French invasion

Parisians, who’ve given up their ateliers for Mumbai’s crowded streets, explain why they chose to set up homes, stores and restaurants in the city.

entertainment Updated: May 20, 2011 15:19 IST
Rochelle Pinto
Rochelle Pinto
Hindustan Times

When Parisienne Julie Leymarie asked to be transferred to India from France four years ago, she was enjoying a cushy corporate job. Today, she is part-owner of the city’s newest concept store, Le Mill. “I couldn’t find labels that I was used to in Europe, even though most were being made in India,” she recalls.

Leymarie admits that the booming economy enticed her, a feeling echoed by compatriot Matthieu Gugumus-Leguillon. The creative director of Bungalow 8’s in-house clothing line, calls Mumbai “a gold mine.” He adds. “I thought I’d come for a month and landed up staying for three and a half years.”

Food fetish
Coming from the land of cheese and champagne, it’s no surprise that most of Mumbai’s local Parisians turn to the restaurant business. Maud Chuffart, who recently opened an organic café/ yoga centre in Bandra with her boyfriend Ajit, moved to India last October. “I was scouting for locations to open my café, and he was leaving for Milan to start a restaurant there,” she recalls. “We combined western tastes with Indian roots and the Yoga House was born.” Chuffart adds, “We (the French) can bring good quality ingredients to India. Here, people are curious to try new things.”

Jeremie, part-owner of crêperie Suzette in Nariman Point, shares Chuffart’s enthusiasm. “We knew what was missing from Mumbai’s restaurant scene,” Jeremie says. “We were all in love with crêpes and wanted to introduce them to the locals.” Despite India’s red tape making the task an uphill one, French restaurateurs are pleased. “Guests appreciate that we have vegetarian and Jain dishes on the menu at Chez Vous,” says Frederic Fernandez, who moved here last year to opening an eatery.

Uphill task
The city’s muggy climate and chaos aside, it’s the red tape that gets these foreigners frustrated. “The only drawback is the political relationship between France and India, which makes it difficult for foreigners to get a visa. Besides, to stay in India, you need to be earning more than Rs 1 lakh a month,” says Frenchman Kevin Tayebaly, a former media consultant who started cultural venture The Art Loft with his sister Leila a year ago. Leymarie chimes in, “It was difficult for my husband to adjust because there are few opportunities for sports or outdoor life.”

Plus points
Despite the obvious cultural distinctions, these adventurous French folk insist that the going has been good. “Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city, any foreigner can have a nice life,” Chuffart surmises. “Both my kids were born in India, and it’s been easy because we have amazing help. I’m happy to raise them outside of Paris. It makes them curious about the world,” espouses Leymarie, adding, “I wanted to have friends from India, not live in a ghetto of expats. And people here have been so welcoming.”

And believe it or not, Jeremie entertains the idea that Mumbai is safer than Paris, saying, “People here seem relaxed, unlike in France where there is a sense of insecurity. My wife Antoine can walk safely on the streets here and no one will bother her.”

What they like
Welcoming citizens who are eager to try something new
Spirit of entrepreneurship and excitement

What they don’t
Lack of outdoor sports activities

French life in Mumbai
Yoga house, Chimbai Village, Bandra W. Call 022 65545001
Chez Vous, Eros Cinema Building, Churchgate. Call 9167719099
Art Loft, Valentino Rest- First Floor, Above Patel Store, Mehboob Studio, Bandra. Call 09819132958.
Le Mill, shop No. 17/25, Nandlal Jani Road, New Railway Bridge, Masjid Bunder. Call 022 23742415
Suzette, Ground Floor, Atlanta Building, Nariman Point. Call: 022 22880055Shoppers to go cupcake crazy

First Published: May 20, 2011 15:13 IST