Don't have much to say today, too busy elsewhere, so I thought I would translate these comments posted when Le Monde asked its readers if it was true that young French people feel that they have to emigrate to succeed. "Bailouga" and another commenter replied (it is a curiosity of the French language that Bailouga's comment required her to reveal her sex, which isn't clear in English). The discussion is still going on, if you want to add your two cents' worth.
After a Math Sup, a Math Spé, then two years at a Grande École for engineers, I left at age 19 to do my doctorate in the US, with the firm intention of staying there. And I'm not the only one who was leaving. In my circle many people left (very often the best), to England, Germany, the USA, Singapore. What made us leave? I can't answer for the others, but for me several factors were important.
The first and most important reason is the gloom of the French economy, the impression of living in a country that can't breathe, that is in free fall, not ready to make the necessary reforms. I am not talking only about the economic crisis, which may be temporary, but about a generalized gloom that has lasted several decades, and even more, a certain state of mind. Unemployment that has continuously grown for many years; non-existent growth; and even more, a certain feeling of immobility in French society. I was ambitious and dreamed of testing myself in the largest cities, of discovering new opportunities, and I was ready to work as hard as necessary to succeed. As time went by, I felt less and less in sync with a society that thought it was normal to work 35 hours a week; that considered that having a job was an inviolable right and not something that you have to deserve; that did not consider excellence as the model, or success as the result of sustained work, but as something that was disturbing and often considered undeserved. A country cannot disdain success and hope that those who succeed will stay. For several years I saw factories closing, and scandalized people shouting that the bosses were salauds; but no one was ready to doubt themselves, to try to understand what wasn't working any more, to be ready to make the necessary changes. This is not to mention that for the same job, the pay offered in other places has no correlation whatsoever: I could make five times more by leaving. Some people have reproached me for being unpatriotic, because after taking advantage of a free education [in France], I left to make a career elsewhere. Maybe I am, but we young people today live in a global world, like me, with a family from all over, speaking several languages, more and more encouraged to see the world as a whole. Today if you want to succeed, you dream of New York City, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and even London and Frankfurt... because that's where the opportunities are. They are much more dynamic cities, where the job market is much more open. In New York City, I discovered an incredible town with much better working conditions. Research is valued here, universities have far more resources, and doing a doctoral degree does not mean you are stuck in a job at a university: the private sector recognizes the excellence of the training. I will conclude by saying that the rise in racism that we see from abroad, and the rise of the Front National in France, makes France, at least to my eyes, even less attractive. And a return to France seems less and less probable.
I left France for England and London eight months ago. While they came to me, offering me a job overseas, the idea had attracted me for several years. Why did I succumb to the offer? On one hand, because in my field, the salaries are much better in London (I almost doubled my salary by leaving for England); working conditions are much pleasanter; and in England they don't practice "presentéisme" [where everyone feels they have to spend long hours at the office to be taken seriously]: if you stay at work late, it means you're inefficient. Personal and professional life is better balanced, and indirectly, work is valued more.
Another positive thing with our Anglo-Saxon friends is that it is not enough to have gone to this or that school to get the job. Everyone has a chance. Truly.
I also think that this move to England happened at a time when I was getting tired of Paris, its stress, the aggressiveness of Parisians, their rudeness, the harassment of women, the feeling of not being safe there; a bunch of reasons that made me decide to leave.