WANTED: ‘Marie’ Poppins for French family in London
Monday, 30 November -0001

WANTED: ‘Marie’ Poppins for French family in London

London has 400,000 French residents – and many want domestic staff. Oscar Perche, whose father is French, gives an insider’s view of what they’re looking for

It would be fair to say that the British haven’t always seen eye to eye with their cousins across the Channel. The Norman Conquest, The Hundred Years War, Napoleon Bonaparte, endless teasing over our rather pitiful cuisine – it has been a bit of a rough ride. But it seems that a new age of fraternity has arrived, and the French are ‡ flooding into London.

In fact, there are already a staggering 400,000 French people in the capital, essentially making it France’s fourth largest city (after Paris, Marseille and Lyon), with a bigger population than Toulouse or Nice.

Many of these French étrangers work as bankers in the City, often recruited from the highly regarded grandes écoles. And, with new socialist French President François Hollande threatening a 75 per cent top rate of tax, thousands more rich French expats look set to swell these ”figures further.

Many of these wealthy new arrivals house themselves in London’s quartier Latin in South Kensington, where you will ” find the best French school, and the Institut Francais. You certainly won’t struggle to find a fresh croissant.

But it’s not easy for families to move abroad and arrive friendless in an unfamiliar environment. How do you ”find the local boulangerie? Or dance classes for your children? And where do wealthy French arrivals ”find nannies, or housekeepers, or cleaners?

Well, I have some ”firsthand experience. I have a French father, who moved to London 20 years ago – and my parents found our housekeeper, Clara, through The Lady, as well as my longterm childhood nannies.

Clara had previously worked for another French family, and when her time in that job expired, she joined an agency and also scouted for jobs in newspapers. When she went to a newsagent’s and asked for a magazine that advertised domestic jobs, she was directed towards The Lady. ‘It was the easiest way to ”find a job,’ she says.

Many of the mothers from my school, London’s Lycée Français Charles De Gaulle, say The Lady was one of the first things they bought in England to help them ”find nannies and housekeepers.

There are, after all, a huge number of French children in London – with more than 4,000 students at the Lycée Français alone. Indeed, as more and more French families move into London, this one school has grown from 1,200 students in 1995 to 4,000 today. It is currently forced to reject 500 students per year.

Consequently, there is growing demand from French families for highquality nannies. But the needs of French families are rather different from those of the Brits. Here, nannies are often expected to hand children back to their parents washed, fed and ready for bed, while in France, even very young children are expected to join their parents for dinner at seven or eight o’clock.

Early nights are anathema. French households will also often expect nannies to cook and shop, with emphasis on sourcing fresh produce locally.

‘French parents are also stricter with their children,’ says Simone, a French resident of London, who found her babysitters through The Lady.

‘They place more importance on education and good food than English mothers, who will often try to spend more time playing with their children.’

It is also essential to remember the importance of le goûter – the sacred, and often sweet, midafternoon snack. Many French would happily sacrifice lunch or dinner for a ”five o’clock brioche. Nannies and housekeepers forget this at their peril – and should always remember to have le goûter ready for the children’s return from school.

Of course, this new wave of French arrivals will differ in their demands. Some will want to pretend they still live in France – something that is possible in South Kensington – hiring a Frenchspeaking nanny and sticking to the French delis and brasseries.

Others will be more anglophile, insisting their children speak English and doing their best to get under London’s skin. They may look for someone who can help them adapt to their new way of life. Even if they have learned English at school, for example, they might struggle to understand the cuts of meat found in an English butcher’s shop. They will also need help ”finding the best local shops, so knowledge of the area – and even the best brand of washing up liquid – is paramount.

The Lady, of course, has been helping nannies and housekeepers ”find placements for 127 years. My grandfather certainly used the magazine to hire my mother’s nannies 40 years ago. And this in‡ flux of wealthy French families represents an opportunity for nannies and housekeepers to ”find an exciting new job.

So what are you waiting for? Les Français arrivent!

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