Brexit Testimonies

17 January 2020

Nicholas in France

When it was announced that the UK had voted to leave I was upset because I knew that people in the UK who are the same situation I was in 20 years ago had just voted to remove their opportunities. 

I was born in 1974 into a working class family, my Mum was an Art teacher who divorced when I was about 2 years old and we moved to the inner city of Birmingham. I got a good education and was the first person in my family to go to University (I studied Microbiology). I was rubbish at languages and had little to no interest in anything overseas. I was your typical Brit concentrated upon British things. Having little money and unable to get money from my parents, I worked my way through University (in bars and as a waiter), eventually graduating with a 2.2 which was worth nothing in terms of me getting a job. So I moved back to Birmingham and with an old school friend we rented a small flat on the 23rd floor of a tower block in the centre of town. I found work as a Barman in a night club and also did a waiter job for a temp agency which gave me just about enough money to get by. 

In 1997, another friend of mine asked if I would like to go on holiday to France with him. I laughed, I could only just about afford to eat every day, no way I could go on holiday. So explained it would be a working holiday. Go to the Bordeaux region, do the grape picking harvest to earn some money and at the same time visit the area. That way, instead of needing a lot of money, we would just earn it and try to stay for 2/3 weeks. I can't say that I had a lot going on so I agreed and at the start of September we got on a coach went to Bordeaux carrying only a small backpack and a tent. I didn't speak French and had no idea about the country or the work we were going to do. Little did I know I was moving to my new country where I would spend the rest of my life.

So we arrived in Bordeaux and found a Château that needed grape pickers and the job started a week later. Not having enough money for a campsite we decided to camp on the beach. It was great, I'd never seen such beautiful beaches. It was warm, sunny, just perfect and when I think about it now, it was this moment when I fell in love with France. We did the grape harvest, earned some money, went back to Bordeaux and needing more money, got a job in a British Pub (they didn’t mind that I didn’t speak French), after a month I started renting my first flat and a couple of months after that I found a kitten on the street and took it in. 

That was the defining moment: the cat (called Halloween as he was black). Finding that cat gave me a reason to stay. I started learning French, bought my first ever TV, met my wife and slowly my life started to come together. I found a job teaching English, whilst doing that job I met a man who told me that I should try working in sales and so ended up taking a Business degree at Bordeaux University at the age of 30 (hardest thing I have ever done as it was all in French except for 2hrs a week English "lessons"). The degree was paid for by the French state, no questions asked as I had been working already, paid taxes and it was my right under FoM to do this. I then got jobs working for some well know soft drinks brands as a chef de secteur and now work for a multi national (Spanish based) chemical company. I bought a house with a garden and have 2 children and 2 new cats. Not bad for someone who came to France with a backpack and a tent unable to speak the language.

My cat Halloween rather symbolically died the year of the Brexit referendum, I was unable to vote as I had lived in France for over 15 years but I watched the debate with growing unease. When it was announced that the UK had voted to leave I was upset because I knew that people in the UK who are the same situation I was in 20 years ago had just voted to remove their opportunities. 

The vote was a catalyst for me and I started on the long road to getting French nationality. I had 3 different ways to get French nationality but I chose the easiest one which is through marriage. It took just 2 years, the first one being a back and forward paper game with the French administration which was very complicated—it’s not easy to become French, they don't take everyone and you have to take your turn in the queue alongside other people from all round the world, being British or an EU citizen gets you no extra brownie points. I had 2 meetings with the police, one to check it was a real marriage and the other as a check on me. A "test" where the person asked a lot of questions about France (not too hard, things like what is Democracy, what is the colour of the French flag etc). The hardest question was "Why do you want to become French?". 

The obvious answer would have been because of Brexit but Brexit was only the catalyst. Really, France has given me the chance to do something with my life that I would never have expected. It has given me the opportunity to move forwards and I really do feel French and it only seems a natural progression in my life to become French. A chance migration, unplanned, has led to me leading a completely different life than would I could have ever imagined when I was living in a tower block in the UK. It is that opportunity that has been lost to so many UK citizens, the chance to do something different with their lives. 

Earlier testimony
La Mata Matt in Spain
Later testimony
Steve in Poland