Posted Jul 29, 2022, 11:00 AM
Field hockey or Scottish dancing, the choice is yours! These two practices are part of the sports activities offered to the inhabitants of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The Saint-Germain-en-Laye Hockey Club, created in 1927, stands out very regularly by winning the French championship in the discipline… Original, but not the result of chance! No more than being able to slip into your basket some stilton, a typical English cheese, or attending a rugby match in one of the city’s pubs, surrounded by supporters speaking the language of Shakespeare.
All these particularities result from the presence of an active and integrated British community within the city of Yvelines. It is therefore not surprising that Team GB, the British Olympic Committee, has chosen Saint-Germain (which also has many sports facilities currently being upgraded) for the training of its champions for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. .
“They no longer want to leave”
Nearly 300 British citizens, mainly executives, are listed by INSEE as residents of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A figure much lower than the reality. Because it does not include all the subjects of Her Majesty who, even before Brexit, or, for many in its wake, applied for French nationality. This is the case of Mark Venus, deputy mayor of the town, who arrived in France in the 1980s to take up a teaching-assistant position in a college… and never left across the Channel.
Then becoming a banking executive, he settled permanently in Fourqueux, integrated into the new town of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and has been elected to the town since the early 2000s, when EU nationals acquired the right to join municipal councils. “Many Britons, after having tasted the many advantages of the city of Saint-Germain, no longer want to leave, especially if they have children. It combines both the charm of French life, proximity to the capital, a very privileged setting close to nature… and the presence of a leading international high school”, enthuses Mark Venus.
Students immersed in British culture
The presence of the school is indeed a major asset in the decision of many Britons employed by large companies in the Ile-de-France region to choose Saint-Germain or its surroundings. Designed at the request of General Eisenhower after the Second World War to accommodate the children of NATO officers, this high school of excellence is today the only French establishment made up of 100% international sections. The British section is the largest, with nearly 900 pupils, from kindergarten to high school. And, of course, all the teachers in this section are from the UK.
“The students are immersed in British culture, for example they practice Sports Day, a day of sports competition between all the students, or they put on plays in English”, underlines Sylvie Habert Dupuis, first assistant of Saint-Germain -en-Laye and former president of the parents’ association of the international high school.
Second British community after Paris
It must be said that the city cultivates its “little English side”, starting with a varied offer of Anglo-Saxon food products. “I love French cuisine, but I’m still happy to stock up on Stilton or cheddar on the market,” laughs Mark Venus. At the Bitter End pub, you can also find beers imported from England, to drink with fish and chips. Giles Goulding, a former naval architect specializing in the interior fittings of boats, founder and boss of the Bitter End, also insists on the success of his “Pub Quiz”. Organized every week, the event allows all lovers of English culture to come and test their team skills.
Saint-Germain is the most emblematic example of the British presence in the department, but not the only one. A total of 3,200 British citizens reside in Yvelines, the largest British community in Ile-de-France after Paris. Two-thirds of them arrived more than ten years ago… and around half have been living in the Yvelines for more than twenty years, in Saint-Germain, Vésinet, Maisons-Laffitte (which incidentally hosts an Anglican church), Versailles or Mesnil-le-Roi.