Back when they both lived in France, Hamid Senni and Edouard Jozan might have been on different planets. Senni, the son of Moroccan immigrants, grew up in a soulless housing project near Valence and, egged on by his father, scraped his way through school. More than once, he was told he would never find a job. Jozan, by contrast, is one of France's highflyers. He attended one of the best secondary schools in Paris and, after graduating from the nation's ultra-competitive élite engineering college, switched to a career in international finance. For all their differences, however, the two have some very important attributes in common: they are both French, in their early 30s and ambitious. And they have both left France, in no hurry to return.
Senni, incensed by the discrimination he says he faced daily at home, first went to Sweden and now lives in London, where he has set up his own consulting firm. It advises companies including some French multinationals on how to deal with ethnic diversity in their workforce. "Going abroad was like an exorcism," he says bluntly. Jozan spent five years working in Germany after college before moving back to France only to get a big shock; the place seemed cliquey, introspective and stuck in a rut. So he quickly left again, taking a career break to do an M.B.A. at the London Business School, which happens to be just down the road from Senni's basement office. He says he expects to stay on in London for work when he finishes. "The quality of life in France is good," Jozan says, "but if you are young and ambitious, it's not a place that allows you to succeed."
That's not how things used to be. Ernest Hemingway once wrote that, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast." Such a thought may have held true for a generation or two of Europeans and Americans, inspired by the youthful and sometimes rebellious spirit of the French themselves. But these days, the feast seems to have moved elsewhere and a growing number of young French people are going with it.
Jovan and Senni are just two of an estimated 2.2 million French citizens, about 4% of the population, who have joined a wave of emigration. According to the Foreign Ministry, there has been a 40% increase in the number of those registering at French consulates abroad since 1995. People are leaving for all sorts of reasons, of course, ranging from greater opportunities to higher salaries, from romantic entanglements to the search for a foreign utopia that may not exist. Two people leave France every day for tax reasons alone, according to a recent Senate report. But for the most part, those leaving are not wealthy retirees looking for a place in the sun; they are talented and ambitious young people in their 20s and 30s who have left because they felt they couldn't advance their careers at home, or because they were simply frustrated by the French system.