to Spain]. That's the reason that the most of the Spanish go home."

Like accomodation anywhere in London, it is not cheap. Valerie was paying 110 pounds a week, which included dinners that had to be taken at the hostel:

"I had some savings so it wasn't like the people who have to work at Prêt-à-Manger making sandwiches. There were several at the hostel who were doing that. There were those that had to get up at 5 ‘'clock to make muffins, I don't know where… It wasn't like that for me."

Their positive memories perhaps belie how tough it might have been for some of their camarades .

What is extraordinary about all this, are the compromises in lifestyle they accept, in return for a slice of the London action. These accumulate over time relative to a specific peer group back home who, a few years on, now have high paying jobs, own houses, and live established ‘bourgeois' lives. Laure refers to these as the "golden youth [ jeunesse dorée ]" of continental Europe, the middle class children from countries with higher average standards of living than Britain, more close-knit conventional family life, and a sense of over-protection as they grow up. Those who opt to leave, opt out of a settled and more guaranteed social trajectory that would otherwise them affluent and settled in married life – most likely in their home region – much earlier. Nathalie, like Valerie, is from the south of France, in her sixth year in London, and works in an administrative job for a major retail company.

"Compared to all my friends in France, they don't understand, because they now have a three room bourgeois in Nice with a chimney... And they see I live in 10 square metres [in a London hostel], and share my bathroom with thirty other people, and they are really... quoi?!... And, no, I'm not married, I don't have kids, all the 33 year olds I know, are more or less in the family life..."

This standard middle class trajectory back home compares to the many late 20 or 30 something French, Spanish, Italian and Greek graduates, still living after several years in provisional, shared accommodation, before establishing residential independence in the ferociously expensive London rental market.

A sense of wistful no-going back realism pervades Valerie's reflections on this:

"In France, I don't really have links with people, all my friends who I knew are all married now, all settled [ installées ], whilst here we are all single (even if you have a boyfriend)... So there's none of that sentiment of ‘OK, I'm married now, so I'm not going out anymore' – which is not necessarily a good thing, by the way. But maybe that's why I don't want to settle down, because I don't have any examples around me, I don't know! I'll maybe finish by becoming English."

Her feelings are confirmed by Nathalie. She only managed to leave the hostel, when she moved in with her Dutch boyfriend, a commercially-based research scientist, who had bought a house near Paddington. Although she misses the fun of the hostel, she also recognises that by age 33, this kind of serially instable lifestyle had parents and friends back home worried.

"I'm both happy and worried that its maybe just because I don't want to make a commitment"

The London French are fully aware of what they are doing, and such interpersonal comparativism pervades their talk, embodying a sharp cross-national Europeanism – shared by all Eurostars – who are acutely aware of qualitative differences between cities and national contexts. In a sense, they are the real comparative experts, whose experiences and more insightful, even-handed, observations, transcend the usual parade of clichés that pervade public discussion about the characteristics and merits of each European country.

One area on which they have much to say is the relative merit of the British National Health Service, universally assessed as one of the worst medical systems in Europe.

Nathalie, Laure and Nour all laugh and recount nightmare stories of their encounters with this system when asked their experiences:

Nathalie: "I'm scared to go... I've been in the hospital, with my job in Portugal, it was ten times cleaner than here. I thought it was just because the French were narrow minded [that they think this], that they like only French things blah blah blah... But the experience I had here in the emergency are... really I don't know [laughs]!! Frankly, there was a gynecologist at Paddington hospital, she opened the door with the glove, but then you put the glove inside the patient... I was ahh... let me out! I thought the hygiene was really bad."

Laure: "What do you think I think of it…? [laughs] What everybody thinks of it! Appalling! They said her my daughter had asthma, when in fact she had problems with her lungs. I took her to France and they put her in a hospital, did an xray… In fact, she had double pneumonia…! It was not diagnosed properly, and it's a general problem of the system. The GP said ‘oh, we don't routinely give xray of the chest for a child here'. There are lots of stories like this. I don't blame them personally. It's the whole fact that once you are in a system, you start accepting it, you don't question it anymore. Basically, my daughter asked to go to hospital…. And Casualty is the wrong place to go…"

Nour: "Don't start me on that one, that is the most awful thing in this country! Much as I appreciate there are a lot of good things that Britain has to offer, the whole medical system… I am totally totally shocked. The way I've dealt with it is that I go to Paris… What I've done, I often get sick when I'm coming back from a trip, and I'll stop in Paris which allows me to see my parents, and see my doctor [laughs], so I'll do what I need to do there… I had to register with a GP, and had something serious once… I called for an emergency appointment – that they give you a week later. I go and she says, ‘There is a philosophy here that as long as you are breathing you are OK'. She just said, ‘It's the air you are breathing in your office, so just drinks lots of fluids'. I said, ‘Cant we do some tests, there's something wrong, I can feel it!'. But she was like, ‘Oh no no you'll be fine, just drink a lot of fluids'. So I did for three weeks, it just got worse… A friend of mine had to help me on the Eurostar, and I went to Paris, and of course the first thing they did was run tests to find out my blood count was totally abnormal in all respects. I do not understand how a civilised industrialised country would not do that, its just … the other times, when I've needed urgent medical attention, I've gone to my doctor, who is Lebanese… When I saw a specialist here, my work doctor refered me. It's a private doctor: you pay 120 pounds for the doctor, 100 for the blood test, then 120 for the xrays, and then the xrays they do at St Thomas's hospital, and that's not much better than the hospital I used to go to in Algeria. Filthy!… OK, I had an insurance, but it's 120 bloody pounds, you know! I just don't understand, there's something messed up with this system, it totally eludes me. I was talking with friends, one whose Brazilian, one from Sri Lanka… This is one thing we are really scared of, if anything happened to us here we'd have to go abroad. The system doesn't allow you to run the tests you have to do, and there's no prevention either, its just zero. If I go see a doctor in France, he will ask me if I'm happy with my weight, skin, psychology, he'll look at the whole picture, even if he only a GP… Here, as long as you are breathing you are fine. [All these other things] are just totally irrelevant to them, its considered luxury. If you can afford it, fine, go to a luxury doctor. But it's not considered an essential part of your well being, as it is in many other European countries, and that's a shame. It's really something I don't understand."

In the light of this, it is a surely a poor joke that British politicians still insist on playing the welfare spongers card, talking about NHS access as an argument for why migrants come to the UK (as opposed to elsewhere). This is nonsense: European migrants nearly all maintain doctors and dentists at home. It is true that among these migrants Nicole did get access to unemployment benefit, and other interviewes have confirmed the way they have managed to get housing benefits and access to job centers. However, this ease of access has also to be linked as well to the extraordinary openness of the economy, and the willingness to exploit available labour pulled into the country.

Respondents are critical of these aspects, as readily as they give credit to London's easy going attitudes on bureaucracy, and its accomplished multiracial, cosmopolitan environment. Laure, in particular, was very positive on this in relation to France:

"That is the extraordinary side of London, the acceptance of ‘the Other'… I think that the English are less neurotic than the French… In general, the English are perhaps less racist…"

Contrary to the poor image of British state schools, Laure has found great satisfaction getting involved in a typically multicultural London school.

"One of the reasons why we are still here is probably because of the school. I had a complete change of attitude vis-à-vis that, because I think the parents involvement in the school is so much greater in England that it could possibly be in France… It's a school where 50% of the children are non-English speaking"

It is interesting that, of the movers here, it is Nour who is the least impressed by what London has to offer culturally. A self-styled "classic" dresser, she is a firm believer in doing all her shopping in Paris, exchange rates permitting. This was particularly good at the time of the interview, with a very strong pound. She would join dozens of other people arriving back in London on the Eurostar, armed with foie gras and wine, that would have cost three times as much at Harrods. She points out that these good things in life, that get coded as upper class ‘elite' luxuries in Britain, are in fact available to a much broader range of the population in France.

"A lot of people here thought that I was being very snobbish [shopping in Paris]. But again it's this class thing. People tend to identify you here by how you look, and they are ‘Oh yes of course she buys her clothes in Paris'… But it has nothing to do with that, it's because it was much cheaper [laughs]."

Cross-border shopping is another big benefit of mobility, as well as another tangible fruit of European integration. Other aspects of daily life require settlement, inevitably, over time. But settlement involves the competitive struggle with natives and other residents for access to and control over scare ‘quality of life' resources in the city – the very thing that most motivates domestic middle classes (Butler and Savage 1995). This takes its most tangible shape, in London as elsewhere, on the housing market and over questions of childcare and education for children. Laure rails about the extortionate price of child care, and the professional compromises it imposes on families who would have it much easier in Brussels (where child care is good) or in Amsterdam (where international school options are better). Paris, too, would have had more options.

"You have the crèche, the crèche is never ill. A nanny is. The crèche is always open [laughs]. Financially it's much better too… When I had a child, I went back to work straight away. A lot of English women who have a child leave work. I come from the feminist culture in France, you don't even think about it"

Nour points out one of the other absurdities with overpriced child care, and double income professionals at full financial stretch.

"They both have high paid jobs, working really hard… Quite a few friends get into a pattern, where they work hard to pay for someone else to look after their children. Frankly, what is the point of having kids, you know [laughs]. It defeats the purpose I think"

On housing, several of the respondents demonstrate the lack of real local knowledge that sees them renting in well trodden, higher price neighborhoods in north and west London, as opposed to doing as British newcomers would do and looking south of the river or in the east end for better value housing. Nicole's ever temporary existence, seems to be always rising in cost. She is having to move down scale now.

"I moved every year. I wish I didn't have to do that, but I always had a good reason to move. I used The Guardian , flat shares, etc. Queensway, Bakerloo, then Shepherds Bush, then here (St.Catherine's Dock). I was working in Shoreditch. Its always an improvement of some sort. I work now in Ladbrook Grove, so need to move back west. For the first time, I'm going to go backward, cheaper… London is very very very expensive. When you look at salaries they are really high, I would have never earned that in France, but still… you only just live. I didn't know London well enough. What I thought, I'm just going to find out… I didn't have any idea beforehand, I could leave, its still the way I feel about things. I have friends living in the hostel for four years. I have no attachment to neighbourhoods."

Her lack of settlement here precludes the kind of more localised ties and networks – a tangible form of social capital – that other residents use to make London liveable and affordable.

Nour – who lives with even more professional mobility, and more like the image of ‘global elites' in the city – opted to ignore the prices, and move into the most obviously accessible international area of London in Kensington/Chelsea. Although on a relatively average wage, she invested everything she could in a nice flat in this classic expat part of town, to make relaxation in her hectic mobile life easier.

"I think people also have different priorities when you are a foreigner, compared to when you are British. People may have been a bit shocked that I would put so much money into that, but for me it was absolutely very very important... Even if it meant I was not going out so much, or buying clothes."

On and off planes, working nights, and highly global in her orientation (when not back ‘home' in Paris), she admits to not knowing her way around London much, and is still not sure about where to take out of town friends when they come to visit.

"I have to say, I'm extremely attached to my neighborhood. Partly its just laziness, a lot of people are like that in London, you stick to it. A lot of friends at work live next to where I live, or in North London… My best friend lives in Camden, I make an exception just for her because I love her [laughs], but otherwise it's just hell to get me out of Earls Court or Kensington."


It is almost an unquestioned assumption of the global cities theorists, particularly those that home in on the cosmopolitan nature of the ‘glocal' in these places (Hannerz 1996), that these former national capitals now embody in time and space the wide open ‘scapes' of a truly mobile, global culture. Yet what is striking from the Eurostars' stories in London, is just how coercive and assimilatory to specifically national norms of behavior life in this city in fact is: in terms of the everyday rhythms, patterns of sociability, and choices and compromises people make between quality of life and career. Yet it is remarkable too how the resident French see this and accept the ways it has changed them. Valerie, fresh back from her holiday in continental Europe reflects:

"You see there the life is less stressed, you see people are more calm. Take Milan, people move [ bouge ] there, but there is an atmosphere there which you don't find here. But in France, I couldn't believe it, to buy something, I just wanted to shout, ‘ Bouge! c'est pas possible! '. I could do three tours of the supermarket while I'm waiting to pay at the checkout [laughs], but anyway, when I came back, relaxed etc, I appreciated that [their speed of life]. Whether I would like that long term…[shrugs] You need things to move a bit, but its good people were not running, they appreciated things. There isn't the same competition, like here. I'm always amused here at 11, when the bell rings [in the pub], people always take 3 or 4 pints of beer, as if they don't really appreciate what they are doing. In France and Italy, you taste life, you are not just there to waste your energies. But I'm just as crazy [ folle ], except that I don't drink. I'm from the south of France, it annoyed me a lot when I worked – my job was intense, 8am-5pm – and you just don't eat, you just work. It's true that for me also today when I went to this interview at Canary Wharf, there were all these sandwich shops and all that, and I say to myself [in English], ‘Ah, I don't want that'. I can't do fast food while I'm walking, that stressed me [ angoissée ] because I'd forgotten that. At the moment I have the time. If I go back into the system, in finance especially, I will have to eat lunch in front of my computer. That's what I call the non qualité de vie – where you can't take pleasure in eating, when you don't take more than two minutes."

Being a Londoner means living the same way. Valerie jokes that she is not so well integrated because she does not share the British culture of drinking, and of dating (which she describes as "flagrant"). Her best friend is "more integrated because she drinks" – hardly the most edifying aspect of British culture.

On other aspects, the respondents frequently despair of the destructive quality of life that native Londoners put up with, and that London imposes on you.

"The strain of living in England has started to show… There is very little support for working mothers, with huge problems of child care, and so on… so that was when the train started to derail [laughs]"

Laure's choice of metaphor is very telling. Perhaps nothing has symbolised the break down of London life more dramatically than recent disasters on public transport. Nathalie recalls taking often the same train involved in the Paddington station train disaster, and how upset she was the following week at the station when she got into an argument with an unhelpful and uncontrite ticket conductor. Nobody else seemed to be complaining, but she was outraged.

"You know the Paddington accident, it was the train I was taking every day. This day, I had cramps, I stayed in my bed. Everybody was calling me to see if I was alive, and I was saying, ‘Its OK, my cramps are not that bad!'... I didn't know the accident had happened, there were really people I saw everyday on that train, but never saw them after... At this time [afterwards], they [British Rail] didn't do anything to help people get around, at the station. Everyone was lost, and so on, and I asked a question, and they say [shouts], ‘You cannot read!', and I was like, ‘How dare you talk to me like that?'... All the other English are there, queuing, saying nothing... [angrily] ‘I haven't just killed all these people, so you should just shut up. I just asked you a question, its your job to answer me normally', and everyone was [makes a shocked face]...!! It's not possible, they were not saying anything, we had to spend more money, we had to take more trains, they make us lose our time, they have killed people... and still they continue to say ‘Oh its not our fault' and, ‘You have to pay and go there'... I was really amazed, they showed no compassion. I was reading in the Metro thing [free commuter newspaper]. It says people are really fed up, but where do they see that!? I don't see that! I haven't seen anyone saying it's a shame what happened!"

Nour makes a similar point (about the managers of her housing block):

"When I complained, they were utterly shocked. I think it's a British thing – you don't complain. They said ‘Oh you are making a bit of a fuss aren't you?'"

Others point to Britain's terrible service culture, that ironically belies the British economy's highly ‘Americanised' self-image. Nour, again:

"One thing that does disturb me in terms of services… Maybe you get spoiled when you are in America. Here nobody cares, you can yell your lungs out, you can point out you are not getting what you are paying for, and nobody gives a damn… Then they say ‘OK we'll put it back, but it will take three weeks'. Which country in the bloody world, which industrialised country, takes 3 bloody weeks to install cable! Its totally ridiculous, they don't care. In my area they are the only ones to provide cable, and that's just not on. I was furious, I don't have three weeks. When I'm here, I cant wait for three weeks! [Privatised monopolies]… You get the worst of both worlds."

Laure connects up bad service, with ‘rip-off Britain', and the collapse of engineering expertise in the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, in one very funny story.

"One aspect of the English, which I don't like... a lot of people that take a lot of advantage. That something [i.e., a plumber] can cost 90 pounds, its disgusting, for nothing… there are shitty schools, lots of people making a quick buck… In France, we have more respect for métiers [trades]. You don't just become a plumber just like that. There is a respect [for the trade]. Here there's no respect. At last I understand after 13 years why it is that the trains don't work. It's because there is no respect for engineers. Intelligent people never study to be engineers, they go work in the City. I didn't understand that. I met this guy [in the City] and asked, ‘What was your degree?'. ‘I was an engineer,' he said, ‘but no way was I going to work as one!'. Then I understood why the Millennium Bridge didn't work [laughs]!! It's a pity. The quick buck. OK, they're not racist here, but how people are exploited, that really shocks me."

For all the talk of Americanisation – for all The Sun editorials proclaiming that, ‘We work like America, think like America, etc' – Great British peculiarities remain just that: Great British. Rupert Murdoch may well be successful selling the British masses a lowest common denominator image of American society and its similarities to Britain, but it is clear too that Americans would have exactly the same complaints. On the other hand, it can be argued that a parallel Europeanisation might be a having effect in raising London's quality of life, and in transcending British class divisions. Jamie Oliver has indeed brought simple Italian food to the same masses, although (an equally simple) dinner at the River Café still requires a blue chip income. However, quantitatively, economically, the impact of the new European population on London has been considerable. In many ways, these European residents and their lifestyle preferences have become a conduit for the progressive Europeanisation of some of London's worst eating and going out habits, with the new vogue for restaurants, street cafés and Euro-chic. A good example is the transformation of Islington, a Europeanised, cosmopolitan neighborhood, highly popular with Eurostars who can afford it.

What is noticeable, however, in London as elsewhere, is how this involvement almost never translates into political participation. The EU studies literature on European citizenship indeed is way off beam in its hopes that this might be an effective route towards Europeanisation and a more democratic Europe. Nicole, when asked about this, shrugged in a way typical of nearly all interviewees – who would be classified among some of the most politically and culturally aware members of the European population, as well as those most likely to care about European citizenship.

"I don't have the energy. I didn't ever vote [as a European citizen]. I didn't know anything about it. I didn't receive any information, and I didn't look for it. I was expecting information but I was lazy. I read the papers, follow the news and everything, but I'm much more interested in French politics, and I have voted in France. I think if I had a family here, I would. But I know that I'm not going to stay here for 20 years."

Freedom… or Anomie?

Nicole's crisp statement here summarises the sojourner mentality: a way of life made possible by the European free movement provisions, and the new forms of mobility that it encourages. For the younger movers, provisionality is the key to this freedom, and it is this that Eurocities – whether London or any other – most usefully enable:

"Deciding to stay for two years was a bit scary. It's stupid, I know, when you've been staying each time, ‘just another year'. This is just two years, but it was a big step for me. It's funny. I think it's maybe because I like the idea of knowing that its OK if I change my mind tomorrow. I can just go, give up everything in one month. It's a kind of freedom, but now I have to be a bit more responsible."

She adds:

"To me, I feel kind of settled, you can be settled and still travelling. If I could meet someone who likes travelling, and we have the opportunity work wise to travel, live five years here, five years there, I think it's fantastic. I didn't lose my friends in France, they are still there for me, and I feel very close friends in London. It's just great, I keep meeting new people…I feel French in England, and English in France. I like that line. I love that. Being abroad, being a stranger, being different, and I love going back to France and being different, I have a little more."

Valerie, defines her own notion of this trans-European, de-nationalised freedom, by comparing life in cosmopolitan London with Paris:

"In Paris, it's perhaps just as good for all that, but you don't feel that de-nationalised aspect of life [ côté depaisé ]. I'm a foreigner here, that's what I like. That gives me the right to be different, because I'm not from here. When we go out with colleagues, I'm the one who doesn't take beer, who doesn't get drunk, because it s not in my culture. I'm different here, but also I'm different now in France, because I'm not like everyone now... I like this way of not belonging to anyone, of making myself distinct [ me distinguer ]."

But Valerie is slightly older than Nicole, and has passed a certain threshold where she in fact now feels there is no real going back.

"Yes, that's the only thing that makes me afraid, the more it goes, the less I'll be able to go back to France, even if you take a taste for that, being elsewhere".

A few further years later down the road, married with children, ostensibly settled and successful in London, Laure is even more doubtful of the longer term commitments she is making:

"I think although I don't like talking about middle class problems – at the end of the day we so much more privileged than people who have to move – but I would still like to know why it is there are more and more people who make that choice where to go live, to places where they can project themselves… What we are all doing is forgetting that the most important thing is involvement in where we live, not where we could live… and I put myself in the same basket because I ate my breakfast today looking at a map of France [laughs]."

Her words express the anomie that comes with the European freedoms; an anomie – life without norms – that harks back towards the specific frustrations of life as a foreigner in a foreign city, but also points further to a sense of how unsettling a truly de-nationalised life in the European context might be.

One way this plays out over time is in your closest social networks: one's ‘best friends', something always especially important for women. Valerie explains why her three best friends turn out to be French women as well:

"The English are chez eux here, why should they bother getting to know people who don't really speak the language, understand everything. As I said, after a while I needed to get to know French people."

Nicole also points to a specifically gendered and nationalised scenario vis-à-vis male or female friends:

"I notice that my male friends are all English or foreign, my female friends are all French. Its easy with English guys, easier than French guys. They are very chatty, willing to get to know you. They can be close friends. I never had the same feeling with an English girl. They were never interested, it was always conversation about clothes, what you did last night, nothing personal. If you have a problem, that's just not close enough for you to go an talk to them. It never happened. I don't know if it's me, I never felt invited to get closer."

Nathalie, with her boyfriend Jeroen, express frustration with this kind of nationalised ‘social closure' on a different question: why there is no appeal in doing what other English of their age are doing and moving out of the city in the suburbs (which is also why they don't have English friends). Here Jeroen voices their thoughts:

"It happens that the English at work are often with families, they go home. They are not living the same life [as us], they tend not to live in London, very few people want to live in London... I grew up a little bit in the suburbs, I find that its not that interesting... here you see different people, different clothes, weird or not, Here I look out my window and things happen... I feel the suburbs, they lack something..."

The suburban middle class option has been the routine way that native Londoners have since the early 19 th century squared the circle between the impossibly competitive struggle over housing, childcare, affordable education, space and greenery, with urban life in the city their love.

"I should wait until I'm in the situation [having children], but I'm not so sure its necessary, I think its a little bit what people want."

The normal route out of the city is just not an option for Eurostars: after all that's not why they came to London, or why they continue to be there. But this kind of attitude gets harder to maintain. As Nicole says,

"I miss the fact I can't afford a one person flat. Its very hard for my parents to understand. Why? Why are you paying 500 pounds rent to share with someone, its just… One of the reason why I know I'm not going to spend my life here, you just can't afford it."

I ask her when will it be that she's had enough of the struggle?

"Different situations. If my salary my doesn't go up, but the cost of living goes up, I just won't enjoy myself anymore. And I will go back and I will be very happy to go back."

The single women here seem to be somewhat out of synch, out of time, with the norms around them. They identify buying a house with being a couple and settling down – and think they won't do that until they return. This is precisely the step that the younger Eurostars don't want to take. It leaves them in a kind of limbo land, in terms of age and lifestyle, increasingly living a different schedule to both their peer group back home and their age cohort of native British people in London. Nicole identifies how out of time she is, compared to her friends, and the astonishment of her family.

"I'm in a minority. My friends… they didn't go to Paris, they stayed in Lille, or returned to our first town, which is very small. It's a different kind of idea of what you want. Most of them are in a relationship, and they find it very hard for me not to be in a relationship, and they feel very sorry for me. They think it's a dramatic situation, and they have a job, and they like to have the family around. Some are married with a child or two, it's just another idea. I guess some of them understand me, but some of them think that I just don't want to be an adult in a way, that I don't want a relationship, a house, settle down. It's just peoples' ideas. Its very much something to do with what they were told to do, told what success was, what they were expected to do. Some of them got married at 24, 25, and had a child straight away. I know that for me I was absolutely not ready."

Such a situation cannot help but produce a certain degree of weariness and malaise. As Nathalie says:

"The only thing I'm really frightened for me is that because I don't want to think what I'm really doing in terms of jobs, in terms of life... I don't take decisions, because I'm in transit... Sometimes I think you can just forget to make decisions..."

In other, generally older interviewees, I find that older single women and gay men have managed to transcend these conventional lifestyle pressures, by opting for distinctly different urban lifestyles in the cities studied. Here, however, all of my respondents report more or less conventional wishes in terms of heterosexual romance and partnerships, something that in relationships or outside, London is increasingly failing to deliver.

Valerie: "I don't feel completely installée [settled], because after all I rent my apartment, I can't really feel that until I'm in a couple. I think that is more of a girl's emphasis. A friend of mine, she's in a couple and they've bought a house, but my best friend for example she thinks she will return to France, because she doesn't think she is going to meet someone here. I'm not able to see myself as an individual on my own that way buying, I know its something in my mentality, but I wouldn't do it, the idea wouldn't come to me. You buy something as and when you are two people. I can't buy anything by myself, because that's going to be broken up the day that someone comes into my life… I should have bought a house six years ago, now it's too late. The prices are less and less approachable. Once again I have the image of my parents buying a house. I don't want to buy a house by myself… there are many girls that have said that to me, that girls often think about the future in terms of their future partner… But that's a difference here, the English are more independent, while the French do everything in a couple. When you're a couple you're a couple, ça se rigole pas [it's no joke], but I can't imagine constructing myself on my own something. I am waiting… for the Messiah, voilà !"

Valerie's nice piece of self irony here points to doubts about the longer term viability of their chosen lifestyle. And, given these things are so much more easily and naturally accessed by natives of the country they live in, one also questions just how truly international, London, this place , really is. Laure, speaking of East European au pairs, reflects again on the toughness of the city on other young migrants:

"I know many non-English in London, and it's pretty easy to see which of those are going to do OK, and which are not [ s'en sortir ]. Even the Eastern European girls, that's an amazing phenomenon, these girls, you know, nannies, and so on. It depends unfortunately on the background they had before they came here. The girls that are a bit more polished, better brought up, they start as secretaries, then they move out. They have this possibility, where they can be mobile, and then there are the others, from simple backgrounds, farms, factories, and its so tough for them, they don't have the… but they are extraordinary people. I don't want a little French girl ‘na na na' [imitates a French girl]… In human terms you have amazing exchanges with them, but that's only something I have here, not in Paris, where everyone would be just like me…"

Laure then goes on to diagnose a mismatch between migrant aspirations, and the personal development you need to get on with your life, whether at home or abroad.

"These girls, it's OK at first, but they are going to arrive at the point when they need to leave, and they are not going to be able to do it. They've had no professional development, there is a gap [in their development]. The curve is like that [hand goes up], and they are like that [going down]. At the moment they want to have a family, when they are less fixed on personal achievement, they need to go back to their own country where they are needed… it's a horrible situation."

Laure is talking about a different group of migrants in London, a different set of stories: young East European women with a very different background and social origin to the young French women I interviewed. For sure, these latter are not so vulnerable. Their middle class family resources are more solid; their personal and career development in London has been remarkable; they might still be able to make all that count going back to their home job market, or elsewhere. But one might look again at these smart, rootless, unfulfilled young French women in London and wonder to what extent Laure's words are also addressed to herself and her own co-nationals.


Talk of mobility is all the rage these days. We have been rightly urged to push sociology and other social sciences beyond the nation state (Urry 2000), with an integrating Europe a key research terrain (Therborn 1995). One or two historians have written brilliant, sweeping overviews of mobility – and immobility – in Europe's past (Kaelble 1990; Moch 2003). Now, in the contemporary situation, it is only geographers who are likely to be equipped enough – with their distinctive sense of spatial scales, flows, place and time – to begin to capture the fundamental changes afoot on the European continent in empirical terms.

Unfortunately, however, the most well know geographical literature of relevance here – the economic geography literature on global cities and transnational economies – has on the whole proceeded apace with scant attention to the human dimension of these phenomena. Flows and networks between locations are measured by counting the number of offices corporation have in different cities, measuring foreign direct investment and information exchange, or by quantitatively charting shifts in business activities from production to service industries (Taylor, Walker and Beaverstock 2000; Sassen 2000; Brenner 1999). But rarely is any kind of human face given to these macro-level transactions and data-sets. Urry's mobile manifesto, meanwhile, offers the right diagnosis as premise, but totally the wrong methodological remedy. It exhorts a cavalier abandonment of all empirical method – the tools of comparativism, carefully constructed case-studies, data collection – in favour of a post-humanist, metaphors-strewn theorizing about ‘global complexity'. Sociologists are supposed to now study flows of waste, symbolic networks of meaning, virtual transactions, and other abstract ideas, rather than ask questions of real people, with real lives. Theories of globalization are full of such rhetorical excess. As this suggests, what is most needed is a way of mediating between the necessarily abstract, macro-data driven perspectives on globalization, economies and regional integration, and the equally necessary call for phenomenological insight into the lives and experiences of flesh and blood individuals who are the true face of these global and regional trends.

The other literature on which such research may puts a face is, of course, the literature on European (EU) integration. Dominated by top-down policy studies, and hence mainly legal and institutional analysis, very few have thought about what it might mean to study Europeanisation from below. The experiences, attitudes and social trajectories of prototypical free moving European citizens offers a tangible grounding by which we might be able to chart the actual effects of European integration on the ground. They are among the most obvious avatars of the broader institutional process.

All of these processes are located in a global city like London, and can be read through the mobile lives and experiences of individuals who best embody these macro-trends. The growing European presence in London suggests a regional embedding of this particular city, in a way that qualifies some of the excesses of the general literature on globalization and global cities. London is an extraordinary international place, but as we have seen it also has its provincial dimensions; for all its global networks, and nodal centrality, it remains a highly nationalised, specific place in many ways. The image of effortless, frictionless mobility given to us by theorists of globalization, and portrayed in the stylized übermenschen of global yuppie magazines such as Wallpaper , gives way here to a very different image: of average middle class Europeans, aware of the benefits and freedoms that mobility has bestowed, but struggling to get by in a global city that cannot satisfy all of their cosmopolitan hopes and aspirations. It turns out – as with ‘flexibility' in the new post-industrial economy (Sennett 1998) – that it is not such an easy thing to build a complete, fulfilled life out of ‘mobility': there are costs as well as benefits to free movement. The lives of the Eurostars are extraordinary precisely because it is not easy to opt out of the standard social trajectories offered to middle class children in European nation-state-societies. Thus, they remain, for all their numbers, the exception in a generally immobile Europe. European residents of London are having an impact on the city, and do embody one important facet of its current internationalisation. Yet their experiences also remind us that global mobility is much easier in theory than in practice; and that even in the most of global of cities, not everyone feels as much at home as everyone else.


* Adrian Favell, Sociolgy, UCLA.

1. Adrian Favell, Eurostars and Eurocities: Free Moving Urban Professionals in an Integrating Europe , Oxford: Blackwell (forthcoming 2005). See also Favell (2003).

2. See our website:

3. See the Urban Audit website:

4. See their website:

5. All of my interviewees are presented with pseudonyms, with personal details blurred.


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Edited and posted on the web on 28th September 2004

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in MP Smith and A Favell (eds) (2006) The Human Face of Global Mobility New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, pp. 247-274