The Gauls at Home in Erin (learning English)

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Jun 2 21:11:03 UTC 2006

>>From the NYTimes, June 2, 2006

The Gauls at Home in Erin

DUBLIN This snug Irish capital might seem an unlikely destination for
young French men and women. The weather would jar anyone from the Cote
d'Azur. And the food is basically what the Michelin restaurant guide might
consider a form of boiled stew. Yet thousands of people many just out of
university are deserting France to live and work here, in a European city
that sparkles with economic vibrancy despite a more general sense of
stagnation in much of the Continent. Like many others moving across
Europe, they are migrating for jobs, which are far more plentiful in
Ireland than in France, where the economy is flabbier, work for young
people is scarcer and taxes are higher.

For Europeans, who used to cling to a homebound culture where many people
often lived and died within shouting distance of their birthplace, that is
a cultural revolution. Like the United States, Europe is wrestling with
immigration problems. But European countries have to deal not only with
immigration from places like Africa and Southeast Asia, which they
strictly limit, but also from their neighbors in the European Union, who
are legally entitled, with some restrictions, to work and live anywhere
within Europe's single market. In Ireland, so many French migrants have
arrived that the person who folds back comforters for hotel guests or
serves Guinness with dinner seems as likely to come from Lyon these days
as from Limerick. By last year, an estimated 20,000 French migrants were
working in Ireland, according to French officials, and the number
continues to rise.

The only larger modern French "colony" is in Britain, where an estimated
86,000 have found work. In London restaurants these days, the waiters are
very often French. For some countries, like Belgium, migration has become
a part of the culture. An estimated 600,000 Belgians, or 8 percent of the
population, live and work outside Belgium, and many of them will never
return. But despite language barriers, even countries like France, where
migration was once very rare, are changing. In Germany and Italy, growing
numbers of young people employed in the banking or financial services are
going abroad, often to London or New York.

The migration also lays bare class differences in a Europe that has opened
in recent years to Central European countries like Poland and Hungary.
While the educated French work in financial services and computers, more
menial tasks, like bricklaying or plumbing, are often done by Poles,
Lithuanians or Latvians. Cases of workplace discrimination against migrant
workers from Eastern Europe have caused the Irish government some concern,
while little or none is aimed at Western Europeans like the French, the
Germans or the Italians.

When Moore McDowell, an economist at University College Dublin, was
strolling recently near St. Stephen's Green, in central Dublin, he saw
scaffolding on a construction site, with a sign, in English and Polish,
that read, "No more Poles needed on this building site." But as for the
French, "if they have good English, and a good baccalaureate, there's a
demand for them," he said. "We are close to fully employed, so the Irish
economy is sucking in employees across Europe."

Ireland has been one of the great economic success stories of Europe, with
real growth, adjusted for inflation, that has been averaging 5 percent to
6 percent annually for many years. Employees for the financial services
and computer industries are in great demand. In the building trades,
though, the boom is cooling and demand is weaker. Indeed, the different
speeds at which European economies grow, or fail to, has created splits
across Europe, yet they do not always explain migration. In Central
Europe, for instance, growth rates are far greater than those of the much
richer countries of the west, yet higher wages still lure Central
Europeans to countries like Germany, France, Britain and Ireland.

So great is the Western migration from the East that Western businessmen
doing business in Eastern European countries like Poland complain of an
inability to find laborers like carpenters, masons or plumbers. Across
Europe, the process has created a hierarchy, with Western Europeans like
the French or Germans at the top, Eastern Europeans in the middle, working
mainly in construction, and Africans and Asians at the bottom of the labor
heap, working in restaurant kitchens, or in garbage removal. Speeding the
procession from France are John Murat, 29, of Lyon, and Laurent
Girard-Claudon, a 29-year-old Parisian who founded Approach People, an
employment firm specializing in finding jobs for French people in Ireland.
In 2002, their first year in business together, they placed 10 people;
this year, they expect to place 350.

>>From four or five employees at the start, the company has grown to 21.
Every day, about 500 French men and women visit its Web site, "It's a developing game," Mr. Girard-Claudon said.
Much of the company's growth, he said, is because of the presence in
Ireland of big American corporations. American clients of Approach People
include Dell, Symantec, I.B.M., Microsoft, Oracle and Apple. Both Mr.
Murat and Mr. Girard-Claudon became devotees of Ireland after deserting
France in the mid-1990's in search of employment. To figure out why
Ireland was producing jobs on an assembly line while France stagnated,
they looked around at different businesses in Dublin.

By contrast, in France an employee must pay tax, pension, unemployment and
social security charges of more than 40 percent; the similar charges in
Ireland are no more than 16 percent, they discovered. They also learned
about the differences in vacation policy: the French usually receive six
or seven weeks of vacation a year; the Irish get four to five weeks.
Moreover, Irish employers have much more flexibility to hire and fire.
"You can still have a success story in Ireland," Mr. Murat said. At the
Approach People offices in Blackrock, a southern suburb of Dublin,
Frederic Nerot, 29, a native of Orleans in the Loire Valley of France,
said he had come not so much to flee French unemployment as to gain real
work experience and improve his English.

"I'm not running away from France, but looking for experience," he said.
Earlier he had spent six months traveling through Asia, before deciding to
come to Ireland. He recently arrived in Dublin, dropping his bag at a
youth hostel before seeking out the Approach People office. He was in
Thailand last fall, he said, when an article in The Bangkok Post described
the riots in France protesting the liberalization of employment laws. "To
have a viewpoint is easy, to have a solution is harder," he said. "The
French are great protestors."

Over a Guinness in a Dublin pub, Paul-Henry Walter agreed. Mr. Walter, 27,
a Parisian who finished a degree in business at Lille and then held some
odd jobs before coming to Ireland, said he was angered by the
demonstrations. "We have to be flexible," he said, "whether we're working
in Marseille or Dublin." The French are struck by the easy collegiality of
the Irish, noting that work-related problems are often resolved not in the
office but over a pint after work. "In France on Friday afternoon, you say
to your colleagues, 'Have a good weekend,' and 'I'll see you on Monday,' "
Mr. Girard-Claudon said. "Here, it's 'Where are we going to drink one
tonight?' "

They are also struck by the ease and speed with which business decisions
are made in Ireland. "It went very quickly," said Mr. Walter, who has been
working in Ireland for six months, describing his hiring. "I applied. I
got a call, 'You start in two weeks.' " He said he was working full time
with an open-ended contract. "I'm basically in sales, computer solutions,
selling to customers in France,"  he said. "All the administrative work is
in English." Mr. Walter shares a house with a fellow Frenchman, a man from
New Zealand and a Slovenian woman.

Would he ever go back to France? "If I found something," he said, "I would
prefer to stay in Paris." But he hasn't. And some people from French are
starting to settle down here. Mr. Murat, who goes by the name John rather
than his native Jean-Christophe, married an Irish woman, and his daughter,
with her blue eyes and blond hair, is more Irish than French, he says. So,
is the migration a brain drain, or simply postgraduate training for young
Europeans who will one day return to their native countries?  Probably
both, Mr. Girard-Claudon said.

"There are those who want one to two years to gain experience and improve
their English to find a better job in France," he said. "And then there
are people here for four to five years, to develop a career here, maybe go
back, maybe not." Robert Hanck, a Belgian economist at the London School
of Economics, said France was among the European economies that had
benefited most from globalization, opening markets to French products and
investment. Yet globalization, and the flexibility and migration of people
that accompany it, remains a bugaboo. "They call it this big horrible
thing around the corner," he said.

But while many native French are worried about the impact of open markets
on their local traditions, Francois Peschaire, 25 and an employee of
Approach People, is among those who just want to get ahead. "I can do
without French cheese, French bread, other things," he said.  "I'm happy
to find it, but it's not a difficulty to do without it."

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