Hailing from a village in north France called Monchy-au-Bois with a population of 500, Mathieu Chatelet finds Chennai ‘luxurious.’ He describes how wonderful it is to live on Elliot’s Beach, and coming from a rainy rural area, he considers Chennai’s endless sunshine a treat as well.
‘Luxury,’ however, is not what his fellow French villagers think Chennai is about. “No one in my village can understand why I live here. They think moving out of the village is a big deal in itself, let alone moving to what they think is an ‘under-developed’ country.”
After living in Chennai for six years, his family and friends have got used to the idea of him being here. In fact, they are what Chatelet misses the most and are the main reason why he is moving back soon. “It’s really hard to leave my social network here after it took so long to create it,” he says, musing that in the first few years he only met expats who were always coming and going. He says he now has a stable diverse network of friends here including French people, local fishermen with whom he has learnt surfing in Kovalam and also a set of people with whom he likes going to Leather Bar and Pasha.
As a mechanical engineer working on business development for the French company HEF, Chatelet has enjoyed the challenges of solving surface engineering problems for automotive and construction companies. It was his childhood dream to live in India, stemming from many visits to London with his parents and encountering the Indian community there. After obtaining a list of French companies located in India from the French Foreign Affairs Department, he wrote to all of them looking for opportunities. “My CV happened to land on the right desk at the right time,” he laughs, and what started as a two-year assignment, turned into six years.
He thinks South Indians have an ‘authentic’ culture, close to the ‘roots of Dravidian culture’ and has always been very interested in Indian history. He says it can be very depressing to see people’s faces back in Paris so he plans to try and take what he has learnt from Chennai’s smiling friendliness with him.