Brexit – a French expat’s perspective


I’ve refrained pretty much from commenting about Brexit. I like to mostly keep things light in this blog, and Brexit is a serious matter.

I’m usually a pretty calm kind of guy. Inside, I’m obviously as nervous as the next guy, but most people describe me as “quietly confident”, which I interpret as “harder than Arnold Schwarzenegger” (I’m not).

However, one thing that always breaks my cool, “I’ll be back” veneer is talking about Brexit.

You see, I’m furious.

Furious that David Cameron thought a “Yes-No” referendum would be enough to decide the lives of literally millions of European citizens (those Europeans who live in the UK and those British citizens that live in Europe).

Furious that the British citizens that were the most affected by Brexit were the ones that weren’t allowed to vote for it (if you’ve been living abroad for longer than 15 years you can’t vote).

Furious that I feel like I wasn’t consulted properly even though this issue means so much.

Furious that I feel like my future is to be determined by politicians that care nothing about me, and only about their political future.

Let’s get back to basics.

The European Union

Is, in my opinion (yes, this is an opinion piece, so I respect your right to disagree with all of what I’m saying), the European Union a good thing? For me, it’s a resounding “yes”. But not for reasons you might expect.

I like social history. Social history is nothing to do with socialism or Marxism. Social history is finding out about what happened to the ordinary people that lived in history.

You may or may not know the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. In it, there’s a scene with Michael Palin who plays a peasant spouting politics while he’s lumping mud.

Anyway, that’s social history, caring and trying to understand what the ordinary man was going through.

And I think that the European Union is a resounding success for the ordinary man (or woman. Or even pet animal).

The European Union’s mission (if you translate the abhorrent management speak) is basically to promote peace and prosperity in the countries it lords over.

And I think that generally it sticks pretty well to this job. There are no wars in Europe. No innocent teenagers are being sent to any front lines and asked to fight against a similarly-aged innocent teenagers of another country due to the whims of corrupt and inept leaders.

The quality of life of most European citizens is getting better year on year. They aspire more than just to survive.

So we can all agree that in spite of its many weaknesses, the European Union is generally a good thing. It’s not trying to hurt anyone, and generally it doesn’t seem to allow itself (much) to sell out to large, nasty corporations and evil despots.

Its relaxation of borders and customs (the allowances when you cross a border, not anything like Morris Dancing) have meant that people like me can move about and meet people and live in their country without too much hassle.

And this works very well with one side of the British identity.

The British Identity

Let’s talk about the British Empire. Once, it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire. Basically, we had a system of governance that meant it was easy for us to take over any poor country and dictate how that country would be run according to our rules, which sometimes meant putting time aside for a good cup of tea.

I’m not going to go into the merits or demerits of the British Empire. It did some good, it did some bad. That’s got nothing to do with this discussion. But the British identity has.

You see, dear Reader (with a capital “R” because you’re so special), the British Isles is an island. Surrounded by water.

So that means if you’re British, you mostly either want to stay put or you want to leave. Either you need to feel protected by the huge expanse of water and stay with people who think like you, or you need to leave and explore and meet people you don’t understand, who don’t speak like you, or look like you, or even think like you. I’m making generalisations, but this I think is a general rule of thumb.

The British Empire is obviously long over, but there are still many of us that want to leave and many of us that want to stay.

I wanted to leave, but it doesn’t make me any less British.

I still love the UK. Probably MORE than many of the people who stay. Perhaps because I can only remember the good bits. When I’m with other Brits we can reminisce and understand each other like no one else on earth.

I’m going to say something a little bit provocative. Because I’ve had a couple of glasses of Côte du Rhone and I feel like being a bit belligerent.

I’m willing to bet that it’s easier for a UK expat to understand and get along with another UK expat than any having the same situation between any other expats from any other nation on Earth.

You put two British expats together and I guarantee they will try to get on immediately, irrespective of their age, social class, sex… There’s just this innate, genetic, almost cosmic understanding of things like the Queen, Blackadder, cricket, the Beatles, the newspapers, Harry Potter and the weather that we can process and talk about within seconds.

Other nations would be at each other’s throats. Not us, we’re stoic, calm and we’ll ask for a cup of tea. I don’t like tea as much as coffee, but in the presence of another Brit in a situation of drama or tension or supporting a sports team that I would usually loathe, then I’ll fight to the death to have the right to ask for a cup.

It’s wrong to say goodbye

My opinion of Brexit has not made me any less British. But I can certainly say I don’t find this whole situation very fair.

Yet, in spite of my grievances (and I’m sure many of you feel differently to me) there is something positive to be had. I can also say that I appreciate the French all the more. I appreciate the European Union all the more. I feel European.

I never really did before.

So thank you to France for letting me live here, for however long that may be. Thank you to the E.U. who made it so possible in the first place. Thank you to all of you who just want to say hello.

And shame on your decision, Britain. You chose to say Goodbye. That’s just not cricket.

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I am an British/English expat living in France. I've been here since 1997, I speak fluent French and I just love France! I blog with articles on living in France with tips on living here and learning French.