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The president appears hell-bent on ridding the country of both rich and poor-to-middling

Should I choose to do so and was prepared to travel throughout France I could have all my needs catered for without uttering a word of the language.

A quick look at the English language papers and online forums shows an extraordinary amount of skills geared to those who neither know French nor want to cope in a foreign tongue.

There are masons, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, TV installers, septic tank experts, architects, IT experts, lawyers, dentists, reiki healers, grief counsellors, beauticians and physios. Dog whisperers, horse whisperers, kennels and catteries, men with vans, gardeners, artists, photographers, wedding planners, event organisers, astrologers, pilates teachers, yoga experts and swimming instructors. There are estate agents, house finders, house minders, translators, and tax and accountancy advisers.

Naturally, you can even go to an all-British Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or call a version of the Samaritans; and if you've been dumped, widowed or abandoned there's a website offering everything from financial to legal advice. Calls to them have topped 2000 in less than two years.

This explosion of help and services over the past few years gives a much different picture of expat life than the one commonly touted. There is a belief that it is the better-off middle-class professional couple with a good retirement package and no mortgage who spend their twilight years in the sun wearing panama hats and painting watercolours. And, yes, they do make up a large percentage of the estimated 150,000 living permanently in France, with maybe as many again having holiday homes and dreams of moving.

But, as the work on offer shows, there's a huge group who are too young for private and state sector pensions and who rent or have houses financed by mortgages. And income is vital.

With more than three million unemployed in France though, the chances of work within the system are negligible. Fierce social charges allied to tax, frustrating bureaucracy and failure to grasp the language are often insurmountable.

Or were – for a while. In an attempt to push France into becoming a less rigid society, former president Sarkozy introduced a system called AE – auto entrepreneur – that for the first time encouraged self-employment and new businesses.

In the past the government projected the figures for each business and often people found themselves faced with huge tax and charges before they'd earned a centime. The wheel grinds slowly in France and one could only argue the toss after paying the money on pain of bank seizure or bailiffs.

Sarkozy's reforms meant that for the first time monthly payments could be made based on turnover – a novel and welcome concept. But France's new Socialist president Hollande has in his first budget started what many see as the dismantling of the whole process; a move to force them back to the bulky, extortionate old ways.

And – although it has all yet to be ratified and soothing noises are being made – it has put the wind right up the self-employed Britons. Some were lured off "the black" (working illegally) by the chance to keep most of their earnings. Now they say if AE status is revoked or watered down, they will be forced back into that position or have no choice but to return to the UK.

The French AEs are equally incensed and are fighting such moves. They are particularly appalled at the proposal to increase capital gains tax from 30% to 60% when selling a business.

Hollande, who famously doesn't like the rich, appears to be hell-bent on ridding the country of both rich and poor-to-middling. The only people happy (although still planning general strikes against austerity measures) are the unions. They see the AE system as an easy way for bosses to hire self-employed contractors on the cheap, ridding themselves of staff. And Hollande has no intention of upsetting the unions. It's depressingly familiar to the British expats, who can't fathom France's apparent determination to return to a no longer affordable era.

As the unemployment figures continue to climb Hollande plans to add 60,000 teachers to the mix of civil servants who dominate and hold jobs for lives. Sarkozy began the process of thinning this monstrous regiment but managed to alienate many followers with his pugnacious presidency. France's vote to the left was less an endorsement of Hollande, more a vote against Sarkozy.

Meanwhile, prices continue to rise, local taxes have soared in many areas and the chance to create a small business without state greed is under serious threat. No wonder a suggestion that Sarkozy will return for the next presidential elections has been greeted with warmth. For, like many, the French may be revolutionaries and Socialists in their hearts, but conservatism, as history has shown, will always rule their heads.

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