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Xenophobia runs through the French DNA

A woman living in Australia posts on an internet forum to ask if she and her husband can afford to retire to France.

She knows the country, having lived and worked here before, but now she needs to know how much money she'll need to live comfortably on a small pension.

The suggestions and the figures come flying in, but pretty soon the debate widens and a disturbing, worrying thread takes off.

She writes to say she's been contacted by people she used to know when living here between 2011 and 2013. They have been telling her "hair-raising" stories about how things have soured for them.

Many, indeed most it seems, urge her not to dream of returning and say they are heading "home" as soon as they can sell their houses.

Although some cite financial problems as the reason, blaming Hollande's election, the majority are more fearful of the turnaround in French attitudes towards them.

One of her friends described being confronted by a well-dressed couple outside a shop in Limoges.

They told her that since they don't put up with the Roma, why should they put up with Les Anglais.

Others with smallholdings in the Manche have been turned on by the very villagers they believed were their friends.

Of course, other members rushed to give very different stories - of friendships formed with neighbours, help given and returned, and of practical advice and assistance from local civil servants.

Personally I have felt very uneasy here since the municipal elections, knowing all but two of the 50-plus communes have gone Front National.

At the moment it's more an intellectual unease, for I cannot say any direct insults or antipathy have ever come my way.

My neighbours have repeatedly reminded me they are only a phone call away and have often bailed me out when, for example, the fosse septique has one of its frequent eruptions. They have extended nothing but kindness towards me.

Sure, the odd shop assistant or minor functionary has taken a perverse pleasure in deliberately misunderstanding me or been frigidly unhelpful. But then they do the same to their own countrymen - it's as much the national sport as is cycling.

At the same time, however, I wouldn't count on my glowering, powerful mayor to go out of his way to help me.

I am also careful to stick to all the local regulations to give him no excuse, should he need it, to actively hinder me.

Discussing all this individually with two of the men who do work for me - both English - it was interesting to hear them both come to the same conclusion.

Basically relations with the French are fine, until you go against them or ask them to stand with you against one of their own.

Ian and his family have lived on the outskirts of a nearby village for 15 years. Their daughters are more French than English, completely immersed in French life.

Their nearest neighbour has also been their mayor for the same length of time.

But the arrival of a French couple, their caravans and horses, to land opposite them, has led to a complete breakdown of their previous friendly relationship.

Despite a catalogue of incidents from escaping horses, all-night parties, angry confrontations and deliberate provocation, the mayor has refused to act against the couple.

He has made it plain he sees Ian and family as the outsiders still, even with their long association with the village. It's left them resentful, bitter and hurt. So much so that they plan to sell up and move to the city.

"It's as if our time here has counted for nothing," says Ian. "As if we're just the foreigners."

A and his wife socialise, even holiday, with a tight group of French friends.

Yet, although it's never been tested, he knows, and accepts, ranks would be closed should it be a question of him or one of them.

He shrugs. "It's just the way it is. There is no point getting upset it about it. You'd see slights everywhere if you did. You have to understand that it's really not personal."

He's right. There is an inherent strand of xenophobia running through the DNA of the majority of this country.

It's come from centuries of invasion, bred out of fear and humiliation. It's a deeply unattractive part of their psyche but an understandable one.

And, as I've written before, when threatened by forces beyond their control or comprehension, they look for scapegoats and, usually, unsavoury saviours.

For the moment the scapegoats are the Roma, the Muslims and, increasingly and far more sinister, the Jews. Les Anglais, as we're all lumped under, are not really significant on the list - for now.

I think it is only because we are perceived as wanting little from the State, and therefore the people. The bulk of expats are retired and keep themselves detached from any real interaction and therefore any possible friction.

So in the main they are just there, neither irritant nor competition.

And so long as we all keep it that way, we'll be fine. For now.

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