New to the Parish: ‘We may never be able to have a good life in Ireland’

A French woman who moved to Dublin to be with her Spanish boyfriend enjoys life in the city but says soaring rents could push them to leave

A French woman who moved to Dublin to be with her Spanish boyfriend enjoys life in the city, easy access to the countryside and the work-life balance, but high rents and a shortage of secular schools mean they may not stay.

 

Gabrielle Lafitte has always been interested in organic food. “French people always talk about the food from their village, their home, saying ‘The cheese from my village is the best in the world’. We are interested in all food in the same way a lot of French people are interested in organic food.”

The first thing she did when she moved to Dublin with her Spanish boyfriend was to look for an organic food co-operative. “I found the one in Newmarket and was told I could volunteer there. I was like, ‘Great, I’m gonna meet people and improve my English.’ ”

Her first taste of Irish life was in 2007 when she came to Dublin to visit a friend. At the time she was living and working in Seville in the south of Spain. During the visit she met Daniel, a Spanish librarian working in the UCD library, who is now her husband. They instantly fell in love and decided to make the necessary compromises to be together. “I was in Seville, he was here. It was either everything or nothing, we didn’t want a long distance relationship.”

Lafitte decided to spend three months in Dublin with her new boyfriend, who would become her husband. The cool Irish temperatures were a welcome relief from the furnace-like conditions of Seville during the summer months.

“I was so happy to be able to sit outside in the sunshine without melting. It felt like I was back in France with all the flowers and good weather that wasn’t too hot. I was super in love for the first three months so obviously I found Dublin wonderful. I think I would have found anywhere wonderful at that time.”

She enjoyed living in Ireland but wanted to return to Spain, so the couple moved back to Seville, where Daniel began looking for work. “Basically at that time in Spain the only jobs available were for interns. They would pay you for an intern position but you had to do a manager’s job. Dani tried for three years to find a better job but couldn’t find anything. We came back to Ireland for economical reasons; there were no jobs in Spain.”

“We consider ourselves economic migrants. We’re part of that group of Spanish people who have qualifications but who have to move outside Spain. The situation there is shameful really.”

Daniel returned to his job at the UCD library in 2012, and Lafitte began to settle into life in Dublin. She volunteered at the co-op’s café before successfully applying for an administrative position in the co-op. She also works at the applied languages centre in UCD.

Irish food revolution

Lafitte has watched Ireland’s interest in locally produced food develop rapidly over the past few years.

“In Ireland there was a moment when people were no longer interested in local production. The Celtic Tiger led to a lot of consumerism. They were not interested in buying locally grown food. Kale and parsnips are less sexy than strawberries and blueberries. But now you see a lot of local produce. When I arrived there were less than half the amount of local farmer’s markets than there are now.”

The Dublin food co-op has been a huge support for her since her son, Étienne, was born two months ago.

“It’s such a community, and people are all involved in the same kind of ideas. You get help from people you don’t even know, from mums you’ve never even met. I put up an ad looking for a cot for Étienne and I’ve already had two people call me.

“If I ever feel lonely I go to the co-op, because I know I’m going to meet someone. I don’t know who it will be but I know I’ll see someone for a chat.”

Learning to smile

Her train of thought is broken by a happy, gurgling sound coming from her tiny son, whom she is breastfeeding. She whispers a collection of Spanish and French terms of endearment to the tiny baby, who smiles up at his mother.

“He’s just learning to smile, so it still amazes me,” she says as her son settles back into feeding. “They’re still his very first smiles.”

After Étienne was born, the couple began seriously thinking about where they would like their son to grow up. Despite her French heritage, Lafitte feels more connected to Spain. “I’m really French: my taste, my education, my culture. I’m teaching French language here, but I have more Spanish friends than French friends.

“I’m never going to have a job that pays enough to live well in Paris. It’s really my family which calls me to France, but I don’t think I would have a better job position over there.”

She says French employers place far too much emphasis on qualifications rather than experience when interviewing for jobs. “I’ve found Ireland a lot more open than France. There’s a reason that everybody from Europe comes here to look for jobs.”

Despite the job opportunities in Dublin, Lafitte worries that soaring rents will eventually push the couple to leave.

“The stories people are telling me are frightening. I just don’t get how a landlord can decide to push the rent up by €700. A friend of mine says that everybody moves here because salaries are good and there are job opportunities, but she says it’s like we’re nearly living in a third-world country. We are 35-40 years old, we’re sharing houses and soon we’re going to be sharing bedrooms.”

“Étienne made us realise we have to settle in a decent place. We are actually considering leaving Ireland because we’ve realised we may never be able to have a good life here.”

Although rising rents are a challenge, she loves living in Dublin. “It’s the fact that nature is so near and so beautiful. Dublin is not a big city where you feel like you need to breathe. I never have that feeling here. If I need to breathe, I just take the bus to Sandymount. ”

“Ireland is a country I have a lot of respect for. I like the culture and the people and I respect its history. I would be very happy with Étienne growing up here and playing GAA, as long as he can speak French too. Hopefully he’s going to be trilingual.”

We would like to hear from people who have moved to Ireland in the past five years. To get involved, email newtotheparish@irishtimes.com. @newtotheparish