So the eternal question and rivalry on the old continent: Which country is better: England, UK or France? Well, I lived in Marseille France, and than I moved to Hull, England, UK. It’s hard to say which is better to live in, and depends a lot on what language you speak , the region you are in and your job.
Both are somewhat problematic cities, with high unemployment figures and bad local reputation, so I might not be in the best position to judge these countries. (Or I might be in the perfect position to show the truth of each country, depends how you look at it)
In general, if you look only at the numbers and stats, life in France (if you speak French) is indeed better than life in England, UK. Everything from the weather to salaries, geography , location, infrastructure and social benefits is indeed better on the main land. It was not such a big difference before, but the gap has widen considerably since the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum and it will continue to do so unfortunately. Let’s see why:
- NHS (British National Health System) is chronically underfunded and it’s management is incompetent, while the French medical has shown better results during the Covid pandemic as well as in general day to day life. I never had to wait 2 weeks to get an appointment at the GP in France like it happens in here in UK (and even after 2 weeks, you only see a nurse, not an actual doctor). There you can just go to your doctor’s office and wait in the queue until it’s your turn. (probably not now during the pandemic though)
- Salaries in France were slightly lower than in UK before the Brexit referendum that resulted in a drop in value of the British Pound, but now is not the case any more. And this trend will continue in 2021. In 2018 average salary in France was 37162 EUR (Average annual wages France 2000-2017 | Statista.) vs UK – roughly 30000 pounds per year or 33300 EUR in UK (as of January 2021). Some of you will say that taxes are higher in France and you get less in cash in hand ….well not really: in UK your average monthly net salary is about £ 2,003 (2223 EUR) , and in France you get 2398 EUR. And you must take in to account in France your taxes assure you full health coverage (including dental and eye care), a decent pension similar to your net income, free nursery and free university. In UK you would be dead without a private pension (you get a maximum 700 pounds per month from state pension) , you pay 1000 pounds per month for full time nursery, you pay dental and eye care, and you pay an average of £9,250 per year to study at university. All of this comes out of your net income in UK. So who has it better?
- If you are a tenant (renting) in UK you will pay an additional 130 pounds per month property tax (or much more, depending on your area) to the local authorities for a property that is not yours (aka council tax). In France I only paid 10 Eur per month for garbage collection and another 10 EUR per month for house insurance. That was it! On the other side of the coin, if you are a home owner in France you will pay that tax yourself, while in UK you will conveniently pass it on to your tenant. Not really fair for the tenant is it?
- Also regarding taxes in France: One very big difference though: In France the taxes are calculated per family income, not per individual. So if you are in my situation where only one of the partners is working, then is just a percentage of my income divided by 2 units, and the remaining figure get’s taxed. Every adult in the family counts as 1 whole unit, and every child counts as 0.5 units. (e.g. a family of 2 parents with one child, where only the husband works, will be taxed a percentage from the income of the husband after it was divided by 2.5). So actually I ended up keeping quite a lot of my gross income. This is by far the most helpful and encouraging measure to start a family in France. There is something similar in UK , where if your wife earns less than 12500 per year, she can transfer you 1250 pounds in allocation to your non taxable income. But this only results in a 21 pounds tax saving to your monthly income, which is really peanuts.
- UK: what is up with the separate water taps?? Your hand is either freezing or burnt from the hot water…I did not see such things in France…or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
- The omnipresent complaint from all expats in UK: THE WEATHER! Unfortunately the cliche is true: rain, wind and fog are your new best friends. If you are an outdoor person who likes to do outdoor sports, you will be very disappointed. Now you know the reason why getting drunk in pubs is the main leisure activity here; I always imagined I will get a house near the river front, and go jogging and ride my bicycle to work every day, enjoy life and keep fit at the same time. I got the house near the river, but that’s about it. Reality of the situation is that due to rain and wind it’s impossible to go on the river front most days, so you just end up driving to work, same like everybody else,…. and playing on your PS4 in most of your free days. Can’t imagine your kids doing much else either when it’s like this outside
I do enjoy a stroll or a beer outside on a sunny day on the river front here in England, UK, but that happens quite rare. In France we went pretty much every evening after work, for a walk to the old port and enjoyed a drink outside with friends or colleagues.
- What is up with the tiny houses in England UK? My 1 Br flat in France had almost the same square footage as my 2 Br semi detached house in England UK. A 2 bedroom house of 60 square meters (646 sq feet) is quite common here in England UK. This is a standard child or guest bedroom in UK where you can put a single bed and a small storage unit and…..uh that’s about it:
- Did I mention the nursery costs in UK???? Sorry but I have to mention it again. My wife’s salary can barely cover the cost for a full time nursery (around 1000 pounds per month)! no wonder so many moms just give up work or end up on benefits if they are single parents. This service is FREE in France and pretty much in all of Europe! (same as primary schools). Same goes for university. It is ridiculously expensive in UK even for British nationals. (around 9000 GBP per year). Luckily working parents do get some support from the government in the form of 30 hours per week free of charge at nurseries. Which still leaves the parents to pay the difference of around 500 pounds per month out of pocket.
- French passport is slightly less powerful then the UK, but once Brexit is concluded it will lose free access to all 27 EU countries, things will change.
- Infrastructure: France has 7,383 mi of motorway , while UK has 3 times less than that . Just 2173 miles in a country that is 2.2 times smaller. TGV trains run in France at at 325 km/h , UK has a few chocked motorways and train tracks from the 20th century that can barely reach 125 miles per hour (one exception for the short HS connection to the Channel tunnel).
- Since we are on the subject of trains: UK what is up with the absolutely ridiculous rip off train prices??? A monthly pass on the London subway can cost you £361.40!! Why??? It only costs 75.2 EUR for all of Paris metro area by the way.
- A one way, 2 hour train ride from Leeds to London (about 200 miles) will cost you 115.5 pounds. By comparison a similar distance trip in France from Marseille to Lyon on the TGV on the same day and same hour will cost you only 51 EUR (46.4 pounds)
- Public transport in cities. For some unknown reason, England UK is unable to build fast underground transit systems outside of London, Glasgow and Newcastle. Even large cities like Leeds don’t even have a tram system to their name. In France, Marseille a city of around 800k population (same like Leeds), has 2 lines of underground subway system (Metro), and 3 brand new Tram lines to complement it.
- UK Car insurance ripoff: for some unknown reason: car insurance companies in England UK decided some time ago, that it’s not the car that is insured, but the driver. So if 2 people drive the car, both people have to be insured. Essentially you are paying 2 insurances for one car. This is by far one the biggest legal scams in Europe. In France and pretty much all over the world, the owner get’s insurance for his car, and then everyone else in his family or circle of friends can drive that insured car. In England UK, if you go on a longer road trip, unless you have special insurance arrangements made, your wife and your friends can not drive your car! For me that sounds like absolute rubbish! You are basically getting double or triple overcharged for nothing!
- Geography: most of UK is flat or hilly, only when you head North to Lake District and Scotland it gets interesting. Tallest mountain in UK is 1,345 m, and most of the island is covered in rain. You can kiss good bye any thoughts of going skiing or beach sun bathing (there is some ski resort in Scotland, but odds are you will probably reach the Alps faster than you can get there). While in France you have the actual Alps in reach (tallest peak at Mont Blanc 4,800 m) , and if that is not enough for you, there is always a short drive away the ski resorts of Switzerland, beaches of Spain and Italy , wonderful cities of Europe like Milan, Amsterdam, Brussels,Barcelona, etc. Sorry UK, you just can’t beat this
- The FOOD! – While traditional British dishes such as Fish and Chips , Sausages, kidney pie and English Breakfast are not horrible (well except kidney pie – that is horrible sorry) , they are really nothing special. In fact you are more likely in UK to stumble upon Burgers, curry, kebabs, hot dogs and anything else except a traditional British dish.
That in comparison to the French cuisine simply looks like a joke. I will take a charcuterie platter (meat and cheese board) with a bottle of wine any time over any of the mentioned dishes above. Not to mention their superb Ratatouille, moules frites, Cassoulet, tartes, soupes – *with special mention of the Marseille special – the Bouillabaisse.
- People are generally better dressed in France, and woman definitely take care of their bodies more there (sorry UK, but the number of obese people here is ridiculous).
- People moan about everything both in France and in UK. The difference is that the French moan a couple of months and if nothing happens they go out and strike, regardless if they stop production, public transport or garbage collection. I remember an incident when the city council of Marseille tried to take away some of the night work and weekend work bonuses of the garbage bin collectors, and they simply went on strike and stopped collecting the trash until they were negotiated and put back in a reduced form. In England UK , people are moaning for years and years but don’t do nothing about it. Here in UK it seems normal to work nights and weekends without compensation. A shame really that the British put up with such abuses…This was the back alley of our building in France after 14 days of garbage piling up. Luckily it was winter and not so much smell.
- General lifestyle: while in countries like UK or Germany it is all about your career, owning a house, doing something of yourself and working a lot to pay that house as soon as possible, or just working to make it trough to the next month, the French are more in the mentality category of “I work to live, not live to work”. Keeping to your routine of going to your favorite coffee terrace and maintaining relations with your family and friends, going out to eat with colleagues during your one hour beak (or even 2 hours in some cases) is more important than getting a promotion, a raise or a bigger house. Making a priority of enjoying life and building your life around making this concept feasible is an idea that I personally admire.
Now, before all you island folks bring out the sharpened pitch forks and lit torches and start commenting on my article, let’s see some of the issues you will see in France as well:
- If you don’t speak French you will have zero social life in France. The locals do not know or do not wish to speak to you in English and that is true unfortunately. But than again you are living in France so….
- Even though we are in the EU and I worked full time and paid taxes to the French state, my partner had no right to benefit of any assistance or free French classes. The official excuse being that we come from a rich and developed country (we are talking about Romania ok?) and we do not qualify for such assistance. Instead, refugees and non-EU immigrants have priority for benefits and classes. Not bad right? I am not sure what is the procedure for English classes in UK though.
- Regarding cars and traffic: it is without a doubt a million times better and more civilized in England UK. English drivers are very patient and calm, and they usually give way and signal you to get in ahead if they see you waiting to come out from a side street. I can tell you that the French do not care about either their own car or the ones parked in front of or behind it. Almost all the cars here are scratched, cracked, have broken mirrors or cracked windscreens. The French prefer small, low-priced cars, and when they park them, they use the other parked cars as bumpers in order to make room or fit inside the slot. This was quite a shock to see. Also: I haven’t seen yet in England UK torched cars in the center of the city, while I have seen in the course of one year twice pictures like this in Marseille:
- Going out and general daily grocery shopping can be quite expensive in France. I remember a large glass of beer costed at the local Bar around 7 Euros (5 Euros if you catch Happy hour). Here in UK at any pub you can get it for 3.5 pounds (about 4 EUR), or even 2 pounds if you go at Wetherspoons. Also many items in the supermarket that costs 1 pound in UK, can costs even double in France. At a week’s worth basket of groceries you can look at anywhere between 10 to 25% price difference between UK and France.
- Infrastructure: While it’s true that France has a very impressive and large network of motorways, most of them are toll roads. So a short drive from Marseille to Nice (188 km / 116 mi), will cost you 15.3 EUR in toll gates. A cross country trip from Marseille to Paris (816 km / 507 Mi) will cost you if you use the motorways a staggering 48.4 EUR! However in their defense, in France there is no road tax, you only pay if you use the motorways. But considering the trains are quite cheap and fast, I can see why they would discourage car travel.
- Let’s talk about customer service. It is bad to very bad in France. The lazy waiter cliche is in 90% of the cases true. You come, you take a seat at the table and wait for 15-20 minutes before anybody even acknowledges your presence and brings you a menu. After that it takes another 20 minutes to take your order and so on. I’m sorry to say, but in England, as soon as you take a seat at the table, someone comes to take care of you. However France gets extra points for having cleaner pubs than England. The sticky tables and dirty carpets in most UK traditional pubs are disgusting to be honest.
- General time keeping skills are usually absent in France compared to UK. This chilled relaxed mentality seems to be present in all aspects of life, it seems normal in France to say that you will meet someone at a defined time and be late for that meeting at least 20-30 minutes. I distinctly remember one event when we had our boiler in the flat out of order and a technician was booked to fix it. The booking was for 14:00 , we waited home and at 14:25 we presumed he is not coming any more and we left the flat to go to the supermarket. At 14:35 I received a call from the agency from a very angry individual stating the technician just knocked on our door and nobody answered and he had to leave upset because he made the trip to our apartment for nothing, accusing us of not being serious people! I am sorry France, but that never happened in UK (so far).
- Excessive and useless bureaucracy. In France you will have quite a headache as you rent an apartment or acquire your green health card. There are some really bad and flawed rules and regulations in this country. I will give you just one example: to cancel an internet contract with a telecommunications company in the 21st century, you must send them via post a written request stating that you want to terminate. If you are cancelling this contract due to the fact that you are relocating to another country you have to provide evidence that you will live in that country or work there,in order to prove that you are really leaving! You simply face some absurd situations. By comparison in UK, I did pretty much everything online or on the phone, I only had to show up in person at a government office when I applied for NINO and one time at the bank when I opened a bank account.
So which country is better to live in: UK or France? ? Well, as said before, it all depends on what you are looking for in life and on your particular circumstances. If you go only by the figures, than it would have to be France …
What do you think? I am waiting for your opinions in the comments section or on the Fb GarciaCalavera.com page. You can also drop a like there to subscribe to future articles. Thank you.
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