x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

France just the ticket for austerity-weary Brits

Frank Kane's sister Barbara has absolutely nothing in common with Gérard Depardieu or Bernard Arnault. But the crucial point of difference is this: the two men want to leave France and his sister, a lifelong resident of London, wants to go and live there.

My sister Barbara has absolutely nothing in common with Gérard Depardieu or Bernard Arnault.

She has been a lifelong stalwart of the British National Health Service, whereas they, respectively, are one of France's leading movie superstars and the mega-rich boss of the luxury goods empire LVMH.

But the crucial point of difference is this: they want to leave France, and my sister, a lifelong resident of London, wants to go and live there.

She's just on the point of loading up the van with husband, two cats and all to move to a 17th-century town house in the Limousin region.

Messieurs Dépardieu and Arnault have fallen out with the government of their native land, under the socialist president François Hollande, and especially his policy of raising tax rates on business activity and business people.

They say it will suffocate the natural entrepreneurial spirit of the country's wealth-creating classes, and they are threatening to leave France for nearby Belgium. Depardieu even says he will renounce French citizenship.

My sister, on the other hand, is attracted to France for the very reason the luminaries are leaving: in addition to a better lifestyle in a rural setting, she values the high level of transport, health care and other services available in France but increasingly being phased out in "austerity" Britain.

These services, of course, are paid for by the French state and are therefore the reason why taxes are high. She believes it's a good trade-off, and it's doubtful she'll ever rise into the "wealth creating entrepreneur" bracket.

I did try to persuade her of the benefits of life in the zero-tax UAE, but the cats wouldn't like the heat.

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One of the frustrating things that cropped up in the preparations for Barbara's move was the difficulty of opening a bank account in France.

She has been a customer of HSBC for years, and thought it natural and convenient to open a French account with the "world's local bank" to conduct the financial details of house purchase, payments, etc.

This was even before HSBC agreed to cough up US$1.9bn (Dh6.98bn) in fines and recompense for a raft of offences against US money-laundering and sanctions-busting laws. But the bank labelled "too big to jail" last week was even then rigorously enforcing the letter of the law.

The "know your customer" procedure was exhausting, even though the bank had known this particular customer for the best part of 30 years. A request for a small bridging loan was turned down out of hand.

I mentioned my sister's frustration to an executive at HSBC, a pal of mine, and he quipped: "She should change the name on the application form to Noriega [the former Panamanian politician]. That should get it through straight away".

I think he was joking.

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I've often sung the praises of the Twitter feed "Overheard in the Goldman Sachs elevator", but the funniest joke of the year must surely be about the bank, from the US late-night television presenter Jay Leno:

"An embarrassing moment recently. When the head of Goldman Sachs was going through security, he was asked to empty his pockets.

"And five Republican senators fell out."

fkane@thenational.ae